William L. Yancey
William Lowndes Yancey was born in Warren County, Georgia, the son of a South Carolina lawyer. He lived briefly in the North and attended Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. In the early 1830s, he owned and acted as the editor of several newspapers in South Carolina where he expressed a strong nationalism and disapproval of Nullification.
In 1834, Yancey was admitted to the South Carolina bar, but in 1836 moved to Alabama after marrying a wealthy widowed plantation owner. Yancey established a successful law practice and began his political career, serving in both the state assembly and senate. In 1844, he was elected to Congress where he developed a reputation as an excellent orator and defender of Southern interests. Yancey left the House in 1846, partly in disgust over Northern attitudes and partly because of financial difficulties.
The Wilmot Proviso (1848) provided the opportunity for Yancey to illustrate how far his thinking had changed since his early newspaper days. He had become a prominent fire-eater and drafted the “Alabama Platform” for the state legislature, which called for recognition of the following:
- Slaveowners had the right to take their property into the territories
- Congress had an obligation to protect slaveowner rights everywhere
- The territorial legislatures lacked the authority to ban slavery
- The Democratic Party should support only proslavery candidates for national office.
This platform was adopted by several Southern states and became a succinct statement of the slaveowner philosophy up to the time of the Civil War. Yancey exceeded the views of many Southern partisans by calling for the resumption of the African slave trade. In 1850, he opposed the compromise efforts of Henry Clay
and called for secession.
In 1860, Yancey attended the Democratic National Convention and worked to include Southern demands in the party platform. His efforts were opposed by the backers of Stephen A. Douglas
, prompting a walkout by Yancey and other Southern delegates. He later attended the Southern Democratic Convention in Baltimore and worked on behalf of its candidate (see Election of 1860
). Following Lincoln’s triumph, Yancey drafted the secession ordinance for Alabama in January 1861.
During the war, Jefferson Davis
dispatched Yancey to Europe on a mission to secure diplomatic recognition for the Confederacy; his efforts were unsuccessful. In 1862, he was elected to the Confederate senate and served there until his death.