Thursday, August 27, 2015

Gigantino, ed.: "SLAVERY AND SECESSION IN ARKANSAS: A Documentary History"

[Slavery and Secession in Arkansas: A Documentary History edited by James J. Gigantino II (University of Arkansas Press, 2015). Softcover, map, index. 272 pp. ISBN:978-1-55728-676-5 $22.95]

To the great consternation of the more firebrand elements in Arkansas, the dominant political force in the state during the secession crisis of the winter of 1860-61 were the unionist "cooperationists." It would take the firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 and President Lincoln's call for volunteers from every state to crush the rebellion to swing Arkansas and the rest of the Upper South toward secession. "(C)ontemporary pamphlets, broadsides, legislative debates, public addresses, newspapers, and private correspondence" related to this turbulent period, 80 in number, have been selected by editor James Gigantino for inclusion in Slavery and Secession in Arkansas: A Documentary History. Taken together, these historical records form a powerful argument that southern fears over the future of slavery were at the nucleus of nearly every secession debate in the state.

Gigantino's introduction serves as a concise overview of the political and economic history of Arkansas from early statehood through the spark of Civil War. During this time, Arkansas politics were dominated by The Family (a.k.a. The Dynasty), a Democratic alliance of Conway, Sevier, and Johnson families and their supporters. The 1850s witnessed an economic boon in the state, largely the product of slave agriculture in the eastern and south parts of the state, although modern internal improvements like railroads lagged far behind. By the end of the decade, opposition to the more conservative order (which generally shunned the national debates over slavery) gained in strength, with anti-Family politicians Thomas Hindman and Henry Rector rising to power. In addition to changes in political leadership, the small farmers of northern and western Arkansas increasingly found their interests in conflict with the planters of the west and south.

In the first chapter covering the period prior to the 1860 election, future Confederate general Thomas Hindman lays out the case for disunion after a Lincoln victory. The prospects of a Republican presidency sparked intense debate and chapter two includes related political speeches and legislative and county resolutions and petitions. These documents make clear the arguments of both sides, with the pro-secession citizens and counties arguing for disunion as essential to the protection of slave property and the only honorable recourse to the North's attempts to bar slavery from the territories and nullify federal fugitive slave laws. On the other side, Arkansas's cooperationists strongly believed that slavery was best preserved within the federal union and secession could not be justified merely by Republican electoral victories. Both sides were united in opposition to the Republican party and believed the slave states to be the aggrieved party in the sectional debates but the cooperationists required an "overt act" of "coercion" before they would even consider the extreme measure of secession.  The many county resolutions included in the book, for and against secession, are perhaps the strongest documented indicators of the ranges of popular opinion and they also serve to highlight the geographical divisions within the state.

The broadsides, letters, and public addresses in the next chapter offer insights into the political stances of the various candidates to the upcoming secession convention. After the February 18 votes were tallied, it was clear that the cooperationists would dominate the convention, it was also obvious that most of the opposition to secession was conditional, that military action on the part of the federal government would not be tolerated and a negotiated adjustment with the North would be required that would satisfy southern grievances. The documents related to the March 4 convention are comprised of broadsides, speeches, resolutions, and early twentieth century remembrances of the event. Appeals to both sides are presented, including those from Confederate commissioners sent to Little Rock to lobby for secession.

The final chapter contains documents mostly from the period after the firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, an event that in conjunction with Lincoln's call for volunteers prompted a mass conversion of Arkansas cooperationists into the secessionist fold. The convention reconvened in early May and this time, the secessionists prevailed with only five dissenters (four of whom switched sides for the sake of consensus, leaving Isaac Murphy as the lone unconditional unionist delegate). Fears that delaying secession might prompt a breakup of the state did not come to pass but they did presage the bitter internecine conflict that would characterize much of the Civil War experience of the state, especially in the northwest.

Slavery and Secession in Arkansas should be read by not only serious students of Civil War Arkansas but anyone previously swayed by persistent modern arguments that southern secession had little or nothing to do with slavery. The primary source documents compiled by Gigantino and reproduced in their entirety in the book leave no doubt that the keystone of the secession movement was the protection of slave property rights and the social and economic system that accompanied it.

More CWBA reviews of UA Press titles:
* I Do Wish This Cruel War Was Over: First-Person Accounts of Civil War Arkansas from the Arkansas Historical Quarterly
* "This Day We Marched Again": A Union Soldier's Account of War in Arkansas and the Trans-Mississippi (Butler Center)
* When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Alabama in the Civil War
* Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight: The Civil War Diary of Brigadier General Daniel Harris Reynolds, 1861-1865
* The Die Is Cast: Arkansas Goes to War, 1861 (Butler Center)
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Missouri in the Civil War
* Army Life: From a Soldier’s Journal
* The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State
* A Rough Introduction to this Sunny Land (Butler Center)
* Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865
* A Thrilling Narrative
* Confederate Guerrilla
* Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Tennessee in the Civil War
* Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders
* "I Acted From Principle": The Civil War Diary Of Dr. William M. McPheeters, Confederate Surgeon In The Trans-Mississippi
* Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand

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