Yancey, William Lowndes

Yancey, William Lowndes, 1814–63, American leader of secession, b. Warren co., Ga. Admitted (1834) to the bar in Greenville, S.C., he soon moved to Alabama. There he became an outstanding lawyer, was elected to the state house of representatives (1841) and the state senate (1843), and served in Congress (1844–46). In response to the Wilmot Proviso, Yancey wrote (1848) the Alabama Platform, which demanded of Congress the positive protection of slavery in the territories. Yancey's doctrine was adopted by several Southern states under his militant leadership and soon became the creed of the whole South. As extreme a “fire-eater” as William Lloyd Garrison was an abolitionist, he even advocated the reopening of the African slave trade. After the Compromise of 1850 he retired into the background, but the events of 1860 once more brought him to the fore. At the national convention of the Democratic party in Charleston, he expressed the Southern demands in one of his greatest speeches, and when the Northern delegates, led by Stephen A. Douglas, refused to accept the “Yancey platform,” practically all his Southern colleagues followed him out of the convention. Yancey wrote the Alabama ordinance of secession. After the organization of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, then only provisional president, sent Yancey, a potential rival for the permanent office, to Europe as a Confederate commissioner. Failing to secure recognition from England and France, he returned in 1862, was elected to the Confederate senate, and served there until his death.

See biography by J. W. DuBose (1892).

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