January 31, 1861 – By the end of January, all 15 slaveholding states had either seceded or contemplated secession. Some continued debating whether to secede into February.
Early this month, the Delaware legislature unanimously expressed “unqualified disapproval” of secession after hearing from a Mississippi representative. Delaware permitted slavery, but less than two percent of black residents were slaves while 90 percent of the state’s blacks were free. The few slaveholders mainly resided in Delaware’s southern counties bordering Maryland.
In Missouri, secessionist Claiborne F. Jackson became governor on the 5th. He declared in his inaugural address: “Common origin, pursuits, tastes, manners and customs… bind together in one brotherhood the States of the South… (Missouri should make) a timely declaration of her determination to stand by her sister slave-holding States.” Jackson received support from the lieutenant governor, house speaker, and a majority of the Democrats controlling the state legislature.
The next day, Maryland Governor Thomas Hicks delivered a message to the people of his state strongly opposing secession. Three days later, 30 U.S. Marines from the Washington Navy Yard occupied Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor to protect it from secessionists. The Marines held the fort until relieved by Regular Army troops.
On January 7, Virginia Governor John Letcher delivered a message to the state legislature opposing South Carolina’s actions but also opposing any Federal attempt to move Federal troops through Virginia to suppress southern states. Letcher called for a national convention to discuss compromise options.
Texas officials began arranging an election of delegates to a state secession convention after Governor Sam Houston refused to convene the legislature to consider the issue. Houston then assembled the legislature in the hope that it would reject secession before the convention opened on the 28th.
Houston declared that although he considered secession legal under the U.S. Constitution, Texas should stay in the Union. He also acknowledged the large petition in favor of secession, stating that “the people, as the source of all power,” would ultimately choose “the course that Texas shall pursue… Should the Legislature in its wisdom deem it necessary to carry a convention of delegates fresh from the people, the Executive will not oppose the same.”
To Houston’s dismay, the legislature overwhelmingly endorsed the secession convention and then overrode Houston’s veto of the endorsement. Delegates to the convention assembled as scheduled, and they debated whether to secede into February.
In North Carolina, militia seized Fort Johnson. Residents of Smithville and Wilmington also seized Fort Caswell, but state officials later repudiated this move. On the 24th, the legislature approved a measure calling for a state convention but submitting the question of secession to a popular vote.
A special session of the Tennessee legislature convened on the 7th. Ten days later, the Arkansas legislature approved a measure calling for a popular vote to decide whether to secede. And on January 25 the Kentucky legislature approved a measure calling for a national convention to resolve the sectional crisis.
Debate over whether to secede continued into February in several states.
- Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 9
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 22-25, 27, 29, 31
- McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 290
- White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161
- Wikipedia: Timeline of Events Leading to the American Civil War