Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Those who voted against secession. . . thought they were doing right”

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on March 19, 2011

In February 1861, Texas voters went to the polls to vote on secession from the Union. The measure passed overwhelmingly, with 46,153 votes in favor, and 14,747 votes against.

One hundred fifty years ago today, on March 19, 1861, this item appeared in the Galveston Civilian and Gazette Weekly:

New converts are proverbially overzealous and intolerant. A majority of the secessionists in Texas have become such within the past few months. While many of them are puzzling their wits for test oaths and means of punishing the non-conformists and luke-warm, and freely apply the epithet of traitor, and would gladly apply the punishment due to treason, to persons who voted as they themselves would have done a few months since, the Marshall Republican, which was a secession paper in 1859 and has continued so ever since, says:

Now that the election is over, we hope the friends of secession will exercise moderation and good feeling towards those who voted against the Ordinance. It is not only their duty to do so, but the highest considerations of patriotism enjoin it. We want union among ourselves, and we can achieve that desirable end in no other way than by conciliation, and the examples of these fraternal feelings, which one Southern man ought to express for another. It should be borne in mind, that all men cannot think alike. Those who voted against secession, no doubt thought they were doing right; and now that this act has been consummated, will give their [steadfast?] efforts to sustain the rights, honor and interests of the State. To all such as these we tender the right hand of fellowship. Let us bury all past dissensions, forget everything leading to alienation, and stand together as a band of brothers.

Beneath the flowery language of patriotism and allusions to Shakespeare, there’s no tolerance for dissent or remaining loyalty to the Union in this passage. None. Past mistakes can be forgiven — “those who voted against secession, no doubt thought they were doing right” — but there is no room going forward for any such lingering sentiment. The tone of this communication may be loftier than those of the Committees of Safety, but the message is the same: dissent will not be tolerated.


Image: Unidentified member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, Marshall, Texas, c. 1861, Lawrence T. Jones III Texas photography collection at Southern Methodist University. The Knights were a secretive organization created in 1854, proposed to establish a slaveholding empire encompassing the southern United States, the West Indies, Mexico, and parts of Central America.

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  1. Dennis said, on March 20, 2011 at 8:39 am

    But these statements are consistent with both the attitude and moral purpose of the Confederacy – State Rights …translated as, the State had all the rights and everyone else who did not have money was either a servant or slave to the upper class. In either case, disagreement would be severely punished using normal means that was applied by the elite to all underclass crimes against common State imposed conformity requirements (Stalin had nothing on these characters) – execution; that is hanging for servants (read underclass whites that made up 95% of the free population of the State), and beating/whipping to death for all others (read blacks and few odd Mexicans that were unfortunate to be available.) Of course, Native Americans were to be killed for fun, sport or when the worthless land they had been forced to live upon suddenly became desirable for the whites.
    But State rights for everyone was the key word, unless female which was to be read as in the property of a husband or future property that didn’t count.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 20, 2011 at 9:17 am

      It’s not just a coercion based on class, race, or sex — white male citizens, voters, were targeted as well, perhaps more so for purely political reasons because unlike those others, they were expected to “understand” the issues more than those others, and were part of the body politic. It was they that were targets of the sort of vigilatism that resulted in the Nueces Massacre or the Great Hanging at Gatesville (below). I don’t mean to minimize the violence against women, African Americans, Native Americans and others, which were common enough even absent the issue of secession and the coming of the war, but there was a particular brand of vigilantism directed at those specifically suspected of treasonous sympathies.

      Great Hanging

      • Dennis said, on March 20, 2011 at 11:16 am

        Strange how these issues like these mass hangings have always seemed to be overlooked and are missing from the history books written by so many so-called historians… I guess many were southern and realized this aspect of the confederacy would not look too good relative to State murder and terrorism that was pacticed … I mean rights.

        Interesting, once more I learn something here that I’ve never seen or heard of in all my history readings but should have realized must have occurred all too often in the Freedom of the south.

        The people not hung that are sitting around in the drawing all appear to be relaxing and enjoying themselves – looks like this traditional recreation appears to have become a common behavior that was carried over to the far, far more heinous lynching parties were whole communities (even children!) came out to watch as one or more African Americans were hung and slowly burned alive – nice people (including Northerners, and Midwesterners that did these absolutely unbelievable evil actions, too!)

  2. Andy Hall said, on March 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

    The figures around the margin of the hanging are part of other scenes, which are cropped out. Here’s the original.

    I can understand — though only to a point — why both K-12 teachers and those who write the curricula are reluctant to get into this aspect of the war; it’s very complex, and difficult to get across without students first having a very thorough understanding of the cultural, racial and political context of the war, which (by definition) they don’t.

    • Dennis said, on March 20, 2011 at 5:53 pm

      While I can understand that such a subject should be limited in scope for K-12, I didn’t have that information even in my college courses nor have I seen a word in any and all history books written by “experts” that I have read (true only a dozen or so but some where fairly “complete” overviews and two were written shortly after the war by the winners! and this was never mentioned – strange? Amnesia by the country? . Only recently did I even learn that some areas of the South had rebelled to stay in the Union … can’t recall where but one of the most famous was in the Deep South.

  3. TheRaven said, on March 20, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    dissent will not be tolerated.

    Considered alongside the Confederacy’s grasp of economics, tortured defense of slavery and general mass delusionalism, the whole picture takes on a Soviet hue.

  4. Mark said, on March 20, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    First of all, any “vote” taken in the South was much like “elections” under Saddam. Not that bad, but nearly so.

    Essentially, Southern governments had outlawed most free speech from 1820’s on, with the anti-incendiary laws. While not uniformily enfored, they were a very real fact of life. Even pastors could be — and were — arrested and subjected to torture, for simply questioning slavery.

    The only way the whole lunatic myth of the Lost Cause can be sustained, is if we stay ignorant of the govermental totalitarianism regarding free speech in the South. The South was not Nazi Germany, of course. But if you think pastors could preach against slavery, if you think books could be read, and real elections held, without risk of government reprisals, think again. Books were banned, ships were searched, the mail was regulated. And the punishment was not some fine — it was torture, then jail.

    Even personal comments about slavery being wrong, could be dangerous. Men like Cassius Clay and Hiton Helper were bannished from the South — not tortured or whipped, out of respect that they loathed blacks, and that was the reason they were against slavery.

    Most people in the South, at the time of the Civil War, had never heard a legal sermon against slavery, never read a legal book or pamplet against it. And never participated in a real election — you can’t have real elections if free speech is choked essentially to death.

    From birth on, moszt had heard only sermons approved by the government, preached by government approved preachers.

    Don’t take my word for it, I wasn’t there. But Hnton Helper was, and that is essentially what HE said.

  5. bongohappens said, on June 7, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Nonesense, if they thought they were doing right, why on earth did they change their excuses later? Why not say in 1867, “Yes, God ordained slavery and the torture of slaves as punishment for biblical sins”?

    They said such things before. Do you find any such boasting later?

    Also, before the war, they boasted they were killing to spread slavery- – go see the speeches, and documents, and war ultimatums.

    Can you find anyplace in any Southern newspaper, any Southern book, any Southern speech, ,that they boasted after the war, what they boasted of before? Killing to spread slavery?

    You will look in vain for any such admission

    What Southern leaders boasted of at the time, they dare no mention later. They, nor their chilidren, nor their schools, nor their sermons, nor their books would DARE, even to now, from 1861 to now — brag they were killing to spread slavery.

    Do you think this by accident? They accidently bragged before the war, that they would kill, and did kill, to spread slavery? And they bragged that was the entire– ENTIRE– purpose of their killings, to spread slavery? That was an accident in 1856? Really?

    Then it was another accident that after 1865, they would not dare whisper what before they had boasted of.

    If you don’t know what Southern leaders were boasting of, before the war, their speeches to each other, reports to Jeff Davis on progress of killing sprees, boasting about torture, then you really have no basis to understand what led up to the Civil War.

    The truth is there. We can not see Robert E Lee buying slave girls — what do you supposed he said as he bid and paid for slave girls? But we can know abouit his slave ledgers and purchase of slave girls, and purchase of women kidnapped in the North.

    Do you suppose after the war, Lee gave any speech that God wanted slaves punished? Well, he said such things in letters before the war. And he backed up his statements by paying others to whip women who tried to escape. Lee remains, and probably always will remain, the only person in US history to order his soldiers to capture free women (and men) and then have those captives taken to a different counry (Lee said it was a different country) and sold as slaves. Try to grasp that.

    SO if that was fine to do — in fact, Lee tried to pass his slavery off as noble (as did many slave owners) why on earth did he not say anything remotely like that AFTER the war?

    YOu need to learn a lot more about what Southern leaders did, said, and wrote.

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