Nearly 153 years ago in late 1859, Mississippians elected former Neshoba County/Kemper County State Senator John Jones Pettus, "a disunion man of the most unmitigated order," governor of the state of Mississippi.
As he entered office following John Brown's October raid on Harpers Ferry, Va., Pettus found his "alarmed" people more than ever disposed to listen to the arguments of the "Fire-Eaters," the fervent Southern politicians.
When "Black Republicanism" emerged victorious in the 1860 national fall elections, Governor Pettus convened an emergency session of the Legislature, saying in his opening message that he had assembled the Legislators "to take into consideration the greatest and most solemn question that ever engaged the attention of any legislative body on the continent."
At Jackson, Miss, on Nov. 26, 1860, the Legislature met, and after citing in a preamble its reasons for doing so, adopted the following resolution: "Be it Resolved, by the Legislature of the state of Mississippi: That, in the opinion of those who now constitute the said Legislature, the secession of each aggrieved State is the proper remedy for those injuries."
Governor Pettus approved the resolution four days later.
The Legislature also passed "without a dissenting voice," a bill recommended by Pettus, providing for a convention of the people of Mississippi to be held at Jackson on Jan. 7, 1861, to discuss the relations of the U.S.A. to the citizens of Mississippi, and to adopt measures vindicating the sovereignty of the state and the protection of its institutions as shall appear to demand."
Mississippi Legislators then voted to hold elections in each of the state's sixty counties on Dec. 20, 1860, to determine delegates to the convention.
The Legislature, having submitted the question to the people, adjourned sine die on Nov. 30, 1860.
When the ninety-nine delegate assembled at Jackson, including David M. Backstrum representing Neshoba County, they found the city in a holiday mood and every hotel crowded with excited visitors.
Later, the convention sat in open session, and the people filled the galleries of the assembly.
At the opening, Samuel J. Gholson, a leading citizen of Monroe County and an attorney-at-law, called the gathering to order.
The delegates elected William T.S. Barry, an 1841 graduate of Yale University and an attorney from Columbus, president of the convention.
Delegates generally divided into two factions - one favoring unconditional secession and the other favoring secession, conditioned upon the acquiescence of the border states.
At mid-morning on Jan. 9, 1861, delegate Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, a nephew of Mirabeau B. Lamar, former president of the Republic of Texas, a former mathematics professor at the University of Mississippi, and a United States Representative, presented to the convention delegates a resolution prepared by a committee of fifteen.
This resolution was entitled, "An ordinance to dissolve the Union between the State of Mississippi and other States united with her under the compact entitled, "The Constitution of the United States of America."
In the afternoon, the delegates in open session adopted the ordinance by a vote of eighty-four to fifteen.
James L. Alcorn of Coahoma County, a member of the Whig Party and a leader of the faction opposed to the statute, voted with the ayes.
During the vote, Alcorn arose and said: "Mr. President, the die is cast, the Rubicon is crossed. I follow the Army that goes to Rome. I vote for the ordinance."
Following the momentous vote, the Rev. Whitfield Herrington offered an invocation in which he asked for divine blessing and guidance.
The solemnity of the occasion, reflected in Herrington's words, brought tears to the eyes of some and bowed every head in reverence.
The Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum is located at 303 Water Avenue under the curation of Steven H. Stubbs. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information call 601-656-1284.