December 21, 2010
When South Carolinians decided unanimously in their secession convention to leave the Union, the Charleston Mercury declared: "The tea has been thrown overboard. The revolution of 1860 has been initiated." One of the delegates admitted that the convention worked "to pull down our government and erect another." In Louisiana, a broadside declared: "We can never submit to Lincoln’s inauguration; the shades of Revolutionary sires will rise up to shame us if we shall do that." Many Southerners saw themselves as carrying the banner of their ancestors who had fought a revolutionary war against a tyrannical king; by rebelling against the United States, secessionists believed they were engaged in a revolution to restore the principles of 1776. When Texas left the Union on Feb. 1, 1861, the secessionists there proudly announced that "for less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England."Glenn W. LaFantasie on 19th century insurgency in Salon.
But talk of revolution was dangerous. Alexander Stephens, who would become the Confederacy’s only vice president, warned that "revolutions are much easier started than controlled, and the men who begin them, seldom end them." ... By the time the Confederate government was formed in Montgomery, Ala., in February 1861, many Southerners - like Jefferson Davis, the new Confederate president - jettisoned the extremist rhetoric and espoused moderation, denying at the same time that secession constituted revolution. "Ours is not a revolution," Davis maintained. "We are not engaged in a quixotic fight for the rights of man; our struggle is for inherited rights." He claimed, in fact, that the Southern states had seceded "to save ourselves from a revolution."
... Confederates cringed at the persistent description of their revolution as a revolution ... and turned instead to defending their actions by arguing that secession was, in fact, legal and not revolutionary at all. Harking back to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, written by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in response to the Federalist Party’s enactment of the draconian Alien and Sedition Acts, Southerners advanced the idea that the Union under the Constitution consisted of simply a compact among the states and that any state, by means of its retained sovereignty, could divorce itself from the Union if it ever desired to do so.