June 24, 2022
"The Union of the South is the Safety of the South”: Conspiracy Theories, Sectionalism, and the Secession Crisis in Virginia
Congratulations to John Morden for successfully defending his MA thesis. “The Union of the South is the Safety of the South”: Conspiracy Theories, Sectionalism, and the Secession Crisis in Virginia” on June 15, 2022. His committee members included Dr. Frank Towers (supervisor), Dr. Harvey Amani Whitfield, and Dr. Jeremy Fantl.
We asked John to provide us with some insight into his thesis, and his Graduate studies experience in the Department of History at the University of Calgary.
Tell us about your thesis topic:
My thesis examines the role of conspiracy theories in Virginia’s debates over secession in the months prior to the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War in April 1861. In the secession crisis following the election of Abraham Lincoln, Virginia held a state convention to consider its relationship with the federal government where supporters of secession peddled conspiracy theories to argue in favour of disunion. According to secessionists, the Republican Party and the North were plotting to violently destroy southern slavery and that secession was the only way to prevent this apocalyptic vision from coming to fruition. Some went so far as to launch their own conspiracies to overthrow the state government and seize U.S. military installations to protect the South from the supposed northern conspiracy. Opponents of secession at the convention struggled to downplay the exaggerated and often fraudulent claims made by their radical counterparts while also vowing to protect slavery. I seek to understand how conspiracies in Virginia’s political discourse over secession helped carry the largest and most important slaveholding state into the new Confederacy and highlight how secessionists used distortions to unite white southerners in defense of slavery.
What was the most valuable outcome of the Graduate program for you?
I think the most valuable outcome of the history graduate program for me was learning how to research and write a major project like a thesis. Completing a thesis has its challenges and I learned rather quickly that it’s nothing like an end of term research paper. I’ve gained a lot of important skills, particularly improving my writing, over the last two years that will serve me well in future research projects.
What are the next steps/plans for you?
I will be starting a PhD program in August at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville studying U.S. Civil War Era political history. I also intend to turn my MA thesis into a journal article at some point in the next few years.