One hundred and fifty years ago, Arkansas was entering its second week of debate in the first secession convention in Little Rock. The convention began on March 4, 1861- the same day Lincoln was inaugurated. As the second week of debates began on March 11, 1861, the Confederate Constitution was adopted in Montgomery, Alabama. The eloquent oratory of both the unionists and secessionists in Little Rock was apparent.
The delegates from all over the state assembled at the convention knew quite well that all other states, both in the United States and the Confederate States, were watching with keen interest the developments in Little Rock. Arkansas in 1861 was a frontier state. If Arkansas remained in the union, the Confederacy would be robbed of a state full of resources; cotton was the chief export crop of the region. If Arkansas decided to cast her lot with the Confederacy, it would be the United States that would loose the valuable resources in Arkansas. What would be the decision of a 25 year old state on the brink of Civil War?
According to Robert W. Johnson of South Arkansas, there was “no hope for a reconciliation, or compromise- the North will make no concessions- secession is our only resort, and in it, our only safety.” Such was the case in general all over the South in 1861. With several decades of anti-South tariffs working against the Southern people and their economy, Johnson continued, “The Bible…commands us when we are hit on one side to turn the other and be hit on that- we, the South, have been kicked all over.”
The pro-unionists’ argument against immediate secession was simple: we do not want to go to war. Looking back through American history, Franklin D. Roosevelt likewise did not want war until December 7, 1941. What would be the proverbial “Pearl Harbor” that would convince Arkansans that secession was the proper action to take?