The Museum of Southern History
Preserving the History, Ideals and Chivalry of the South.
4304 Herschel St., Jacksonville, Florida 32210
1861 Florida Seceeds from the Union
         When the news of the Black Republican victory in 1860 in the election of Lincoln to succeed Buchanan as president of the United States reached Flori­da an immediate wave of adverse reaction was felt throughout the state. Pub­lic meetings held in the towns and settlements adopted resolutions calling for state action on the course to be followed toward separation from the union. On November 8 a public meeting at Fernandina went on record with the decla­ration that Lincoln's election was the first step in the dissolution of the union and a similar meeting in Jefferson county favored secession if necessary to pro­tect southern rights. A St. Augustine meeting of November 17 and one at Ocala November 26 added their resolutions to the General Assembly to provide for a "Convention of Delegates" to consider "the expediency of dissolving our connection with the Federal Union. . . ." In general, the erstwhile Whigs joined with the Democrats in denouncing the selection of Lincoln, while the Democratic newspapers almost unanimously demanded state action against "that party of fanatics, who have deliberately threatened to force us into an admis­sion of the equality, socially and politically, of the slave…….”
         Opposition to the project for immediate secession was publicly expressed by a few prominent Floridians. Richard Keith Call, staunch Whig and strong union nationalist, wrote many letters to Middle Florida newspapers urging re­sistance against northern oppression by armed revolution within the existing government rather than by secession from the union. Federal Judge William Marvin of Key West opposed the idea of secession and exercised influence in fostering union sentiment in the Keys. David Shelby Walker, an associate justice of the state supreme court, was opposed to the idea and privately exercised his opinion on others, though his opposition was not as violent as that of Call. But the sentiment for secession overwhelmed the small voices of the unionists, particularly when Governor Madison Perry, Governor-elect John Milton, and Congressman-elect R. B. Hilton were on record by the middle of November 1860 for immediate separation. With the national government in control of the Republican Party southerners believed that federal control of slavery in the territories was but a minor goal of the abolitionists in that party who meant to finally destroy slavery in the southern states.
         On November 26 the General Assembly convened in regular session at Tallahassee. Governor Perry devoted his entire message to the necessity for secession at once, as an indecisive wait for an aggressive act by the national government might well invite the disaster which the slaves of Santo Domingo inflicted upon the white inhabitants of that island. The governor asked the legislature to enact legislation for the election of delegates to a constituent as­sembly which, in turn, might take proper action toward protecting the rights of the people of Florida. Perry also recommended reorganization of the state militia and the appropriation of $100,000 as a military fund for the ensuing year. The legislature quickly acquiesced in the requests of the chief executive by passing a law calling for the election of delegates to a convention to be convened on January 3, 1861, and other laws for the reorganization of the militia, and for the appropriation of $100,000 for the munitions of war.
         Governor Perry issued a proclamation on November 30 providing for the election of delegates, on December 22, to the January convention. The governor then left for South Carolina to arrange for the purchase of guns and ammuni­tion and to meet with southern leaders who had assembled there to observe the secession convention in the Palmetto State. In the short campaign for the selection of delegates the predominant issue was whether secession should be immediate by Florida alone or delayed until Georgia, Alabama, and other south­ern states had taken action on the movement. Wilkinson Call, nephew of R. K. Call, and four others ran on a "People's ticket" in Leon county, pledged to submit the action of the convention to a popular vote. Young Call made a number of speeches in behalf of popular approval of the work of the forthcoming con­vention, but to no avail. The popular appeal of the secession movement was re­flected in the November masthead of an East Florida newspaper: "The Seces­sion of the State of Florida, The Dissolution of the Union, The Formation of a Southern Confederacy."

       The sentiments of the Florida congressional delegation in Washington ap­pear to have followed those of their constituents rather than to have led them in the matter of immediate secession as opposed to a policy of watchful wait­ing. Senator Yulee, a radical in 1850, so hopeful for the prosperity of Fernan­dina and the Florida Railroad in 1860, wrote in May that "if the modern Repub­licans succeed in acquiring possession of the Federal Government, it will be the duty of the Southern States to secede ... until new guaranties of their rights can be obtained; and in failure of this to seek their safety in a new Union of sympathizing and homogeneous States." Yulee, no doubt, belonged to the large minority of southern leaders in 1860-1861 who believed that separation from the old union and formation of a new southern union could be accom­plished peacefully. In October 1860 the Florida senator stated: "there is no peace in the land, nor any general harmony between the states; we should arrange together now and at once for living in peace or parting in peace." A month later Yulee, however, in a letter to the General Assembly then about to con­vene, wrote of his intention to "promptly and joyously return home" to assist the state on secession.

       Senator Mallory had remained somewhat aloof in the: turmoil of the decade of the fifties over issues of the North and South. On several occasions the senior senator spoke on the floor of the senate and always in support of the south­ern rights issue, but never with the earlier radical enthusiasm of Yulee. In 1858 Mallory stated that Republican control which infringed southern rights would induce every effort on his part to induce secession of the affected states. He later wrote he had "believed in secession as a right resulting from state sover­eignty," but that he regarded secession "as only another name for revolution."

       Representative George S. Hawkins, however, became a "fire-eating radical and plumped for immediate secession." Hawkins refused to serve on a joint com­mittee created to compromise differences between the sections and proudly stated that the call for a state convention in Florida was ample proof that a sovereign state could well settle such important questions at home. Hawkins, unlike Yulee and Mallory, signed the address of thirty southern congressmen which advised their electors to secede and establish a southern nation, for the triumph of the Republican party forebode the future strangulation of southern rights with a denial of equality under the federal constitution and the laws of congress.

       In the short campaign for the election of convention delegates the opposi­tion to secession was negligible. If there was an issue, the public discussion re­volved around the proposition of immediate secession. The Perry administra­tion, press, and pulpit urged rapid action. When the South Carolina convention voted for secession on December 20 many Floridians were convinced that the gauntlet had been laid down. Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia had also called conventions and Louisiana and Virginia had called special sessions of their legislatures. As a result of the special election the delegates were divided, with a third of convention membership in the moderate group and several delegates who wavered between cooperation and immediate secession.

       The convention met to organize on January 3, 1861.Tallahassee was flooded with visitors from over the state, as well as commissioners E. C. Bul­lock of Alabama and L. W. Spratt of South Carolina. Edmund Ruffin, a rabid fire-eater from Virginia, attended as an unofficial observer and kept a day-to-day account of the proceedings in a diary.

       Sixty of the sixty-nine delegates who were members of the convention were present on the first day when a temporary organization was made. There was no meeting on January fourth in deference to President Buchanan's request that the day be observed in fasting and humiliation "on account [wrote Ruffin] of the political dangers and disasters now impending & to be produced not by northern abolitionists, but by the spirit of resistance and disunion of the southern states. The very appointment of the day and service is a rebuke and censure of the seceding states."

       The convention delegates and state officials used the day of fast and humili­ation to confer on the action necessary to seize the various federal military in­stallations in the state. "The arsenal at Chattahoochee and Fort Marion at St. Au­gustine were seized by state troops even before passage of the secession ordinance. The Federals were in sufficient force at Pensacola to offer resistance, and the political situation made unwise what military considerations would have dic­tated." The strength of the union forces and union sentiment at Key West made the union hold on that town secure throughout the entire war.

       At Washington Senators Yulee and Mallory wrote the War Depart­ment for information on the strength of the federal fortifications and garrisons in Florida, but such intelligence was denied them on the basis of classified mat­ter of interest to the armed forces. On January 5, Yulee wrote Joseph Finegan, a business associate and a delegate to the convention: "The immediately impor­tant thing to be done is the occupation of the forts and arsenals in Florida. The Naval Station and forts at Pensacola are first in consequence." Yulee urged Finegan, later a Confederate general, to seek the aid of Georgia troops in the seizure of the forts and also the arsenal at Chattahoochee. Further, Yulee urged the establishment of a confederation of southern states and the formation of a southern army for the defense of the South.

       When the secession convention resumed its work on January 5, Judge John C. McGehee of Madison County received forty-seven of the fifty-seven votes cast for president and took the chair. McGehee, an ardent southern rights spokes­man, delivered a stirring address in which the threats to slavery arguments of the southern states were reiterated once again. Slavery he found to be the ele­ment of all value, a value whose destruction obliterated property. But the peculiar institution meant value to only 5,000 slave holders. The non-slaveholders. feared abolition of slavery as the end of the control of the Negro; they feared the con­sequences of the social equality of abolition, and likened such an eventuality to the horrors of the Santo Domingo and other insular slave insurrections.

       After McGehee's speech the convention was organized with nine standing committees and several lesser officials. The convention began the business for which it had been called when McQueen McIntosh of Apalachicola, who had re­signed a federal judgeship on the Republican victory in November, introduced a resolution upholding the right of secession and the necessity of Florida's exer­cising the right in view of the national political crisis. Two days later, after seve­ral amendments had been debated and defeated, the resolution was adopted and the chair appointed a committee to prepare an ordinance of secession. The seces­sion ordinance reached the convention floor on January 9. Jackson Morton and George T. Ward, former Whigs, led a fight of the more conservative members to delay action until Georgia and Alabama had seceded, and further, to require a popular referendum of the electors of the state on the measure. Both proposals were defeated: the delay, 39-30 and the referendum, 41-26. "When it was shown that immediate action could not be blocked, most of the cooperationists declared that they would vote for the ordinance because they felt keenly the political necessity for unanimity. On January 10 the ordinance was passed by a vote of 62 to 7."

       Before adjourning on the tenth the convention, by resolution, appointed the judges of the state supreme court to direct the enrolling of the ordinance. The judges, in turn, directed that the ordinance be enrolled on parchment and re­quested Miss Elizabeth M. Eppes, a lineal descendant of "the immortal author of the first Declaration of American Independence," to bind the document with blue ribbon. On the following day, sixty-four members of the convention pro­ceeded to the east portico of the capitol where the ceremony of signing the ordinance of secession was completed. The ceremony took place before gover­nor-elect Milton, the members of the legislature, Supreme Court, governor's cabi­net, and many citizens. After the last member had signed, the state seal was affixed and McGehee announced that Florida was a free, sovereign, and inde­pendent state and that all connections with the United States were at an end.

       Secession was the occasion for spontaneous celebrations in Tallahassee and other towns in the state. Parades, gun salutes, numerous toasts and speeches were in evidence as the jubilation over secession spread. "Little did the people of Flo­rida realize that they had embarked on a course which was to lead to the des­truction of the social and economic institutions and of the way of life which they were determined to preserve?"

       The news of secession in Florida reached Washington by telegraph and Yu­lee and Mallory refrained from participation in the proceedings of the Senate, but did not make a formal withdrawal until January 21. In his farewell speech Yulee reminded the Senate that one of the conditions of the cession of Florida from Spain to the United States was that the residents of the territory should be admitted into the union on terms of equality with the citizens of that nation. Thus, in seceding, Florida was but exercising the equality gained on entrance into the union in 1845. Mallory was more eloquent when he said: "From the Union, governed by the Constitution as our fathers made it, there breathes not a secessionist upon her soil, but a deep sense of injustice, inequality and insecuri­ty ... is brought home to the reason and patriotism of her people; and to secure and maintain these rights which the Constitution no longer accords them, they have placed the State of Florida out of the Confederacy." Mallory concluded with the statement: "We seek not to war upon, or to conquer you; and we know that you cannot conquer us."

       Before the convention adjourned Governor Perry was authorized to appoint four counselors of state and Perry selected McGehee, Jackson Morton, John Beard, and Joseph Finegan. As the convention could not agree on delegates to the convention of the seceded states to be held at Montgomery, Perry appointed Jackson Morton, Patton Anderson, and James B. Owens. The congressional dele­gation of Mallory, Yulee, and Hawkins was made a commission to negotiate with federal officials for the transfer of the United States military and naval installa­tions to the "nation of Florida."

       On February 4 the delegates from the seceding states met at Montgomery, Alabama, and later agreed upon a "Provisional Government" for the Confede­rate States of America, with a constitution, which was reported to the states. Jefferson Davis was chosen president, and Alexander H. Stevens, vice president, the two being inaugurated on February 18. The Florida convention reassembled on January 26 and by ordinance unanimously adopted the Confederate constitu­tion on the twenty-eighth; thus, Florida became a member of the "Provisional Government." On March 11, 1861 the Confederate Congress adopted a constitu­tion and reported it to the Florida convention. On the eighteenth of April the convention met again at Tallahassee and in four days had again ratified the Confederate constitution unanimously. "At this meeting, the convention divided the state into two congressional districts, and transacted business relating to pub­lic lands, fortifications, railroads, and education. Such amendments to the [state] constitution as the change in political relations made necessary were made, the amended constitution to be referred to the people."

       April 1861 brought the seceding states face to face with the beginning of armed hostilities. The first gun at Charleston in the fight over Fort Sumter had been fired on the twelfth. Three days later Lincoln called for 75,000 militiamen to quiet the disturbances in the southern states; the "brothers' war" had begun. In Florida, the administration of Perry carried on until October, while the three Florida members of the Provisional Congress of the Confederacy served until February 17, 1862. In addition to the three representatives chosen by the 1861 Convention George T. Ward and John P. Sanderson served in the Provisional Congress on the resignations of Patton Anderson and Ward. James B. Owens and Jackson Morton served out one-year terms. With the organization of the First Congress, Augustus E. Maxwell and James M. Baker served as senators through the four sessions of the First Congress and the two sessions of the Second Con­gress, all of which were held at Richmond. Robert B. Hilton served as a Rep­resentative in both Congresses while James B. Dawkins and John M. Martin divided the term of the second representative in the First Congress and S. St. George Rogers was Hilton's colleague in the Second Congress. "Politically Jack­son Morton and George T. Ward had been at first Whigs and later Constitution­al Unionists. Owens, Sanderson and Martin were Democrats. Anderson, Mor­ton, Ward and Martin, each served in the Confederate army after their terms in Congress." Both Maxwell and Baker, the two senators, were Democrats.