North Carolinians Debate Secession

Quotations from North Carolinians supporting and opposing secession in 1860–61. Includes historical commentary.

Catherine EdmondstonCatherine Anne Devereux Edmondston was the daughter of a wealthy eastern North Carolina planter. In 1846 she married Patrick Muir Edmondston, a South Carolinian, and they eventually settled on a plantation in Halifax County, North Carolina, where they were living in 1860. In June of that year Mrs. Edmondston began a journal in which she recorded her thoughts and observations of current events.

November 25, 1860

Mr. Miller [Mrs. Edmondston's brother-in-law] seems to have an especial spite against Slave holders; asks in a tone of acrimony and bitterness if 'we expect the West and the white population who have none, to fight for our negroes?' 'Certainly I do.'

February 10, 1861

Sister Frances is a terrible Unionist! Right or wrong, this 'Glorious Union' is every thing. Now it is no longer glorious — when it ceases to be voluntary, it degenerates into a hideous oppression. Regret it heartily, mourn over it as for a lost friend, but do not seek to enforce it; it is like galvanizing a dead body.

February 18, 1861

It gets almost painful to go to Father's we differ so widely. He it is true says nothing personal or unhandsome, but he censures so sweepingly every thing that SC does. Mama & Susan do go on so about the 'Flag.' Who cares for the old striped rag now that the principle it represented is gone? It is but an emblem of a past glory. How can it be upheld when the spirit — nay even the body — that gave it value is lost?

February 18, 1861

Today was inaugurated at Montgomery Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, consisting of the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana & Texas. O that North Carolina would join with her Southern sisters — sisters in blood, in soil, in climate & in institution.

William A. GrahamWilliam A. Graham held a number of prominent positions prior to 1860, including governor of North Carolina, United States senator, and secretary of the navy. He owned several plantations worked by slave labor.

To Alfred M. Waddell, February 5, 1861

It is well known that I am far from believing his election merely is a cause for abandonment of the Government of our Fathers, and especially for its overthrow by unlawful violence.... All such proceedings are based on the mistaken supposition, that the Government is a monarchy, and the President a sovereign to whom we owe allegiance, and who may regulate and influence our destinies at his pleasure, whereas he is but the chief servant among those of the national household.

John W. EllisJohn Willis Ellis was governor of the state from 1858 until June 1861.

To Robert Gourdin of South Carolina, December 25, 1860

There is a fierce opposition here to Southern rights, growing mainly out of old party divisions, but we will overcome it. The people are fully alive to their interests.

To Isham W. Garrott of Alabama, January 30,1861

The abolitionists will continue to amuse us with hopes of compromise without any real purpose to make a Substantial Settlement. They are Seeking time, within which to get control of the army and navy and the powers of the government. They will make a strenuous effort to detach the Southern States from you, but rely upon it the Southern rights men in North Carolina will never desert you. We have SubmissionistsThat is, people who would submit to the Union, or Unionists. here but the great heart of the people is right. You may count us in for we are determined to be with you Soon.

Zebulon B. VanceZebulon Vance was serving in the United States Congress in 1860.

To William Dickson, December 11, 1860

The Whole Southern mind is inflamed to the highest pitch and the leaders in the disunion move are scorning every suggestion of compromise and rushing everything with ruinous and indecent haste that would seem to imply that they were absolute fools — Yet they are acting wisely for their ends — they are "precipitating" the people into a revolution without giving them time to think — They fear lest the people shall think... But the people must think, and when they do begin to think and hear the matter properly discussed they will consider long and soberly before they tear down this noble fabric and invite anarchy and confusion, carnage, civil war, and financial ruin with the breathless hurry of men flying from pestilence.... If we go out now we cant take the army and the navy with us, and Lincoln could as easily employ them to force us back as he could to prevent our going out.... We have everything to gain and nothing on earth to lose by delay, but by too hasty action we may take a fatal step that we never can retrace — may lose a heritage that we can never recover 'though we seek it earnestly and with tears.'

Jonathan WorthJonathan Worth was serving as a state senator in 1861.

To Springs, Oak & Co., May 13, 1861

I have been the most persevering and determined public man in my State to preserve the Union — the last to abandon the hope, that the good sense of the Nation would prevent a collision between the extremes, each of which I viewed with equal abhorrence. I am left no other alternative but to fight for or against my section. I can not hesitate. Lincoln has made us a unit to resist until we repel our invaders or die.

To D. G. Worth, May 15, 1861

I think the South is committing suicide, but my lot is cast with the South and being unable to manage the ship, I intend to face the breakersBreaking (crashing) waves, as would threaten a ship. manfully and go down with my companions.


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Compiled by the North Carolina Office of Archives & History for North Carolina History Day.