fire-eaters, in U.S. history, term applied by Northerners to proslavery extremists in the South in the two decades before the Civil War. Edmund Ruffin, Robert B. Rhett, and William L. Yancey were the most notable of the group. As early as 1850, at a convention held in Nashville, Tenn., the "fire-eaters" urged secession upon the South, but the Compromise of 1850 and more moderate counsel combined to postpone that event for another 10 years. Although the "fire-eaters" were in large measure responsible for the movement to organize a separate Southern government, they filled minor offices under the Confederacy.
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