Government Records Paper Archives

Documenting Secession

Today we welcome guest blogger Alanna Patrick, director of the Paper Archives section at MDAH. In the coming months, she will bring us a series on secession-related documents from the MDAH collection.

When the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, many in the South believed he would undermine the institution of slavery and reduce or eliminate the rights of the southern states to govern themselves. This opinion, together with the widespread fear of slave insurrection—Jim Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry was still fresh on the nation’s memory—made the election one of the most contested in American history.

Governor Pettus' address 353.9762 M69gp (MDAH Collection)
MDAH Collection. Governor Pettus' Address. Call number: 353.9762/M69gp

When the results of the national elections became known in Mississippi, Governor John J. Pettus called an extraordinary session of the legislature for the purpose of electing delegates for a convention to consider seceding from the Union. The secession convention convened in Jackson on January 7, 1861, and elected William Barry as its president. Former United States Senator L.Q.C. Lamar was elected chairman of the committee charged with drafting the ordinance of secession. On January 9, 1861, the Ordinance was approved by a vote of eighty-four to fifteen and signed by all but one delegate.

Miller Family Papers, Z 2215.000 (MDAH Collection)
Miller Family Papers, MDAH Collection, Z/2215.000, Box 12. Hugh Reid Miller's certificate as a delegate to the Mississippi secession convention

Hugh Reid Miller of Pontotoc served as representative in the Mississippi House of Representatives and, later, circuit judge of the Seventh District of Mississippi. He was elected a delegate to the Secession Convention on December 20, 1860, and was one of the “Committee of Fifteen” who drafted the Ordinance of Secession. Miller organized the “Pontotoc Minute Men” (later Company G, Second Regiment, Mississippi Infantry, Confederate States Army) and was elected captain of the unit. He went on to organize the Forty-Second Regiment, Mississippi Infantry, which took an active part in the Gettysburg Campaign (June-July 1863). Miller was mortally wounded at the Battle of Cemetery Hill, Pennsylvania, on July 3, 1863.

John L. Thornton Scrapbooks, Z 0146.000 (MDAH Collection)
John L. Thornton Scrapbooks, MDAH Collection. Z/0146.000, Box 2, folder 1. John L. Thornton’s certificate appointing him Surgeon of the 22nd Mississippi Militia.

Physician John L. Thornton of Brandon carries the distinction of being the only delegate not to sign the Ordinance of Secession. In a newspaper article written several years after the Civil War, a colleague quoted Thornton as telling the convention “his constituents elected him to vote and work against secession, and the fame of Ceasar’s [sic] or Alexander could not induce him to forfeit the trust imposed in him.” Thornton would go on to serve as surgeon of the Twenty-Second Regiment, Mississippi Militia, and later as colonel of the Sixth Regiment, Mississippi Infantry. He was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh, April 1862. Thornton resigned from the Confederate States Army on May 25, 1862, and returned to Brandon to resume his medical practice.


Boatner, Mark Mayo. The Civil War Dictionary. New York: Vintage Books, Inc., 1991.

Busbee, Westley F. Mississippi: A History. Wheeling, Ill.: Harlan Davidson, 2005.