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Tag: Mississippi

Secession, Congress, and a Civil War Awakening at the Archives

The U.S. Capitol under construction, 1860 (National Archives Identifier 530494)

As a new year begins, the 112th Congress reconvenes for a second session of legislative activity. Representatives and senators from across the country are again descending upon the Capitol, ready to commence debates, proceedings, and hearings. This is how the legislative branch of the Federal Government always functions, right? Well, not always.

On the eve of the Civil War in 1860, the 36th Congress consisted of 66 senators and 234 representatives. There was a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and every state in the Union was effectively represented.

But once South Carolina issued its ordinance of secession on December 20, 1860, a surge of southern legislators began withdrawing and retiring from Congress.

By the time the 37th Congress convened in March of 1861, six states—Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas—had already joined South Carolina and left the Union. This prompted Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina to follow.

When the torrent of secession finally concluded, vacancies existed in both chambers of Congress. The mass exodus of southern Democrats, coupled with the commencement of Union-Confederate hostilities, shrank the Federal legislature to 50 senators and 180 representatives by the beginning of 1863.

Southern secession transformed Congress in many ways. The dozens of unfilled vacancies in the Senate and the … [ Read all ]

The Mustache: Future of the South?


George Alfred Townsend, Samuel L. Clemens, and David Gray, ca. 1860–ca. 1865 (111-B-2167; ARC 526362)

When you think of Samuel Clemens, do you think of the celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County? His house in Conneticut? A yankee in King Arthur’s court? Or do you think of his full, bushy mustache?

As a child growing up in New England, I felt more familiar with the world of Lousia May Alcott than Samuel Clemens. For me, the world of Huck Finn, rafts, and paddleboats on the Mississippi was a strange and mysterious one, just as the South felt like a distant place, which I imagined was full of alligators and droopy moss and mysterious iced drinks.

Of course, the South is much more than Mark Twain or any clichés. The National Archives holds many records from the region’s past.

But after Hurricane Katrina and the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, what’s in store for the South? Come hear speakers discuss the future of the region on October 5 at a day-long conference (no registration required!). Panels will tackle the relationship between culture and the land, the ecology of the gulf coast, and the future of Southern culture and identity.… [ Read all ]