Robert Toombs Speech

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Prolific for its apocalyptic portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln’s election, Senator Robert Toombs’ speech to the Georgia state legislature reveals how Southerners were concerned about the longevity of their lifestyle. Utilizing passionate rhetoric, The South Must Strike while There Is Yet Time illustrates how the future of the Union has become unpredictable and warrants action from legislators. An address of vigorous pathos, Toombs details how the security of Southern values remains paramount to the decision of secession. Moreover, the discourse over secession often features slavery and emphasizes its role in Southern identity, deeming it essential to the preservation of their way of life. The perception of Lincoln as a radical abolitionist …show more content…

Concentrating on the issue of slavery, the speech describes how the new Republican President would violate the constitutional right to property that extended to protect slaveholders. Revising the principle that forms the basis for chattel slavery, Toombs exclaims that Southerners “stand without a shield, with bare bosoms presented to our enemies.” (57) This allusion to sectionalism presents the North as enemies of Southern tradition, describing in turn how unprepared the South is for the Republican future. Anxious towards this perceived northern aggression, Southerners present the abolitionist policies of the Republican Party to be unconstitutional and coercive. Moreover, the presentation of Republicans as a single-issue party of abolition reveals how this devoted “horde” of abolitionist politicians worried Southerners in their time of uncertainty. (58) Republicans are also thought to believe in a “war against slavery until there shall not be a slave in America,” a process that would upend the relationship between slaveholders and their property. (58) This distinction was previously upheld, though the new Republican President-elect causes Toombs to articulate how the situation has changed. Believing that abolitionists have seized control of the government, secessionists see the abolition of slavery as very likely under Lincoln. Describing how the government and its resources would “be in the hands of your enemy” after inauguration, the speech concludes by stressing how conventional political resistance is futile. (58) Endless debate over slavery had dominated the lives of legislators in America for decades, which causes Toombs to assert that Northern political aggression has created the conditions for secession. A belief in Southern difference, the adversarial nature of the Northern states prompted secessionism to take root.

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