Tennessee Secedes: Last State to Join the Confederacy
On March 11, 1861, seven states that had seceded from the Union drafted a constitution for their new country, the Confederate States of America. By June three more states had joined them and another, Tennessee, was close. However, the issue of secession was fiercely contested in Tennessee.
Its governor, Isham Harris, favored secession and used all the political clout he could muster in its support, but by a 54-46 percent margin the state’s voters rejected a referendum in February 1861 calling for a secession convention. Pro-Union sentiment was especially strong in East Tennessee and portions of Central Tennessee. After the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to serve for 90 days.
This tipped the balance in Tennessee. Unwilling to wage war against their southern neighbors, the Tennessee Legislature on May 7 voted to support the Confederacy. On June 8, 1861, voters in Tennessee changed their earlier position and approved a secession referendum, becoming the eleventh and final state to join the Confederate States of America.
In reporting Tennessee’s secession vote, this northern newspaper emphasized the strong pro-Union sentiment in the state. This article was published by the Pittsburgh Chronicle and reprinted by the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.) on June 18, 1861:
The Nashville papers have ceased to come regularly to this city. We observe, however, that our contemporaries in some other places are still favored with them. We extract the following information in reference to the late election in Tennessee from the Pittsburgh Chronicle of Saturday last:
“The Nashville papers continue to publish disconnected, imperfect, and obviously garbled reports of the late vote on secession in Tennessee; but it is obvious, even from these, that even in the central and some of the western counties a large minority voted against secession, while the smallness of the vote shows that many kept away from the polls through the threats of secession violence. In East Tennessee everything appears to have gone one way. Public sentiment there is unmistakably Union. Greene (Senator Johnson’s county) gave 1,600 Union majority; Hamilton 1,260 votes against secession to 854 in favor of it; Bradley 1,382 anti-secession and 507 secession votes. The Union majority in Carter county is 1,150; in Washington 389. In Marion county the vote stood for secession 433; against it 600. Wayne and Hardin counties each gave about 500 anti-secession majority; Decatur 200; Knox 425. Macon county, in Middle Tennessee, also gave 225 Union majority. These majorities would have been much larger in many cases had not secession regiments been stationed within their borders, every man of which voted the disunion ticket.
“Appearances indicate that secession will not have the easy triumph in Tennessee which its votaries have claimed for it. The day has passed when Union men can be deceived by the forms of submission of ordinances, and be forced to their support because they are passed by fraudulent majorities. Disunion will gain no more easy victories. Henceforth its progress will be contested step by step, and in every State which attempts it there will literally be civil war. The full import of the designs of Gen. Davis and his confreres is before the country, and the evils of rebellion are beginning to be felt by the rebels themselves. The Union sentiment has taken courage, now that it understands the power and determination of the Government to sustain it, and will raise its voice and its arm throughout the South.”
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