South Carolina Secedes From the Union

The force of events moved very quickly upon the election of Lincoln. South Carolina acted first, calling for a convention to SECEDE from the Union. State by state, conventions were held, and the CONFEDERACY was formed.

Within three months of Lincoln’s election, seven states had seceded from the Union. Just as Springfield, Illinois celebrated the election of its favorite son to the Presidency on November 7, so did Charleston, South Carolina, which did not cast a single vote for him. It knew that the election meant the formation of a new nation. The Charleston Mercury said, “The tea has been thrown overboard, the revolution of 1860 has been initiated.”

South Carolina Ordinance of Secession

“We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance adopted by us in convention on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the “United States of America,” is hereby dissolved.”

Done at Charleston the twentieth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty.

Within a few days, the two United States Senators from South Carolina submitted their resignations. On December 20, 1860, by a vote of 169-0, the South Carolina legislature enacted an “ordinance” that “the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of ‘The United States of America,’ is hereby dissolved.” As GRIST had hoped, South Carolina’s action resulted in conventions in other southern states. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas all left the Union by February 1. On February 4, delegates from all these states except Texas met in Montgomery, Alabama, to create and staff a government called the Confederate States of America. They elected PRESIDENT JEFFERSON DAVIS. The gauntlet was thrown. How would the North respond?

A few last ditch efforts were made to end the crisis through Constitutional amendment. SENATOR JAMES HENRY CRITTENDEN proposed to amend the Constitution to extend the old 36°30′ line to the Pacific. All territory North of the line would be forever free, and all territory south of the line would receive federal protection for slavery. Republicans refused to support this measure.

On March 2, 1861, two days before Lincoln’s inauguration, the 36th Congress passed the Corwin Amendment and submitted it to the states for ratification as an amendment to the Constitution. Senator William H. Seward of New York introduced the amendment in the Senate and Representative Thomas Corwin of Ohio introduced it in the House of Representatives. The text of the proposed amendment is as follows:

“No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”

Note that, much like the rest of the language in the Constitution prior to the Civil War, the proposed amendment never uses the word “slavery,” instead employing the euphemisms “domestic institutions” and “persons held to labor or service.” The proposed amendment was designed to reassure the seceding slave states that the federal government would not interfere with their “peculiar institution.” If it had passed, it would have rendered unconstitutional any subsequent amendments restricting slavery, such as the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery throughout the nation. The Corwin Amendment passed the state legislatures in Ohio, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Maryland. Even Lincoln’s own state of Illinois passed it, though the lawmakers who voted for it in Illinois were not actually the elected legislators but were delegates to a state constitutional convention.

Lincoln supported the Amendment, specifically mentioning it in his first inaugural address:

“I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution — which amendment, however, I have not seen — has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service … holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable. “

The amendment failed to get the required approval of 3/4 of all state legislatures for a Constitutional Amendment, largely because many of the southern slave states had already seceded and did not vote on it.

What was the President doing during all this furor? Abraham Lincoln would not be inaugurated until March 4. JAMES BUCHANAN presided over the exodus from the Union. Although he thought secession to be illegal, he found using the army in this case to be unconstitutional. Both regions awaited the arrival of President Lincoln and wondered anxiously what he would do.

South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union, and its secession document repeatedly declared that it was leaving the Union to preserve slavery:

[A]n increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding [i.e., northern] states to the institution of slavery has led to a disregard of their obligations. . . . [T]hey have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery. . . . They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes [through the Underground Railroad]. . . . A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the states north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States [Abraham Lincoln] whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common government because he has declared that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. . . . The slaveholding states will no longer have the power of self-government or self-protection [over the issue of slavery] . . .

Following its secession, South Carolina requested the other southern states to join them in forming a southern Confederacy, explaining:

We . . . [are] dissolving a union with non-slaveholding confederates and seeking a confederation with slaveholding states. Experience has proved that slaveholding states cannot be safe in subjection to non-slaveholding states. . . . The people of the North have not left us in doubt as to their designs and policy. United as a section in the late presidential election, they have elected as the exponent of their policy one [Abraham Lincoln] who has openly declared that all the states of the United States must be made Free States or Slave States. . . . In spite of all disclaimers and professions [i.e., measures such as the Corwin Amendment, written to assure the southern states that Congress would not abolish slavery], there can be but one end by the submission by the South to the rule of a sectional anti-slavery government at Washington; and that end, directly or indirectly, must be the emancipation of the slaves of the South. . . . The people of the non-slaveholding North are not, and cannot be safe associates of the slaveholding South under a common government. . . . Citizens of the slaveholding states of the United States! . . . South Carolina desires no destiny separate from yours. . . . We ask you to join us in forming a Confederacy of Slaveholding States.

On January 9, 1861, Mississippi became the second state to secede, announcing:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. . . . [A] blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution [slavery], a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove. The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution and was manifested in the well-known Ordinance of 1787. [On July 13, 1787, when the nation still governed itself under the Articles of Confederation, the Continental Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance (which Mississippi here calls the “well-known Ordinance of 1787”). That Ordinance set forth provisions whereby the Northwest Territory could become states in the United States, and eventually the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were formed from that Territory. As a requirement for statehood and entry into the United States, Article 6 of that Ordinance stipulated: “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory.” When the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation, the Founding Fathers re-passed the “Northwest Ordinance” to ensure its continued effectiveness under the new Constitution. Signed into law by President George Washington on August 7, 1789, it retained the prohibition against slavery. As more territory was gradually ceded to the United States (the Southern Territory – Mississippi and Alabama; the Missouri Territory – Missouri and Arkansas; etc.), Congress applied the requirements of the Ordinance to those new territories. Mississippi had originally entered the United States under the requirement that it not allow slavery, and it is here objecting not only to that requirement of its own admission to the United States but also to that requirement for the admission of other states.]. . . It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves and refuses protection to that right on the high seas [Congress banned the importation of slaves into America in 1808], in the territories [in the Northwest Ordinance of 1789, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854], and wherever the government of the United States had jurisdiction. . . . It advocates Negro equality, socially and politically. . . . We must either submit to degradation and to the loss of property [i.e., slaves] worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers to secure this as well as every other species of property.

(Notice that the Union’s claim that blacks and whites were equal both “socially and politically” was a claim too offensive for southern Democrat states to tolerate.)

Following its secession, Mississippi sent Fulton Anderson to the Virginia secession convention, where he told its delegates that Mississippi had seceded because they had unanimously approved a document “setting forth the grievances of the Southern people on the slavery question.”

On January 10, 1861, Florida became the third state to secede. In its preliminary resolutions setting forth reasons for secession, it acknowledged:

All hope of preserving the Union upon terms consistent with the safety and honor of the Slaveholding States has been finally dissipated by the recent indications of the strength of the anti-slavery sentiment in the Free States.

On January 11, 1861, Alabama became the fourth state to secede. Like the three states before her, Alabama’s document cited slavery; and it also cited the 1860 election victory of the Republicans as a further reason for secession, specifically condemning . . .

. . . the election of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin to the offices of President and Vice-President of the United States of America by a sectional party [the Republicans], avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions [slavery] and to the peace and security of the people of the State of Alabama . . .

Georgia similarly invoked the 1860 Republican victory as a cause for secession, explaining:

A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the federal government has been committed [i.e., the Republican Party] will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia [in favor of secession]. The party of Lincoln, called the Republican Party under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party. . . . The prohibition of slavery in the territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its [Republican] leaders and applauded by its followers. . . . [T]he abolitionists and their allies in the northern states have been engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions [i.e., slavery].

Why was the Republican election victory a cause for secession? Because the Republican Party had been formed in May of 1854 on the almost singular issue of opposition to slavery. Only six years later (in the election of 1860), voters gave Republicans control of the federal government, awarding them the presidency, the House, and the Senate.

The Republican agenda was clear, for every platform since its inception had boldly denounced slavery. In fact, when the U. S. Supreme Court delivered the 1857 Dred Scott ruling protecting slavery and declaring that Congress could not prohibit it even in federal territories, the Republican platform strongly condemned that ruling and reaffirmed the right of Congress to ban slavery in the territories. But setting forth an opposite view, the Democrat platform praised the Dred Scott ruling and the continuation of slavery and also loudly denounced all anti-slavery and abolition efforts.

The antagonistic position between the two parties over the slavery issue was clear; so when voters gave Republicans control of the federal government in 1860, southern slave-holding Democrat states saw the proverbial “handwriting on the wall” and promptly left the United States before Republicans could make good on their anti-slavery promises. It was for this reason that so many of the seceded states referenced the Republican victory in their secession documents.

It was not just southern Democrats who viewed the election of Lincoln and the Republicans as the death knell for slavery; many northern Democrats held the same view. In fact, New York City Democrat Mayor Fernando Wood not only attacked the Republican position on slavery but he also urged New York City to join with the South and secede, explaining:

With our aggrieved brethren of the Slave States, we have friendly relations and a common sympathy. We have not participated in the warfare upon their constitutional rights [of slaveholding] or their domestic institutions [slavery]. . . . It is certain that a dissolution [secession of the State of New York from the Union] cannot be peacefully accomplished except by the consent of the [Republican New York] Legislature itself. . . . [and] it is not probable that a partisan [Republican] majority will consent to a separation. . . . [So] why should not New York City, instead of supporting by her contributions in revenue two-thirds of the expenses of the United States, become also equally independent [i.e., secede]? . . . In this she would have the whole and united support of the southern states.

Other northern Democrats also assailed the anti-slavery positions of the Republicans – including Samuel Tilden (a New York state assemblyman and later the chair of the state Democrat Party, state governor, and then presidential candidate). Tilden affirmed that southern secession be could halted only if Republicans publicly abandoned their anti-slavery positions:

[T]he southern states will not by any possibility accept the avowed creed of the Republican Party as the permanent policy of the federative government as to slavery. . . . Nothing short of the recession [drawing back] of the Republican Party to the point of total and absolute non-action on the subject of slavery in the states and territories could enable it to reconcile to itself the people of the South.

Even the editorial page of the New York World endorsed the Democrats’ pro-slavery positions and condemned Republicans:

We cannot ask the South – we will not ask anybody – to live contentedly under a government . . . which burdens white men with oppressive debt and grinding taxation to try an unconstitutional experiment of giving freedom to Negroes. . . . A proposal for an abolition peace can never gain a hearing in the South. If the Abolition Party [Republicans] continues in power, the separation is final, [both] in feeling and in fact.

However, returning to an examination of southern secession documents, on January 19, 1861, Georgia became the fifth state to secede. Georgia then dispatched Henry Benning to Virginia to encourage its secession. At the Virginia convention, Benning explained to the delegates:

What was the reason that induced George to take the step of secession? That reason may be summed up in one single proposition: it was a conviction – a deep conviction on the part of Georgia – that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery. This conviction was the main cause.

On January 26, 1861, Louisiana became the sixth state to secede. Days later, Texas was scheduled to hold its secession convention, and Louisiana sent Commissioner George Williamson to urge Texas to secede. Williamson told the Texas delegates:

Louisiana looks to the formation of a Southern Confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery. . . . Louisiana and Texas have the same language, laws, and institutions. . . . and they are both so deeply interested in African slavery that it may be said to be absolutely necessary to their existence and is the keystone to the arch of their prosperity. . . . The people of Louisiana would consider it a most fatal blow to African slavery if Texas either did not secede or, having seceded, should not join her destinies to theirs in a Southern Confederacy. . . . As a separate republic, Louisiana remembers too well the whisperings of European diplomacy for the abolition of slavery in the times of annexation [Great Britain abolished slavery in 1833; by 1843, southern statesmen were alleging – without evidence – that Great Britain was involved in a plot to abolish slavery in America. Southern voices therefore called for the immediate annexation of pro-slavery Texas into the United States in order to increase pro-slavery territory, but anti-slavery leaders in Congress – including John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster – opposed that annexation. Their opposition was initially successful; and in his diary entry for June 10 & 17, 1844, John Quincy Adams enthused: “The vote in the United States Senate on the question of [admitting Texas] was, yeas, 16; nays, 35. I record this vote as a deliverance, I trust, by the special interposition of Almighty God. . . . The first shock of slave democracy is over. Moloch [a pagan god requiring human sacrifices] and Mammon [the god of riches] have sunk into momentary slumber. The Texas treason is blasted for the hour.” That victory, however, was only temporary; in 1845, Texas was eventually admitted as a slaveholding state.] not to be apprehensive of bolder demonstrations from the same quarter and the North in this country. The people of the slaveholding states are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery. The isolation of any one of them from the others would make her a theatre for abolition emissaries from the North and from Europe. Her existence would be one of constant peril to herself and of imminent danger to other neighboring slave-holding communities. . . . and taking it as the basis of our new government, we hope to form a slave-holding confederacy . . .

Williamson’s encouragement to the Texans turned out to be unnecessary, for on February 1, 1861, even before he arrived from Louisiana, Texas had already become the seventh state to secede. In its secession document, Texas announced:

[Texas] was received as a commonwealth, holding, maintaining, and protecting the institution known as Negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within [Texas] – a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slaveholding states of the Confederacy. . . . In all the non-slave-holding states . . . the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party [i.e., the Republican Party] . . . based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these southern states and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men irrespective of race or color – a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of divine law. They demand the abolition of Negro slavery throughout the Confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and Negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us so long as a Negro slave remains in these states. . . . By the secession of six of the slave-holding states, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North or unite her destinies with the South.

On April 17, 1861, Virginia became the eighth state to secede. It, too, acknowledged that the “oppression of the southern slave-holding states” (among which it numbered itself) had motivated its decision.

On May 8, 1861, Arkansas became the ninth state to join the Confederacy. Albert Pike (a prominent Arkansas newspaper owner and author of numerous legal works who became a Confederate general) explained why secession was unavoidable:

No concessions would now satisfy (and none ought now to satisfy) the South but such as would amount to a surrender of the distinctive principles by which the Republican Party coheres [exists], because none other or less would give the South peace and security. That Party would have to agree that in the view of the Constitution, slaves are property – that slavery might exist and should be legalized and protected in territory hereafter to be acquired to the southwest [e.g., New Mexico, Arizona, etc.], and that Negroes and mulattoes cannot be citizens of the United States nor vote at general elections in the states. . . . For that Party to make these concessions would simply be to commit suicide and therefore it is idle to expect from the North – so long as it [the Republican Party] rules there – a single concession of any value.

As Pike knew, the federal government under the Republicans was unwilling to abandon its anti-slavery positions; therefore the only recourse for the guarantee of continued slavery in Arkansas was secession – which Arkansas did.

Eventually, North Carolina and Tennessee became the tenth and eleventh states to secede, thus finishing the formation of the new nation that titled itself the Slave-Holding Confederate States of America. Southern secession documents indisputably affirm that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the driving force in its secession and thus a primary cause of the Civil War.

Source for Above: Wallbuilders


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