American Civil War and Mississippi Essay

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The Road to War (1846-1860)
By Clay Williams
The Road to War Timeline
Preamble and Resolutions Adopted
by the Convention of the State of
Mississippi, November 30, 1850. All
documents courtesy Mississippi
Department of Archives and History.
Larger view

Resolutions of the Legislature of the
State of Mississippi declaring
secession to be the proper remedy
for the Southern States, November
30, 1860. (Senate Journal 1860) All
documents courtesy Mississippi
Department of Archives and History.
Larger view

A Declaration of the Immediate
causes which induce and justify the
Secession of Mississippi from the

The American Civil War (1861-1865) left Mississippi
in chaos with its social structures overturned, its
economy in ruins, and its people shattered.
Historians continue to debate why Mississippi and
her sister southern states chose to leave the Union.
Issues such as state’s rights and high tariffs are
frequently cited as causes of the war, but
Mississippi's defense of the institution of slavery was
the ultimate reason the state seceded from the
Union. Indeed, a Declaration from its January 1861
state convention on whether to secede from the
Union stated, “Our position is thoroughly identified
with the institution of slavery — the greatest material
interest of the world.”
Slavery grew rapidly in Mississippi during the
decades before the Civil War. By 1860, its Black slave
population was well over 430,000 while there were
only 350,000 Whites in the state. Yet, most Whites
were not slaveholders and even those who did have
slaves — other than plantation owners — had less
than ten. The state's economy was primarily based
on the production of cotton, which depended heavily
on slaves to provide the necessary labor. Slavery was
as much a social structure, however, as it was an
economic system. Most slaveholders believed in the
inferiority of slaves and thought their Black servants
to be no more than property.
As the “peculiar institution” further entrenched itself

Federal Union and an Ordinance to
dissolve the union between the State
of Mississippi and other states united
with her under the compact entitled
“The Constitution of the United
States of America.” January 9, 1861.
All documents courtesy Mississippi
Department of Archives and History.
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Speech of Jefferson Davis on retiring
from the U.S. Senate, January 21,
1861
All documents courtesy Mississippi
Department of Archives and History.
Larger view

on the state’s economy and its people, more and
more of its White citizens felt the need to defend it
against increasing attacks from the growing
abolitionist movement. Not only did White
Mississippians defend slavery at home, they felt it
was their right to carry slaves into new territories as
well.
Most Mississippians felt secure in their institution’s
continued existence as long as a balance remained in
Congress between free and slave states. The country
maintained this balance through compromises.
When a new free state entered the Union, another
slave state was also accepted to maintain the
balance. Mississippi’s greatest fear was that free
states would outnumber slave states. The state
believed if this happened it could lead to legislation
limiting and eventually abolishing slavery. The
balance was maintained until the late 1840s when
territories gained by the American-Mexican War
(1846-1848) threatened to upset this equilibrium.
The American-Mexican War
The American-Mexican War had barely begun in
1846 when the question of slavery in the territories
became an issue. The introduction of the Wilmot
Proviso, a bill that prohibited slavery from all lands
acquired from Mexico, enraged many
Mississippians. Although the bill was not passed, it
was simply the first in a series of events that moved
Mississippi closer to secession.

John A. Quitman (1799-1858). A
state’s rights…