Monday, July 16, 2012

Phase One of American Sectional Conflict

The strongly-sectional New England region was in the forefront of movements to break away from the United States after losing the 1800 election. As Dr. Donald Livingston reminds us, New England threatened secession in 1804 over the Louisiana Purchase, in 1808 over the Embargo Act, and in 1814 over “issues surrounding Mr. Madison’s War of 1812” during which New England actually supplied Britain with military aid. He adds that “secession was advocated by New England abolitionists from 1830 on to 1860, and by John Quincy Adams and other New England leaders over the Mexican War and the annexation of Texas.” New England regained national power through the Republican party in 1860, and phase two began.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

Phase One of American Sectional Conflict:

“After the retirement of George Washington, the new President was New Englander John Adams, who was narrowly elected by a plurality of three electoral votes. In office, he surrounded himself with men from his own region. So complete was New England’s hegemony that in 1800 the President, Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretary of War (more than half of the entire Cabinet) came from Massachusetts and Connecticut alone.

During the presidency of John Adams, New Englanders and their allies responded to the great questions of the French Revolution by attempting to create a national system of ordered liberty…increased taxation, a strong navy, an expanded national judiciary…active regulation of commerce, narrow restriction of immigration, an active attempt to suppress dissent, and a moralistic tone of government that was deeply resented by others of different persuasions.

In 1800, Thomas Jefferson was elected President by the combined votes of the middle States, the coastal South and the Southern highlands, against the entrenched opposition of New England which still strongly supported Adams. This new Jeffersonian coalition of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the backcountry was destined to dominate American politics for a quarter-century (1801-25). But even as Jeffersonians espoused different libertarian ideals, they all opposed New England’s idea of ordered liberty, which most Americans regarded as a contradiction in terms.

The major legislation of the Adams presidency was repealed: The Alien Friends Act, Sedition Act, the Naturalization Act, the Bankruptcy Act of 1800, the Judiciary Act of 1801, and the new tax measures were overturned. Support for the Federal party dwindled everywhere except New England.

Now it was New England’s turn to think about disunion. In the period from 1804 to 1814, a separatist movement gathered strength in that region….there were sermons and town meetings which talked of God’s Providence for his chosen people. Yankee children were taught to sing (to the tune of Rule Britannia): “Rule, New England! New England rules and saves!”

New England Republicans [held a] nascent sense of Yankee nationalism. James Winthrop, for example, praised the determination of New Englanders to “keep their blood pure.” He added, “….the eastern States have, by keeping separate from the foreign mixtures, acquired their present greatness in a century and a half, and have preserved their religion and morals.”

(Albion’s Seed, Four British Folkways in America, David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 842-845)

Phase One of American Sectional Conflict


  1. Hey Brock, can you recommend a really good history book dealing with the War and events leading up to it, and the Reconstruction period, that isn't pure Yankee propaganda?

    Trying to find a good history book for our high school age homeschooled kids. any recommendations on where to look would be GREATLY appreciated!

    Frank in Texas

  2. I'll find the one I would recommend, but for now, start with this 13,000 word piece and tell me what you think after finishing it, please.

    American Revolution & The Secession Of Southern States