East Tennessee Anti-Secession Resolutions


TENNESSEE, though pressed into the Southern Confederacy by the hand of treason and the bayonets of the insurrectionists still struggled for a hearing. The vote of June 8th, as proclaimed by Governor Harris in his proclamation of June 24th was:


No Separation

East Tennessee,



Middle "



West "



Military Camps,




Giving a majority for "separation" of fifty-seven thousand six hundred and seventy five. How this vote was obtained we are well informed. Thc election in February had resulted in a majority of about sixty thousand against calling a Convention to consider an ordinance of secession-showing the Union sentiment to overwhelmingly predominate. Without any farther action whatever with no indication from the people of a change of sentiment, the loyal voters of the State were astounded, on the morning of May 8th, to learn that, on the 6th their Commonwealth had been transferred to the keeping of the guns of Davis, but that they (the voters) were permitted the unusual privilege of voting upon the Ordinance of Secession-which was proclaimed on the morning of said May. That vote having been ordered for June 8th, time was thus allowed for the State to pass under Confederate military rule. When that day came it was equivalent to immediate military arrest in West Tennessee for a man to express a Union sentiment; in Middle Tennessee it subjected the person to such persecutions as few cared to challenge; in East Tennessee the loyal sentiment was so immensely in the ascendant, through the labors of such men as Andrew Johnson, Judge Nelson, Parson Brownlow, Emerson Etheridge, Horace Maynard, and their fellow-laberers1 that the vote polled on the 8th was over eighteen thousand majority against separation.

Finding themselves powerless before the tyranny inaugurated, the Unionists of East Tennessee resolved, as a last resort, to hold a Convention at Greenville, to consult at large-thirty-one counties having delegates present on the first day. Judge Nelson presided. After a four days' session it adopted a Declaration of Grievances and Resolutions which, emanating from a body composed of enlightened and substantial Southern men, deserve particular consideration. Occupying a position in the physical centre of the Union's area; originally settled almost exclusively by citizens of the Slave States adjoining, (Virginia and North Carolina); allied to the Southern States by sympathy with "Southern Institutions" as well as by commercial relations; intelligent, Law-abiding and conservative, East Tennessee, it may be presumed, represented the voice of an arbiter, whose decision and views history will sustain. We quote from the Declaration such sentences and sentiments as seem to demand repetition

"We, the people of East Tennessee, again assembled in a Convention of our delegates, make the following declaration in addition to that heretofore promulgated by us at Knoxville, on thc 30th and 31st days of May last: so far as we can learn, the election held in this State on the 8th day of the present month was free, with but few exceptions, in no part of the State, other than in East Tennessee. In the larger parts of Middle and West Tennessee no speeches or discussions in favor of the Union were permitted. Union papers were not allowed to circulate. Measures were taken in some parts of West Tennessee, in defiance of the Constitution and laws, which allow folded tickets, to have the ballot numbered in such a manner as to mark and expose the union votes. A disunion paper, the Nashville Gazette, in urging the people to vote an open ticket declared that 'a thief takes a pocketbook or effects an entrance into forbidden places by stealthy means -a tory, in voting, usually adopts pretty much the same course of procedure. Disunionists, in many places, had charge of the polls and union men, when voting were denounced as Lincolnites and Abolitionists. The unanimity of the votes in many large counties, where, but a few weeks ago, the Union sentiment was so strong, proves beyond doubt that union men were overawed by the tyranny of the military power and the still greater tyranny of a corrupt and subsidized press. * * * Volunteers were allowed to vote in and out of the State, in flagrant violation of the Constitution. From the moment the election was over, and before any detailed statement of the vote in the different counties had been published, and before it was possible to ascertain the result, it was exultingly proclaimed that separation had been carried by from fifty to seventy thousand votes. This was to prepare the public mind to enable 'the Secessionists to hold possession of the State though they should be in a minority.' The final result is to be announced by a disunion Governor, whose existence depends upon the success of secession, and no provision is made by law for an examination of the vote by disinterested persons, or even for contesting the election. For these and other causes, we do not regard the result of the election as expressive of the will of a majority of the freemen of Tennessee. * * The Union men of East Tennessee, anxious to be neutral in the contest, were content to enjoy their own opinions and to allow the utmost latitude of opinion and action to those who differed from them. Had the same toleration prevailed in other parts of the State, we have no doubt that a majority of our people would have voted to remain in the Union. But, if this view is erroneous, we have the same and, as we think, a much better-right to remain in the Government of the United States than the other divisions of Tennessee have to secede from it."

Thus far in regard to the character of that "election" -- the second instance, in all the Seceded States, in which an Ordinance of Secession was submitted to the people for their acceptance or rejection!* The Declaration then proceeds to give the Convention's views of National obligations and relations, and to express its opinions of the secession movement. We may quote:

"We prefer to remain attached to the government of our fathers. The Constitution of the United States has done us no wrong. The Congress of the United States has passed no law to oppress us. The President of the United States has made no threat against the law-abiding people of' Tennessee. Under the Government of the United States we have enjoyed as a nation more of civil and religious freedom than any other people under the whole heaven. We believe that there is not cause for rebellion or secession on the part of the people of Tennessee. None was assigned by the Legislature in their miscalled Declaration of Independence. No adequate cause can be assigned. The Select Committee of that body asserted a gross and inexcusable falsehood in their address to the people of Tennessee when they declared that the Government of the United States has made war upon them.

"The secession cause has thus far been sustained by deception and falsehood: by false hood as to the action of Congress, by false dispatches as to battles that were never fought and victories that were never won; by false accounts as to the purposes of the President, by false representations as to the views of Union men, and by false pretenses as to the facility with which the secession troops would take possession of the Capital and capture the highest officers of the Government. The cause of secession or rebellion has no charms for us, and its progress has been marked by the most alarming and dangerous attacks upon the public liberty. In other States, as well as our own, its whole course threatens to annihilate the last vestige of freedom. While peace and prosperity have blessed us in the Government of the United States, the following may be enumerated as some of the fruits of secession:

It was urged forward by members of Congress who were sworn to support the Constitution of the United States, and were themselves supported by the Government.

It was effected without consultation with all the States interested in the slavery question, and without exhausting peaceable remedies.

It has plunged the country into civil war, paralyzed our commerce, interfered with the whole trade and business of our country, lessened the value of our property, destroyed many of the pursuits of life, and bids fair to involve the whole nation in irretrievable bankruptcy and ruin.

It has changed the entire relations of States, and adopted Constitutions without submitting them to a vote of the people, and where such a vote has been authorized, it has been upon the condition prescribed by Senator Mason, of Virginia, that those who voted the union ticket 'must leave the State.'

It has advocated a constitutional monarchy, a king and a dictator, and is, through the Richmond press, at this moment recommending to the Convention in Virginia a restriction of the right of suffrage, and 'in severing connection with the Yankees, to abolish every vestige of resemblance to the institutions of that detested race.'

It has formed military leagues, passed military bills, and opened the door for oppressive taxation, without consulting the people; and then, in mockery of a free election, has required them by their votes, to sanction its usurpations, under the penalties of moral proscription or at the point of the bayonet.

It has offered a premium for crime in directing the discharge of volunteers from criminal persecutions, and in recommending the Judges not to hold their courts.

It has stained our statute book with the repudiation of Northern debts, and has greatly violated the Constitution by attempting, through its unlawful extension, to destroy the right of suffrage.

It has called upon the people in the State of Georgia, and may soon require the people of Tennessee, to contribute all their surplus cotton, wheat corn, bacons beef, &c., to the support of pretended governments alike destitute of money and credit.

It has attempted to destroy the accountability of public servants to the people by secret legislation, and set the obligations of an oath at defiance..

It has passed laws declaring it treason to say or do anything in favor of the Government of the United States, or against the Confederate States, and such a law is now before, and we apprehend will soon be passed by the Legislature of Tennessee.

It has attempted to destroy, and we fear will soon utterly prostrate the freedom of speech and of the press.

It has involved the Southern States in a war whose success is hopeless, and which must ultimately lead to the ruin of the people.

Its bigoted, overbearing and intolerant spirit has already subjected the people of East Tennessee to many petty grievances: our people have been insulted; our flags have been fired upon and torn down; our houses have been rudely entered; our families subjected to insult, our peaceable meetings interrupted; our women and children shot by a merciless soldiery; our towns pillaged; our citizens robbed, and some of them assassinated and murdered.

No effort has been spared to deter the Union men of East Tennessee from the expression of their free thoughts. The penalties of treason have been threatened against them, and murder and assassination have been openly encouraged by leading secession journals.

As secession has been thus overbearing and intolerant while in the minority in East Tennessee, nothing better can be expected of the pretended majority than wild, unconstitutional and oppressive legislation; an utter contempt and disregard of law; a determination to force every Union man in the State to swear to the support of a Constitution he abhors; to yield his money and property to aid a cause he detests, and to become the object of scorn and derision as well as the victim of intolerable and relentless oppression."

In view of these considerations, and of the fact that the people of East Tennessee had declared their fidelity to the union by a majority of nearly twenty thousand votes, the Convention resolved and declared their wishes and purposes as follows:

1. That we do earnestly desire the restoration of peace to our whole country, and most especially that our own section of the State of Tennessee should not be involved in Civil War.

2. That the action of our State Legislature in passing the so-called 'Declaration of Independence' and in forming the 'Military League' with the Confederate States, and in adopting other acts looking to a separation of the State of Tennessee from the Government of United States, is unconstitutional and illegal, and therefore not binding upon us as loyal citizens.

3 That in order to avert a conflict with out brethren in other parts of the State, and desiring that all constitutional means shall be resorted to for the preservation of peace, we do, therefore, constitute and appoint O.P. Temple, of Knox, John Netherland, of Hawkins, and James P. McDowell, of Greene, commissioners, whose duty it shall be to prepare a memorial and cause the same to be presented to the General Assembly of Tennessee, now in session, asking its consent that the counties composing East Tennessee, and such counties in Middle Tennessee as desire to co-operate with them may form and erect a separate State.

4. Desiring, in good faith, that the General Assembly will grant this our reasonable request, and still claiming the right to determine our own destiny, we do further resolve that an election be held in all the counties of East Tennessee, and in such other counties in Middle Tennessee adjacent thereto as may desire to co-operate with us, for the choice of delegates to represent them in a General Convention, to be held in the town of Kingston at such a time as the President of this Convention, or, in case of his absence or inability any one of the Vice-Presidents, or, in like case with them, the Secretary of this Convention may designate: and the officer so designating the day for the assembling of said Convention shall also fix the time for holding the election herein provided for, and give reasonable notice thereof.

5. In order to carry out the foregoing resolution, the sheriffs of the different counties are hereby requested to open and hold said election, or cause the same to be so held, in the usual manner and at the usual places of voting, as prescribed by law; and in the event the sheriff of any county should fail or refuse to open and hold said election, or cause the same to be done, the coroner of such country is requested to do so, and should such coroner fail or refuse, then any constable of such county is hereby authorized to open and hold said election, or cause the same to be held. And if in any county none of the above-named officers will hold said election, then any Justice of the Peace or freeholder in such county is authorized to hold the same, or cause it to be done. The officer or other person holding said election shall certify the result to the President of this Convention, or to such officer as may have directed the same to be holden, at as early a day thereafter as practicable; and the officer to whom said returns may be made, shall open and compare the polls and issue certificates to the delegates elected."

Vain protest! It was not long before those Unionists and protestants against wrong were flying for their lives, and were hunted down like wild beasts. The leaders disappeared from observation, and the people could only acquiesce in a state of affairs which, in the presence of the armed minions of the Southern Confederacy, there powerless to prevent. Exiled, outlawed, scourged, imprisoned, consigned to the gallows in companies, the story of East Tennessee is written in tears and blood; and if all other records of the wrong and outrage perpetrated by the Confederacy on Southern citizens were blotted out, the persecutions inflicted upon loyal men in Tennessee would suffice to consign the memory of the secession movement and its leaders to eternal infamy.

1Brownlow, in his "Experiences among the Rebels," says: "For Separation and Representation at Richmond East Tennessee gave fourteen thousand and seven hundred votes. One half of that number were rebel troops, having no authority under the Constitution to vote at any election. For No Separation and No Representation, East Tennessee, gave thirty-three thousand straight-out Union votes, with at least five thousand quiet citizens deterred from coming out by threats of violence and by the presence of drunken troops at the polls to insult them."

*The Virginia vote of May 23rd, 1861, was taken under like circumstances; the hordes of the Confederacy being everywhere in Eastern Virginia, to prick with thc bayonet any man presumptuous enough to entertain Union sentiments. We do not name the vote allowed in Texas: it was a mockery too base to be called a vote.

Transcribed by Jennifer Foulk, Furman University, from Orville J. Victor, The History Civil Political, and Military of the Southern Rebellion, (New York: J.D. Torrey Publisher, 1861), II, 295-298.