Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in History


Arch Dalrymple III Department of History

First Advisor

John R. Neff

Second Advisor

Kathryn McKee

Third Advisor

April Holm

Relational Format



This dissertation is a social, political, and cultural biography of Mississippi's secessionist generation, exploring the full arc of their lives over the course of the nineteenth century and the role of secession throughout their political careers. The life course of three Mississippians, James Lusk Alcorn, Jefferson Davis, and Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, placed in the broad context of the larger Nineteenth Century, reveals that secessionists and the secession movement have a power and significance beyond traditional historiographic interpretations and periodization. Antebellum institutions and organizations tied southern men together, providing them with space and opportunity to imagine and create an alternative vision for America's future. Southerners embraced secession as the means to an end: the implementation of their collective and perverted vision of a more perfect and prosperous agricultural society rooted in the belief that all men are not equal. Secessionists utilized a period of profound national crisis to enact their vision. First promulgated by extremists, secession succeeded when moderates, who dominated Mississippi's secession convention, voted for the measure as the last best option for defending the South's and their own perceived freedoms and economic security. Secessionists backed up their votes by devoting their service and lives to the creation of a Confederate nation. After the war, a number of former Mississippi secessionists returned to the political sphere after a forced hiatus. Their antebellum vision remained the same, though the means changed. To fit the needs and conditions of post-war America, their definitions of secession and their role in the movement changed. Upon returning to the political sphere, former Mississippi secessionists played vital and powerful roles in southern social and political communities and national definitions of the Civil War's significance. Utilizing the language of reconciliation and capitalizing on northern exhaustion with Reconstruction in the South, former secessionists worked to limit African Americans freedom. The Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1890 marked a dark moment in American history, providing for the creation of racial segregation and African American disenfranchisement. The legacy of Lamar and his compatriots would be long-lasting with severe repercussions for the lives of Americans for years to come.

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