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Southern Newspapers Debate Secession

The Staunton, Virginia Spectator was a Whig newspaper that opposed Virginia's secession from the Union. In an effort to bolster support for its views, it published an excerpt from the Milledgeville, Georgia Recorder, a newspaper published in a state that had already seceded from the Union. Both the Spectator and the Recorder allude to the divergent interests of Border states like Virginia from those of Cotton or Gulf states like Georgia and Mississippi. Ultimately, however, regional allegiances trumped what may have been Virginia's self-interest, and the state seceded from the Union six weeks later on May 23, 1861.


Having steadfastly adhered to the doctrine that civil war, or danger of constant collision between the Border, Free and Slave States, could only be averted by a peaceful settlement in the Union of our present troubles, and that it was really the interest o f the Border Slave States to maintain their present relations with the Free States on our border, and with the whole Union if possible, we have deduced therefrom a difference between our condition and that of the Gulf States. Nothing that has occurred, therefore, has served to change or even shake the conviction, that we have interests in the Union that are paramount--interests that the Cotton States have not; and that therefore we should not rashly imperil them through any fancied identity of interest with the States that have left us for weal or for woe, to work out our own destiny as best we may. We have maintained that it is neither our interest to go with them, nor really essential to our interest that we should.

We are glad, therefore, to find so respectable a journal in one of the seceded States, as the Milledgeville (Geo.) Recorder, supporting the views we have advocated. In the issue of that journal of the 12th inst., we find the case thus strongly stated, as follows:

"If the line of the Southern Confederacy touched that of the Free States, there being no law or treaty for the rendition of fugitives from labor between foreign Powers, the mischief would be such, practically, that a collision of arms would be unavoidable . . . . In the simple matter of convenience and expediency, therefore, we believe that the Border States will be of more advantage in their present position to the Southern Confederacy, a wall of defence against Northern aggression, than if they were to become members of it, with all their frontier exposed to fanatical hatred and pillage. . . . "

Ought not this candid avowal, from a source entitled to credit, induce the people of the Border Slave States to make every effort compatible with their honor (and we would not have them do more) to avert the catastrophe, before they rush into the vortex of secession? . . . We trust our people will do nothing rashly.

Source | "Policy of the Border States," The Stauton (Virginia) Spectator, 2 April 1861, 1, c.6, from The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War Virgina Center for Digital History,
Creator | Staunton (Virginia) Spectator
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | Staunton (Virginia) Spectator, “Southern Newspapers Debate Secession,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed April 19, 2021,

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