In the NY Times’ ongoing series, Disunion, in which they track the progression of the war between the states, there is an interesting essay today on the tide of succession and those who may not have supported it but went along with it.
The articles talks specifically about Senator James Henry Hammond, from South Carolina. A couple of interesting excerpts:
– “He had given up his office very reluctantly, ultimately doing so only from a politician’s instinctive fear of seeming out of touch with popular feeling and out of step with his colleagues. (The state’s other senator, James Chesnut, had resigned the day before.)”
– “In his private diary, Hammond went so far as to confess that if given a choice between saving the Union and saving slavery, he would choose the Union…Yet in the end, Hammond chose to surrender to what seemed the tide of history rather than resist it.”
The point I want to make here is the sense you get that there was something historical happening, something almost impersonal. Senator Hammond may have personally been against succession, but “chose to surrender.”
There had always been tensions and divisions between the North and the South, but it took one event, the election of Abraham Lincoln, to tip the scales. It was almost as if once that happened, some sort of invisible gas was released into the air in the South, causing many to be cast under it’s spell. And even those who were initially immune found themselves giving in, despite their better judgment.