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This Day in Georgia Civil War History

December 07, 1860

Governor Brown Letter on Secession Crisis

Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown released a public letter, stating his wishes that Georgians would put aside party strife and send their best representatives to the convention to consider secession. He also left no doubt as to what he thought was the best policy; he strongly favored secession, as seen in the following excerpts from the letter:

…I propose to discuss briefly three propositions. 1st. Is the election of Mr. Lincoln to the Presidency, sufficient cause to justify Georgia and the other Southern States in seceding from the Union? 2d. What will be the results to the institution of slavery which will follow submission to the inauguration and administration of Mr. Lincoln as the President of one section of the Union. 3d. What will be the effect which the abolition of Slavery will have upon the interests and the social position of the large class of nonslaveholders and poor white laborers, who are in the South? First, is the election of Mr. Lincoln sufficient cause to justify the secession of the Southern States from the Union? In my opinion the election of Mr. Lincoln, viewed only in the light of the triumph of a successful candidate, is not sufficient cause for a dissolution of the Union. This, however, is a very contracted and narrow view of the question. Mr. Lincoln is a mere mote in the great political atmosphere of the country, which, as it floats, only shows the direction in which the wind blows. He is the mere representative of a fanatical abolition sentiment– the mere instrument of a great triumphant political party, the principles of which are deadly hostile to the institution of Slavery, and openly at war with the fundamental doctrines of the Constitution of the United States. The rights of the South, and the institution of slavery, are not endangered by the triumph of Mr. Lincoln, the man; but they are in imminent danger from the triumph of the powerful party which he represents, and of the fanatical abolition sentiment which brought him into power… Second, What will be the result to the institution of slavery, which will follow submission to the inauguration and administration of Mr. Lincoln as the President of one section of the Union? My candid opinion is, that it will be the total abolition of slavery, and the utter ruin of the South, in less than twenty-five years. If we submit now, we satisfy the Northern people that, come what may, we will never resist. If Mr. Lincoln places among us his Judges, District Attorneys, Marshals, Post Masters, Custom House officers, etc., etc., by the end of his adminstration, with the control of these men, and the distribution of public patronage, he will have succeeded in dividing us to an extent that will destroy all our moral powers, and prepare us to tolerate the running of a Republican ticket, in most of the States of the South, in 1864. If this ticket only secured five or ten thousand votes in each of the Southern States, it would be as large as the abolition party was in the North a few years since. It would hold a ballance [sic] of power between any two political parties into which the people of the South may hereafter be divided. This would soon give it the control of our elections. We would then be powerless, and the abolitionists would press forward, with a steady step, to the accomplishment of their object. … 3rd, What effect will the abolition of slavery have upon the interest and social position of the large class of nonslaveholders and poor white laborers in the South? Here would be the scene of the most misery and ruin. Probably no one is so unjust as to say that it would be right to take from the slaveholder his property without paying for it. What would it cost to do this? There are, in round numbers, 4,500,000 slaves in the Southern States. They are worth, at a low estimate, 500 dollars each. All will agree to this. Multiply the 4,500,000 by the 500 and you have twenty-two hundred and fifty millions of dollars, which these slaves are worth. No one would agree that it is right to rob the Southern slaveholders of this vast sum of money without compensation. The Northern States would not agree to pay their proportion of the money, and the people of the South must be taxed to raise the money. If Georgia were only an average Southern State, she would have to pay one fifteenth part of this sum, which would be $150,000,000. Georgia is much more than an average State, and she must therefore pay a larger sum. Her people now pay less than half a million dollars a year, of tax. Suppose we had ten years within which to raise the $150,000,000, we whould then have to raise, in addition to our present tax, $15,000,000 per annum, or over thirty times as much as we now pay.– The poor man, who now pays one dollar, would then have to pay $30.00. … The present is a critical time with the people of the South. We all, rich and poor, have a common interest, a common destiny. It is no time to be wrangling about old party strifes. Our common enemy, the Black Republican party, is united and triumphant. Let us all unite. If we cannot all see alike, let us have charity enough towards each other, to admit that all are equally patriotic in their efforts to advance the common cause. My honest convictions are, that we can never again live in peace with the Northern abolitionists… The President in his late message, while he denies our Constitutional right to secede, admits that the General Government has no Constitutional right to coerce us back into the Union, if we do secede. Secession is not likely, therefore, to involve us in war. Submission may. When the other States around us secede, if we remain in the Union, thousands of our people will leave the State, and it is feared that the standard of revolution and rebellion may be raised among us, which would at once involve us in civil war among ourselves. If we must fight, in the name of all that is sacred, let us fight our common enemy, and not fight each other. In my opinion, our people should send their wisest and best men to the Convention, without regard to party distinctions, and should intrust much to their good judgment and sound discretion, when they meet. They may, then, have new lights before them, which we do not now have; and they should be left free to act upon them. My fervent prayer is, that the God of our fathers may inspire the Convention with wisdom, and so direct their counsels as to protect our rights and preserve our libertiess to the latest generation. I am, gentlemen, with great respect, Your fellow citizen, Joseph E. Brown