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Slavery in Alabama


William Lowndes Yancey
William Lowndes Yancey

Slavery was one of the most divisive political issues in the U.S. Congress during the first half of the 19th century. Many senators and congressmen from the Northern states pressed to end slavery, both because it was considered immoral and because white labor could not compete with unpaid black labor. Members of Congress from the Southern states, including Alabama, believed that slavery was essential to their agricultural system and that the North was trying to dominate the national economy. The South could resist attempts to change its system as long as Congress was about equally divided between slave states and free states. Thus the South was vitally interested in maintaining that balance.

In 1846 Congress debated the Wilmot Proviso, which would have closed to slavery all territories gained in the Mexican War (1846-1848). Southerners were alarmed because this meant that several new free states would be created; the balance would be destroyed.

Sectional tension rose to a furor. William L. Yancey of Montgomery became a leader of the Southern radicals, who were known as fire-eaters. Yancey advocated secession from the Union and formation of a separate Southern nation. He led the “Southern rights” wing of the Alabama Democratic Party and persuaded the state party to adopt his Alabama Platform.

This document declared that the federal government was obligated to protect slavery in the territories and that a slaveowner had a right to take his slave property anywhere in the territories. In the 1850s many Alabamians came to believe that secession was the only way to protect what they believed were Southern rights, including the right to own slaves. They were in the minority, however, until 1860. That year, Abraham Lincoln was elected president as the candidate of the Republican Party, which opposed the spread of slavery.

The Southern state of South Carolina had threatened to secede if the Republicans won the presidency, and in December 1860 it did so. Other Southern states began to follow. In Alabama, a convention was called in Montgomery to consider the question. Despite strong Unionist sentiment in north Alabama and the Wiregrass, the convention voted for secession on January 11. Alabama was the fourth state, after South Carolina, Mississippi, and Florida, to leave the Union.

Alabama invited six other seceding states to a meeting in Montgomery in February 1861 to consider forming a Southern nation. At that meeting they established a confederacy, the Confederate States of America, and elected as their president Jefferson Davis, a Mississippi planter, U.S. Military Academy graduate, and former U.S. senator and secretary of war. Davis took the oath of office on the main portico of the Alabama state capitol. Montgomery became the first capital of the Confederacy, but in May, for political, military, and economic reasons, the capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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