One week from today – Monday, February 7th – will mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the short-lived Republic of Florida. This sovereign nation existed from January 10, 1861 when the State of Florida seceded from the union, until it joined the Confederate States of America on February 8, 1861.
Ordinance of Secession
We, the people of the State of Florida in Convention assembled, do solemnly ordain, publish and declare: That the State of Florida hereby withdraws herself from the Confederacy of States existing under the name of the United States of America, and from the existing Government of said States: and that all political connection between her and the Government of said States ought to be and the same is hereby totally annulled, and said union of States dissolved: and the State of Florida is hereby declared a Sovereign and Independent Nation: and that all ordinances heretofore adopted in so far as they create or recognize said Union, are rescinded: and all laws or parts of laws in force in this State, in so far as they recognize or assent to said Union be and they are hereby repealed.
Done in open Convention, January 10th, A. D. 1861.
John C. McGehee, President.
The President of the Secession Convention was John Charles McGehee – another McGehee with solid ties to The South. He was among the group of men known as the “fire eaters” for their fierce defense of The South and support for secession. Here is his address to the Convention:
“Gentlemen, I feel very sensibly the honor you have done me in calling me to preside over your deliberations. Such a manifestation of confidence and respect by the assembled sovereignty of my State, called together in such a crisis to consult together for the general safety, deeply affects my feelings, and in return I offer all that is in my power to give–the homage of a grateful heart. The occasion on which we are called together is one of the most solemn and important that ever assembled a people. Our government, the inheritance from a noble ancestry–the greatest achievement of human wisdom, made to secure to their posterity the rights and liberties purchased with their blood, is crumbling into ruins. Every day and almost every hour brings intelligence confirming the opinion that its dissolution is at hand.
“One State, one of the time-honored thirteen, has withdrawn the powers granted in the Constitution which constituted her a member of the Union, under the political power of the government. All our sister States immediately adjacent to us are at this moment moving in the same direction, under circumstances that render their action as certain as anything in the future. And as we look farther and beyond we see the same swell of public sentiment that a sense of wrong always inspires, agitating the great heart of the more distant States. And no reasonable doubt can be entertained by the most hopeful and sanguine that this excitement in public sentiment will extend and increase and intensify until all the States that are now known as the slaveholding States will withdraw their political connection from the non-slaveholding States, unite themselves in a common destiny and establish another constitution.
“Why all this? The story is soon told. In the formation of the government of our fathers, the Constitution of 1787, the institution of domestic slavery is recognized and the right of property in slaves is expressly guaranteed. The people of a portion of the States who were parties in the government were early opposed to the institution. The feeling of opposition to it has been cherished and fostered and inflamed until it has taken possession of the public mind at the North to such an extent that it overwhelms every other influence. It has seized the political power, and now threatens annihilation to slavery throughout the Union. At the South and with our people, of course, slavery is the element of all value, and a destruction of that destroys all that is property. This party, now soon to take possession of the powers of government, is sectional, irresponsible to us, and, driven on by an infuriated, fanatical madness that defies all opposition, must inevitably destroy every vestige of right growing out of property in slaves. The State of Florida is now a member of the Union, under the power of the government soon to go into the hands of this party. As we stand, our doom is decreed; and realizing an imperative necessity thus forced upon them to take measures for their safety, the people of Florida have clothed you with supreme power and sent you here with the high and solemn duty to devise the best possible means to insure their safety, and have given you the charge to see that their commonwealth suffers no detriment.
“Your presence at this capitol is the highest proof that your people fear to remain under their government. With poignant regret no doubt they leave it, but they have no ground or hope of safety in it. What are we to do in fulfillment of our duty in this crisis? I will not presume to indicate your course—your superior and collected wisdom must decide. I cannot doubt, though, that our people are safe in your hands, and that you will, in a manner becoming the dignity of the high position you hold, and worthy of the trust confided to you, promptly place them in a position of safety above the power and beyond the reach of their enemies. As one of you, representing a noble and confiding constituency, I pledge to you and to them the entire devotion of the powers of my mind in the discharge of this duty; and with my full heart, I ask you, each of you, to forget all former differences of opinion, all past party prejudices, and make now and here, on the altar of your State, your country, for the sake of your people, a sacrifice, an offering of all feeling, prepossession or prejudice that may stand in the way of perfect harmony and concord; and may the God of nations watch over us and bless our labors and guide us into the haven of safety.”
In our next post, titled Slavery, Tea Parties, and Health Care, we’ll look at the strong pro-slavery rhetoric and find out what was really being said and why.