In the aftermath of the November 1860 presidential election, the citizens of North Carolina had to decide how to respond to the election of Abraham Lincoln, a candidate who was not even on the ballot in North Carolina. North Carolinians divided their political sentiments in three parts: those who wished to remain in the Union, those who wished to remain in the Union but wanted to see what Lincoln’s course of action would be, and those who favored disunion or secession. New Bern, in Craven County, was typical of the many municipalities in the state where voices were being raised regarding one of those political positions.
Between Election Day in November 1860 and the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861, newspapers played a key role in informing North Carolinians of the election outcome and the resulting reaction of other southern states, most notably South Carolina and Georgia. Editors across the state asserted different opinions about disunion and secession. John L. Pennington, the editor of the New Bern (N.C.)Daily Progress, published announcements of secession meetings in other southern states and nearby towns such as Goldsborough, Wilmington, and Wilson. These meetings demanded that the North Carolina General Assembly call for a state convention to vote on secession from the United States. The Daily Progress published several resolutions from a meeting held in Cleveland County. One declared that the election of Lincoln was cause enough for secession and another offered to raise militia for the defense of any seceded southern state. Similar reports of local meetings spanned the entirety of North Carolina.
Yet newspapers did more than simply document the activities of these secession meetings. In November 1860, the Daily Progress, for example, reported that “squads” of people in the streets of New Bern participated in discussions concerning the results of the presidential election. Further, Pennington maintained that while some in these “squads” spoke of resistance to Lincoln, by far the majority expressed a “wait and see” attitude. However, both groups recognized the jeopardy to the Union. Pennington “disavowed having any advice” to offer to the citizens, however he called upon the Union men of North Carolina to “make known their views,” asking them to hold meetings and make resolutions in the manner of the recent local secessionist meetings. Pennington questioned whether North Carolina citizens would automatically follow suit if other Southern states seceded. He cautioned against such allegiance to states that “never treated them (North Carolinians) with common respect” and stated that if Union men preferred the Union to the horrors of a general revolution then they should stand up and say so.
What the Daily Progress newspaper articles in November 1860 made clear was that disunion or secession men were standing up and speaking their mind on the subject. This December 1860 document from the correspondence of Governor John Ellis is an example of how the secessionist faction took action, passed resolutions, and petitioned the governor to enact those resolutions. Over the four pages of the document, the men outlined the grievances of North Carolina against the Union and called for a strategy that would align North Carolina closely with other southern slave-holding states. Although North Carolina would chart a more neutral course over the next four months, Governor Ellis would heed and echo the Craven County resolutions in consequence of President Lincoln’s April 1861 call for troops to suppress the rebellion.
Follow the link to see the Craven County Resolutions: http://digital.ncdcr.gov/u?/p15012coll8,1220