Nashville Convention Speech (1850)

This speech was delivered by Robert Rhett at the Nashville Convention on the issue of secession on September 4, 1850.
Robert Rhett
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concept 5.

“Speaking of the possibility of the emancipation of slavery, he [previous speaker] very happily showed to non-slaveholders here, what their condition would be in such an event [emancipation]. It would terminate in amalgamation or extermination …Shall the African rule here? No! We will not be governed by the African; neither will we be by the Yankees! We must secede. Georgia will lead off, South Carolina will go with her, Alabama will soon follow, and Mississippi will not be long behind her.

Within eighteen months we will have the whole South with us, and more than that; we will extend our borders, we will have New Mexico, Utah, and California. Utah already has slaves. We will march into California, and we will ask them if they will have slaves, and her people will answer, Ay, we will have slaves. And what of Mexico? Why, when we are ready for them, and her people are fitted to come among us, we will take her too, or as much of her as we want.” 

This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/secessionmovemen00hame#page/64/mode/2up.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    According to the speaker, whom does he fear ruling in the South? What is his solution to this fear?
    The speaker states that neither the Africans (enslaved people) nor the Yankee (Northerners) will rule in the South. He then states that secession is the best option for southern states going forward.
  2. Question
    What does the speaker say about states in the West? How will Southerners respond to the spread of slavery?
    The speaker directly discusses several states, including Utah and California. In both instances, he says that western states will be supportive of slavery, saying that Utah already has people enslaved and that California will want enslaved people. This implies that he sees slavery as a positive institution and that the issue of slavery is central to the discussion of secession.
  3. Question
    The speaker states that the emancipation of enslaved people would lead to “amalgamation or extermination.” Define both of these terms. What does he mean by this statement?
    Amalgamation means to mix together. Extermination means to end or kill. The author is making the claim that if enslaved people were emancipated, it would lead to either racial mixing (amalgamation) or to death. We cannot be sure if he means the death of enslaved people or of whites. In either case, the result of emancipation is something to be avoided.
  4. Question
    In your opinion, does the author present a strong argument for secession?
    Answers may vary. Some students may point to the lack of evidence of northern threats to the South. This would lead some students to conclude that Rhett’s calls for secession may be over-dramatic. On the other hand, students could point to the desire to protect slavery as a reason for many Southern states (who depended on slavery) to want to secede in order to maintain their institution.
Reveal Answers
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