In Kentucky, the imminent breakup of the Union in 1861 and the approach of civil war sparked lively intra-family debates. In the Brown Family Collection, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, a transcribed letter to Charles Ewing Nourse (the Browns were his in-laws) from his older sister Sarah (“Sally”) Doom, the wife of a Nelson County tanner, eloquently shows her struggle to make sense of the war.
Was it a purely political question of states’ rights, Sally wondered, versus an intrusive federal authority? “I cannot,” she wrote, “look upon the disruption of the most glorious Government that man ever saw, with any sympathy or pleasure.” The whole, she believed, was greater than the sum of its parts, and the initial secession of South Carolina would lead to “the privilege of all to secede into innumerable petty states which can and will be overthrown and enslaved by any Foreign power that may desire it.” Insisting that she was “very green to try to talk politics,” Sally nevertheless declared that “if I were a man I would devote myself to my country (if I had the sense).”
But she wanted to dig deeper into the matter. “We ought to weigh the thing better than we have,” she continued. To those claiming that secession would remedy the current crisis, and that it was worthwhile to “throw away” the benefits of a federal government, she cut to the chase:
Could I believe the South were actuated by noble feelings, I could sympathize with them. But the grand moving object of ‘our noble progenitors’ is the survival of the African slave trade . . . in my opinion the most degrading, despicable occupation a people could engage in.
Click here to access a finding aid for Sally’s letter. For more collections on the Civil War and slavery, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat. Click here to browse a list of our Civil War collections.