In 1861, on this day the Congressman from Alabama William L. Yancey (pictured) called for a Confederate States of Washington.
Yancey Calls for a Confederate States of Washington Secessionism had been a discussed point off and on throughout the first century of the United States of America. South Carolina repeatedly made its threats to secede and even questioned the power of the Federal government in the Nullification Crisis, which was effectively settled by counter-threats of military action by President Jackson. The issue of slavery (specifically its expansion into territories) drove a deep divide between the North and South, which already had significant economic and social segregation. John C. Calhoun, the nearly ubiquitous senator from South Carolina, spoke out against the Compromise of 1850 to no avail. Earlier, Calhoun had led the charge to unify Southern interests against the increasingly anti-slave North, laying the foundation for real secession in his "Address of the Southern Delegates in Congress, to Their Constituents" as it outlined Constitutional violations against the South by the North. Great fears were raised about forced emancipation and Southern subjugation, and the election of Abraham Lincoln seemed to justify all those fears.
"Calhoun died in 1850, shortly after the Compromise, but by then he had many followers, including William L. Yancey, Congressman from Alabama. Yancey had initially opposed Calhoun's radicalism, though years of following politics as editor of the Cahaba Southern Democrat had won him to Calhoun's side on the matter of Northern aggression. Abolitionism leaped forward politically as 1852 had seen one of the biggest turns for anti-slavery with the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. The importance of public relations weighed upon him, and he had fought back with sharp editorials. Alabama prepared to host a convention due to the election of a Republican, and Yancey began to ponder how he might stir cooperationists (Southerners who only wished to secede if the rest of the South were to do so). While devising methods of verbally whipping them for their fearfulness, it occurred to him that he needed not persuade the South that secession was right, but the North.
From his platform as a leading member of the convention, Yancey pronounced a speech steeped in the rhetoric that would still be familiar in the North: the War of Independence. He spoke of great Southerners Thomas Jefferson, who had outlined the reasons for leaving the mother country, and James Madison, who had been architect of a Constitution the North had repeatedly stepped over. Most of all, he spoke of General George Washington, first to serve his country in war and in peace and was truly a Cincinnatus who wanted to return to the peace of his plantation. Rather than calling upon the name of "some Italian", Yancey proclaimed that theirs would be a nation dubbed "The Confederate States of Washington". The name sounded initially hokey, but Yancey's silver tongue smoothed its wrinkles, and the CSW was born.
The Civil War would be hard times for the South, and Yancey was dispatched as a diplomat to Britain in search of aid. The British would proclaim neutrality despite victory at Bull Run and Yancey's best efforts (even attempting to counteract his many appeals to the Revolution against them). He decided eventually that the issue of slavery, which was the key issue to inspire separation in the first place, was holding back international support. Since building up foreign relations for the South seemed impossible, Yancey instead turned to devalue the North. He spent his return voyage to the CSW working on huge new campaigns of propaganda, including writing a novel with his aides to combat the spirit of Uncle Tom. While the resulting Southern Heart was hardly a classic of literature, it was packed with outrageous violence performed by Yankee soldiers and uppity slaves upon the charming and courageous young farmers, George and Martha Dix. The drivel piqued the interest of the masses, and Yancey used his position as Senator from Alabama to route a good deal of the Congress's money into spreading it through the North.
The propaganda war took a sharp turn. With the powerful reminders of Washington and the South's efforts in the Revolution sprinkled throughout the book (especially in comparing their burned out farm to Valley Forge and in the final speech where George speaks of his grandfather standing tall at Yorktown over the invading Redcoats, comparing them with Yankee blue), the North seized the opportunity of counter-propaganda by erasing much of the South's early influence on the United States. The American Revolution became a very unpopular topic for discussion, and the story of George Washington chopping down his father's cherry tree emphasized the general's young cowardice at staying silent. Abraham Lincoln often commented that the lies of war were unbecoming of any American and referred directly to the Revolution in his Address at Gettysburg. The ill-received speech would be blamed for his failure at reelection in 1864.
Despite the efforts of the South, the North's industrial and population base won out, and the war ended in 1865. Bad sentiments stood as Reconstruction began, and the assassination of President McClellan only made things worse. Southern Heart had been declared treasonous material with hundreds of book burnings during the occupation, and history books became edited to highlight the efforts of John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Dr. Benjamin Franklin as well as the fiascoes of Southern politics such as the near-loss of Madison's War and the Nullification Crisis. After a return to stability in the later nineteenth century, the myths of George Washington would be supported primarily by the Klan and other begrudging Southerners. Following improvements through the WPA in the Great Depression and World War II's resurrection of the South, Washington and his Revolutionary counterparts would come into marginal recognition in the history textbooks, but few counted him among the best presidents as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ulysses Grant routinely topped the national polls.