Jeff Jacoby

On January 16, 1861, delegates to a Georgia state convention gathered to consider whether to secede from the United States. Three days later, voting 208-89, the convention adopted an "Ordinance of Secession," which "repealed, rescinded, and abrogated" Georgia's ratification of the federal Constitution in 1788. The ordinance was publicly signed and Georgia joined the Confederate States of America, "to the accompaniment," in the words of the New Georgia Encyclopedia, "of wild celebration, bonfires, and illuminations."

There is unlikely to be much "wild celebration" when the Georgia Historical Society commemorates the 150th anniversary of secession this month. Together with the Georgia Battlefields Association and the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the society on Jan. 19 will dedicate a historical marker near the site of the old statehouse in Milledgeville. "Secession began in response to Abraham Lincoln's election as president the previous November," the marker's brief text will say, "and the belief that his Republican party was 'anti-slavery in its mission and its purpose,' according to Georgia's secession ordinance."

It was actually Georgia's "Declaration of Causes," a 3,300-word justification of secession approved 10 days after the adoption of the ordinance, that damned Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party for its anti-slavery convictions. Secessionists in the Deep South made no bones about the fact that it was the threat posed to slavery by the incoming Lincoln administration that fueled their decision to quit the Union. Yet in recent generations, innumerable Southerners have insisted that the preservation of slavery was not why the Confederacy was formed.

This revisionism, bizarre though it might seem to most Americans, has been influential in the South. So influential that the marker to be dedicated in Milledgeville this month, The New York Times reports, is "one of the first official recognitions in the state, at least in modern times, that slavery was the overarching reason for secession."


Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.