New York Replies to Southern Secession

(July 16, 2018) As noted in the four previous posts, desires to protect slavery expressed in the secession documents of selected Southern states contribute significantly to the popular notion that Northerners entered the Civil War to free the slaves.  Nonetheless, official resolutions of the four Northern states examined so far (Minnesota, Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) undeniably show that their chief goal was to keep the Union intact. None of the Northern documents indicate an intent to free Southern  slaves. To the contrary, they typically included resolutions denying that the federal government had such authority. Today’s post analyzes the January 11, 1861 joint resolutions of the New York General Assembly. By that date only four of the eventual eleven states that would join the Confederacy had yet seceded.

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New York summed its perspective in only three resolutions. The third merely stated that the document would be distributed to political leaders in other states. The second expressed support for the citizens of selected slaves states that had not yet seceded and who where urging their states to remain Union-loyal.

But the first proclaimed New York’s readiness to go to war to preserve the Union. Specifically, the legislators resolved that they were “profoundly impressed with the value of the Union and determined to preserve it unimpaired.” They regarded the Union as valuable because “it conferred prosperity and happiness on the American People.” Finally, they concluded that New York was prepared to provide “whatever aid in men and money [President Buchanan] may require to enforce the laws and uphold the authority of the Federal Government.”  It fails to even hint that New Yorkers wanted to free Southern slaves.

Like the resolutions of other Northern states, New York’s provide only vague reasons for wanting the Union preserved, such as the “prosperity” and “happiness” it provided to all Americans. Such abstractions are not convincing explanations and may be deliberate obfuscations. Even historian Gary Gallagher who accepts the platitudes at face value, concedes that the average Northerner was preoccupied “then, as now, [by] economic concerns.” Blacks represented only about one percent of the population in the Northern free states where they were largely irrelevant to the affairs of the typical white man.*

No spot north of the Mason-Dixon Line worried more about the potential economic consequences of disunion than New York City. According to historians John and Charles Lockwood,  “Much of the South’s cotton exports passed through New York, and the city’s merchants took 40 cents of every dollar that Europeans paid for Southern cotton through warehouse fees, shipping, insurance and profits. Cotton—and hence slavery—helped build the new marble-fronted mercantile buildings in lower Manhattan, fill Broadway hotels and stores with customers, and build block after block of fashionable brownstones north of 14th Street. If seceding Southern states formed their own nation, New York merchants could expect to lose much of that lucrative trade.”

As a result, on January 7, 1861 Mayor Fernando Wood formally suggested that the city’s governing council declare Manhattan independent from both the state and the federal Union. He envisioned the city becoming an independent city-state similar to the seaport free cities of northern Germany. His proposal came less than three weeks after South Carolina seceded and two days before Mississippi became the second state to secede.

Wood’s idea was not as surprising as it might seem today. In 1861 New York was both America’s largest and wealthiest city. At a time when tariffs represented ninety percent of federal revenues, two-thirds of them were collected at the Port of New York. As an independent city state, New York could keep that tariff revenue for itself. “As a free city,” Wood said, “with but nominal duty on imports, her local Government could be supported without taxation upon her people. Thus we could live free from taxes, and have cheap goods nearly duty free.” Although the council failed to adopt the mayor’s proposal the city’s businessmen desperately wanted to avoid the economic consequences of disunion.


*Gary Gallagher, The Union War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 42, 44

7 thoughts on “New York Replies to Southern Secession

  1. Harris Syed

    Well secession in America isn’t just only the Confederacy there have been other attempts or examples of secession:
    * The Thirteen Colonies/United States: The Thirteen Colonies (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia) in the North and South united to form the United States this act was practically secession because up until the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 these colonies were under British control and independence was essentially seceding from a larger entity to become a new nation. As with the Confederate States of America in 1861 the Thirteen Colonies/United States had developed a distinct culture and identity separate from their former country.
    * New England: There were threats to secede from the Union in the early 1800s during the Embargo Act of 1807 but when Thomas Jefferson repealed it that movement died some did propose secession at the Hartford Convention but they were a minority. Even radical abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison had proposed forming an independent New England nation separate from the rest of the Union prior to the Civil War.
    * Republic of West Florida/Republic of Texas: Two other Southern republics existed before the Confederate States of America: West Florida which rebelled and seceded from Spanish colonial rule and Texas which did the same thing to the Mexicans both as republics until being annexed by the United States.
    * New York/Free City of Tri-Insula: Prior to Fort Sumter, New York Mayor Fernando Wood (Copperhead Democrat) proposed that New York City (then comprised of Manhattan, Long Island, and Rhode Island) should split from the Union and become an independent city-state called the Free City of Tri-Insula.
    * Old Northwest (Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois): The Northwestern states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois were at odds with the Eastern Yankee states as they shared a lot of links economically, politically, and population with the South rather than the North they also were a Copperhead Democrat stronghold so it’s no surprise that some within that region considered the idea of forming a “Northwest Confederacy” which manifested itself in the Northwest Conspiracy.
    * Pacific Republic (California and Oregon): California and Oregon had their fair share of Southern settlers some of whom were pro-Confederate such as Southern California (where I live) these pro-Confederate sympathizers worked with Albert Sidney Johnston (the highest ranking general in the Civil War to die) to create the “Pacific Republic” but due to aid being deprived this never came to fruition.
    Secession has been Southern but so too did other parts of the United States consider or do secession on their own.

  2. Harris Syed

    I hope so we can accomplish this.

    So in regards to your book The Confederacy at Flood Tide, books like Crossorads of Freedom: Antietam and Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year are pretty similar in nature since they cover 1862 and when the Confederates started to gain success/victories in the East and West I already have a copy of the former and the latter book is on its way to be delivered to me personally I’d say that putting certain subject matter aside these books do a good job of covering the progress of the rest of the year from summer post-Shenandoah/Peninsula/Seven Days/Bull Run II until pre-Antietam fall 1862/winter post-Fredericksburg 1862-Mud March January 1863 I already read a sample chapter from the Confederacy at Flood Tide and I must say I’m pretty impressed.

    In regards to alternate history, I enjoy the genre as well of the many timelines published on Alternate History Discussion (a discussion board for alternate history) some are my favorite and Confederate Victory scenarios are some of my favorite AHs the thing is about dealing with a post-war Confederacy is that it is such a blank slate that you could take it anywhere among the most detailed and well known of the bunch is Southern Victory aka Timeline 191 by Harry Turtledove (a prolific alternate history author) it spans over 11 books that can be divided into 3 series: The Great War trilogy, American Empire trilogy, and Settling Accounts tetralogy, the first book is How Few Remain it plays a bit like your own book and the two other books I mentioned up until the POD (Point of Divergence) that is the Lost Order (or Lost Dispatch) never gets lost and so it gets delivered properly in time allowing Robert E. Lee to surprise George B. McClellan by destroying him at the Battle of Camp Hill in Pennsylvania coupled with Bragg properly winning in Kentucky soon gets the British and French to mediate in the War of Secession (TL-191’s name for the Civil War) and so the Union surrenders the Confederacy has won but this wouldn’t be the end as the two nations become destined to be eternal enemies forever throughout the 19th and 20th centuries with the Second Mexican War in which the Anglo-French-Canadian-Mexican-Confederate alliance beats the Americans after the CSA acquires the Mexican provinces of Sonora and Chihuahua from Mexico (they also buy Cuba from Spain) but also abolish slavery due to foreign pressure from their allies as a result the Union decides to ally with the German Empire (given their large German populations), the Republican Party becomes throughly discredited in the eyes of many Americans for losing two wars in a row members defect some like Benjamin Butler join the Democrat Party while others like Abraham Lincoln join the Socialist Party (which is a major political force in TTL) plus Alaska is never sold to America by the Russians since the former suffered an economic crisis and Hawaii never is conquered so the British instead claim it for themselves, Missouri stays a part of the U.S. unlike Kentucky and since Washington, D.C. is too close to the Mason-Dixon Line (the border between the USA and the CSA) the American capital is relocated to Philadelphia (historical reasons) and George Armstrong Custer never gets killed he lives on for another century becoming a major military figure since the U.S. did a lot of effort to killing the Indians (like OTL) as fast and efficiently as possible thus no Battle of Little Bighorn meanwhile a new ideology embraced by many Americans called Remembrance emerges (think of it as a cross between the Pious/Righteous and Lost Causes in the Timeline 191 universe) with there being a Statue of Remembrance (TL-191’s Statue of Liberty) built and Southern-born Founding Fathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are downplayed (which I highly doubt in a Confederate victory given their importance to the United States as Founding Fathers) in favor of Northern-born Founding Fathers such as Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, World War I (or the Great War in TL-191) breaks out as in OTL (our timeline) the factions are the Entente (Britain, France, Russia, Confederacy, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, Sandwich Islands/Hawaii, South Africa, India, Belgium, Argentina, Japan, Mexico, and Serbia) vs the Quadruple Alliance/Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, America, Chile, Paraguay, Haiti, Liberia, Brazil, Ireland) the war is devastating especially in Europe and in North Ameroca here the U.S., C.S, and Canada are fighting it out on two fronts: the Confederates manage to move past through Maryland (where they invaded in 1862 during the War of Secession) going as far north as Philadelphia after capturing the de jure capital of Washington, D.C. but they are repulsed and the Americans advance towards the state of Kentucky and Big Lick, Virginia as well as the city of Nashville, Tennessee, Arkansas, Sequoyah (TL-191’s Oklahoma), and parts of Texas and Canada gets overrun by America and soon annexed both the USA and the CSA though would experience domestic revolts the former by the Mormons (who are an illegal religious group in TL-191) in Utah in what was known as the Utah Troubles (think the Troubles in Ireland but in America) and the latter faces a socialist revolt by the Blacks who create various republics before being crushed but it also helps divert military units away from fighting the U.S. eventually the war comes to an end in 1917 and harsh peace terms are imposed upon the defeated Entente by the Central Powers the Confederacy being hit the hardest losing Kentucky, Sequoyah, west Texas (now the State of Houston), northern Virginia (now in West Virginia hands), portions of northeast Arkansas and Sonora given to the U.S. also Ireland becomes independent once more, America and Germany create the puppet states of Quebec, Poland, and Ukraine respectively in the coming decades authoritarian governments rise to power in the defeated Entente countries Britain falls under the influence of Winston Churchill (Prime Minister as in OTL) and the Silvershirts lead by Oswald Mosley (a leader of the British Union of Fascists in OTL) Russia stays a stardom with the Russian Revolution crushed, France ditches the republic in favor of a monarchy led by Action Francaise (a right-wing monarchist group in real life) with King Charles XII in power and in the Confederacy the Freedom Party lead by Jake Featherston (TL-191’s Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler) take over the Confederacy where abolish term limits and seek to regain lost territory so they agree with the U.S. to hold plebiscites in what is known as the Richmond Agreement in the states of Kentucky, Houston, and Sequoyah while the former two rejoin the CSA the latter stays in the USA angering Featherston who decides to invade again in a plan called Operation Blackbeard (TL-191’s Operation Barbarossa) which starts the Second Great War (TL-191’s World War II) by sending troops to Ohio in the hopes of cutting the U.S. in half but it doesn’t work so they decide to launch Operation Coalscuttle by trying to take the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Stalingrad here) but while they do acheive a short lived victory that results in the U.S. forces surrounding the C.S. forces to surrender the tide begins to turn on the Confederates as the Americans launch campaigns into Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia all while this is happening the Freedomite-controlled Confederacy commits genocide on its black population on a major scale killing millions (i.e. the European Holocaust to Jews) and the Mormons rebel again similarity this occurs with the English Canadians in US-controlled Canada also the Confederacy and other countries build up super bombs (TL-191’s nuclear bombs) which destroy major cities cities such as Paris, London, Petrograd, London, Newport News, and Charleston, Philadelphia also gets nuked but doesn’t suffer as much damage as those cities, eventually the cities of Nashville, Chattanooga, Birmingham, Huntsville, Atlanta, and Savannah fall while U.S. forces under Irving Morrell (American Erwin Rommel) invade through the Carolinas in a Sherman March to the Sea style military maneuver and the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia is evacuated by Featherston and his administration the former of who refuses to surrender until a black man named Cassius Madison kills him and so Don Patridge now the Confederate president decides to surrender to the USA and Texas seceded to become an independent nation with the Confederacy dead the Second Great War is over with Freedomite war criminals executed in Nuremberg-style Trials and the U.S. having to occupy a wide expanse of a former country Reconstruction-style and Thomas E. Dewey gets elected President of the United States who creates the Dewey Doctrine with Germany to police super bomb usage what happens after that isn’t covered but the folks at Alternate History Discussion have created TL-191: Filling the Gaps to cover the post-Second Great War world of the series. I think you read these books for yourself though they do have flaws (too much parallelism) they can be entertaining at times.

    Another Southern-set work I like to talk about is True Blood by Mississippi-born author Charlaine Harris (who also wrote Aurora Teagarden, Midnight, Texas, and other novels) it’s about a blonde human/faerie woman named Sookie Stackhouse and her two vampire besties the former being a Confederate veteran and the latter is a Viking as well as her brother Jason and all the supernatural stuff by vampires, witches, shapeshifters, weres, and all other creatures out there in the town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. It’s both a book series and tv series so Mr. Phil Leigh I gotta ask have you ever read any of the books I sure read Dead Until Dark, Dead in Dallas, and Club Dead the first three installments and I’ve been on the True Blood Wiki page of the main character and her brother as well as Faeries. If you have watched the show or read the books Mr. Phil Leigh what do you think of the series or the show?

    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      My favorite alternate history novels pertinent to the Civil War are “Gray Victory” by Robert Skimin and “Guns of the South” by Turtledove.

  3. Michael Bradley

    I am enjoying the current series of articles on northern response to secession. These responses are not widely known and are seldom referred to by historians.

    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      Thanks, Dr. Bradley.

      As you might suspect, encouragement like this is helpful because mainstream historians minimize these points.

      1. Harris Syed

        Hello, Mr. Phil Leigh I am a CWTer or a Civil War Talk (Civil War discussion board) user from Corona, California who is interested in the genre of alternate history (works of fiction that focus on an event going differently) if you happen to read one yourself and reading the reviews of your two books: The Confederacy at Flood Tide and Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies you’ve done quite a fascinating job at doing Civil War history right I think the same applies to Southern Reconstruction promoting a view of this event that focuses on how economically it hurt the South (and its inhabitants: Southerners) and put them into poverty for decades until the New Deal came around and the fact that Republicans were otherwise worried that they would not win elections if they didn’t create a black Republican voting bloc since much of the white (Northern and Southern) vote was still heavily Democratic by the time Southern Democrats gained power even the Republicans decided they wanted nothing to do with blacks so the “lily-white” faction was formed and expelled anyone who was part of the “black-and-tan” as well having little concern about the increasing nativist hostility towards Chinese Americans resulting in their exclusion by the 1880s something that never would be found elsewhere since most Reconstruction books focus too much on the black experience instead of the socioeconomic factors I even managed to read some of your articles on the New York Times “Disunion” blog and the Abbeville Institute (which I agree with their standpoints more often than out and an avid follower). Considering most in the Union simply viewed this war as preserving the Union and really only when things started to look bad for the war effort in the East and West prior to Antietam/Perryville did Lincoln decide to issue the Emancipation Proclaimation but that really only targeted rebels not loyalists and it was viewed simply as a war measure to cope up with the potential of a British/French recognition of the Confederacy and when Lincoln needed a victory to justify it even then some Northern newspapers and soldiers weren’t too enthused about it especially Irish-Americans.

        In regards to showing these documents and other related materials in the Civil War era well I think you’ve done a good job on showing a seldom looked side of this key American conflict (which could have easily been global with the British and French had the Trent Affair escalated) that doesn’t pop up elsewhere. Personally, I am no fan of the Pious/Righteous Cause mythology that my friends have promoted and especially one user on Alternate History Discussion (which I follow avidly) named Emperor Maryland who despite his profile name claims that the biggest “mistake” (the discussion was mainly about military mistakes) was not hanging Confederate figures who were supposedly “a hell lot of other trash” making typically anti-Southern Evil Twin Pious/Righteous Cause propaganda I bet if you were to tell him about the seldom discussed aspects of the Civil War he would never listen because he is too ingrained into this mythology this is especially the case with Wikiquote’s pages on the conflict, South Carolina, Texas and the Confederacy which are filled with this type of diatribe and for the U.S. Constitution much of this concerning race and secession (I am in no way a supporter of any racist ideology nor do I care except if it’s genocidal and its apologists try to deny it) looking at the appeals of equality made by famous abolitionist Frederick Douglas and President James A. Garfield including 21st century historians writing the past as if it were the present not the past how laughable they would fallen flat on their faces the thing was most White Americans (Northern and Southern) would have never believed in Douglas or Garfield they considered America as a white country this can be seen multiple times by the 1790 Immigration Act which restricted citizenship/immigration to “free white persons of good character”, various Northern and Southern states trying to expel free blacks such as Oregon as well as take away the rights of black men in politics, race riots against blacks all across the country, the emergence of nativism manifested in the 19th century towards non-WASP minority groups by the Know-Nothings and the 20th century by the Ku Klux Klan (the second one not the Reconstruction which have little in common other than name and purpose), the aforementioned exclusion of Chinese in the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907, the Yellow Peril anti-Asian histeria, the Emergency Quota and 1924 Immigration Acts which excluded Southern and Eastern European Catholics/Orthodoxies, Asians, non-American Africans, Arabs and any else who wasn’t from Western Europe or from a Protestant/Germanic country (except if you’re Ireland), the prevalence of Jim Crow in the North and the South, even the Founding Fathers while still believers in the Declaration of Independence motto of “all men are created equal” did not have advanced views of groups like blacks or even other Europeans such as Germans for example while some were certainly anti-slavery it wasn’t because they were wanting them to be equal rather they believed in colonizing or deporting blacks back to Africa to create a colony there Benjamin Franklin said no to having anymore Africans and expressed hostility to non-Anglo-Saxon groups for example the “colonization” plan was a view shared by many Northerners and Southerners including the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, the American Revolution in particular it was simply the American Patriots (mostly white some exceptions) who simply fought this war to secure their rights as Englishmen, the Free-Soilers while opposed to the expansion of slavery was strictly to keep the land for white families there and not want any blacks living there (some exceptions existed though) really only since the 1960s post-Civil Rights era have most Americans been able to embrace the idea that “all men are created equal” apply to everyone until then many Whites viewed it as applying only to them mind you I wouldn’t support these types of views it is just that universal equality and human rights hadn’t even existed back then yet.

      2. Phil Leigh Post author

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

        Many of the topics you mention are ignored or minimized in today’s American history college classes. Perhaps that will change, but it first requires that ideas outside the Overton window no longer be censored. That will be the first step.

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