Ohio Replies to Southern Secession

(July 14, 2018) Partly because some of the Southern states formally cited the protection of slavery as the chief reason for seceding, today’s public generally believes that the North entered the Civil War to free the slaves. But the pre-war resolutions of Northern states replying to secession examined so far (Minnesota and Pennsylvania) at Civil War Chat undeniably show that the principal reason they opposed secession was to preserve the Union and not to free the slaves. Today’s post analyzes the January 12, 1861 joint resolutions of the Ohio General Assembly. On that date only four states had yet seceded.

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The Ohio resolutions make only a single indirect, but unmistakable, reference to slavery. Instead of urging an end to slavery, however, they indicate that slavery is a matter for the states to decide individually. Specifically, the fourth resolution states that Ohioans “are inflexibly opposed to intermeddling with the internal affairs and domestic relations of the other states of the Union.” The resolution’s language is similar to that of the fourth plank in Lincoln’s Party platform, although it fails to “denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any state or territory, no matter under what pretext . . .” as does (ironically) the Republican plank.

As with the Minnesota and Pennsylvania proclamations the rest of Ohio’s resolutions generally condemn secession and assert the perpetuity of the Union. Although indicating that Ohio was prepared to support a federal invasion of the seceding states  to coerce them back into the Union, they only provide abstract reasons for wanting to preserve the Union. The first resolution, for example, states that the people of Ohio “believing that the preservation of the Unity of [the federal] Government . . . is essential to . . . their safety [and] prosperity . . . are firmly . . .  attached to . . . the Union of the States.” They fail to mention a specific reason for opposing Southern secession such as Minnesota’s objection that it might enable a new nation to disrupt navigation in the lower Mississippi Valley. Nonetheless, Ohio reveals her threat of war in the second resolution that proclaims “the General Government cannot permit the secession of any state.”

Unlike Pennsylvania, Ohio historically opposed protective tariffs, which were generally levied on the imports competitive to the manufactured goods produced in the Northeast. But the state was also a major wool producer. The number of sheep in the Union-loyal states, excluding the Far West, increased from 15 million in 1860 to 35 million in 1867 and twenty percent were in Ohio.  By 1863 the state’s wool growers started laying plans to join with the eastern mills to obtain tariff protection for all components of the industry’s supply chain.  In exchange for supporting tariffs on finished woolen goods Ohioans would get tariffs on unprocessed wool commonly imported from low cost producers in New Zealand and Australia. In fact, wool would become one of the first major domestically produced raw materials to get a protective tariff.* Like Minnesotans, Ohioans may have also wanted to keep the lower Mississippi Valley in the United States in order to avoid potential trade disruptions to the South and export markets through New Orleans.

While it would be helpful if the Ohioans had explained concretely why they felt preservation of the Union was essential to their “prosperity” their resolutions unmistakably show that the state did not go to war to free the slaves.

*Howard K. Beale, “The Tariff and Reconstruction,” American Historical Review V.35, N. 2 (January 1930), 283-86; Howard K. Beale The Critical Year (New York: Frederick Unger Publishing, 1958), 270


1 thought on “Ohio Replies to Southern Secession

  1. Sean Michael Chick

    This should be the basis for a book on the subject. I will say, keep in mind that there was a feeling that secession was a betrayal of democracy and the founders, in so far as the Deep South states had not good reason to leave.


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