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Of original causes

These are powerful times in which we live, and part of the power of the moment comes from the tidal wave of history that is sweeping a lot of misconceptions out with it.

One of those misconceptions: the Civil War was fought by southern states to “protect states’ rights.”

Civil War Cannon

As a genealogist and family historian, The Legal Genealogist knows what the obligation of any researcher is when looking at that kind of claim.

We go to the original sources for the primary information provided by those who lived and acted in those times.

We read the words of the men who led the southern states into rebellion against the Union.

We do so because, “(w)henever possible, genealogists prefer to reason from information provided by consistently reliable participants, eyewitnesses, and reporters with no bias, potential for gain, or other motivation to distort, invent, omit, or otherwise report incorrect information.”1

We do so because “(g)enealogists do not trim, tailor, slight, or ignore potentially relevant evidence to fit a bias or preconception, to harmonize with other evidence, or for any other reason.”2

So we go to those original sources and review what they tell us.

First, when South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, it did so for reasons stated in its declaration of secession. You can read it in full online from the U.S. National Archives. It explained that “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations” to return to enslavement those who had escaped to the north, that “they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.” The election of 1860, it said, made it worse: “A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that ‘Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,’ and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.”3

Mississippi was next on January 9, 1861. Its declaration can be read in full online at Internet Archive or online at the website of the American Battlefield Trust. It states: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”4

Georgia seceded in January 1861 and its declaration of causes was much the same. You can read it online from the U.S. National Archives or online at the website of the American Battlefield Trust. Among those reasons: “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.” It noted that those hostile to slavery “entered the Presidential contest again in 1860 and succeeded. The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its leaders and applauded by its followers. With these principles on their banners and these utterances on their lips the majority of the people of the North demand that we shall receive them as our rulers. The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization. For forty years this question has been considered and debated in the halls of Congress, before the people, by the press, and before the tribunals of justice. The majority of the people of the North in 1860 decided it in their own favor. We refuse to submit to that judgment…”5

Texas seceded on February 1, 1861. Its declaration, online from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission or online at the website of the American Battlefield Trust, sets out its reasons: “Texas abandoned her separate national existence and … was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.”6

Additionally, in March 1861, the vice president of the newly-formed Confederacy, Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, set out the reasons for secession in what is called the “Cornerstone Speech.” You can read the entire speech online at the website of the American Battlefield Trust, but the key portion is here:

Our new government is founded upon … its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. … With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place.7

In short, the only “states’ right” that was behind the secession of the southern states and the formation of the Confederacy was the “right” to enslave other people.

The original sources tell us so.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Original sources,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 8 June 2020).


  1. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2d edition (Nashville, TN : Ancestry, 2019), 24, Standard 39: “Information preference.”
  2. Ibid. at 25-26, Standard 43: “Evidence Integrity.”
  3. Declaration of Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, 12/1860”; ( : accessed 8 June 2020). See also “The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States: South Carolina”; American Battlefield Trust ( : accessed 8 June 2020).
  4. Mississippi Convention, An Address Setting Forth the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of Mississippi from the Federal Union (Jackson: Nississippian Book & Job Printing Office, 1861); digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 8 June 2020). See also “The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States: Mississippi”; American Battlefield Trust ( : accessed 8 June 2020).
  5. Report from the Journal of the Georgia Convention Listing Georgia’s Reasons for Leaving the Union, 1861”; ( : accessed 8 June 2020). See also “The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States: Georgia”; American Battlefield Trust ( : accessed 8 June 2020).
  6. DECLARATION OF CAUSES: February 2, 1861. A declaration of the causes which impel the State of Texas to secede from the Federal Union,” Texas State Library & Archives Commission ( : accessed 8 June 2020). See also “The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States: Texas”; American Battlefield Trust ( : accessed 8 June 2020).
  7. Cornerstone Speech: Savannah, Georgia, March 21, 1861, by Alexander H. Stephens”; American Battlefield Trust ( : accessed 8 June 2020).
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