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Sound at Heart and Right in Hand: Mobile’s Road to Secession




Lu, Ling

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This study traces Mobilians’ road from moderation to secessionism and analyzes the factors that influenced their decision-making. Mobile’s commercial path of development differentiated it from most of the rest of a rural and agricultural state. In politics, Mobile’s long tradition of close two-party competition differed markedly from state politics, in which the Democratic party held a dominant position. Differences did not, however, really separate Mobile from Alabama. Mobile was a cotton city, inextricably linked to its hinterlands, which grew the fleecy staple upon which nearly all of the city’s commerce revolved. Economic factors also pushed white Mobilians toward a stout defense of slavery and southern rights. As white citizens understood the matter, Mobile lived on cotton, and cotton lived on slavery; their prosperity and their world depended upon maintaining and expanding cotton production and the institution of slavery. Resolutely pursuing a moderate course, Mobilians long hoped for a resolution of sectional conflict that would allow the city to prosper within the Union. Their decision-making was logical, not hysterical. In 1860-61, a large majority of Mobile voters saw secession as a win-win proposition, which would simultaneously preserve profits and political autonomy against the grave threat of northern Republican assaults on slavery and southern rights.