The South Carolina Secession

December 20, 1860 – Delegates to the Convention of the People of South Carolina unanimously approved an ordinance to secede from the United States.

The convention assembled on December 17 in the Baptist church of the state capital at Columbia, with D.F. Jamison of Barnwell presiding. Jamison declared:

“It is no less than our fixed determination to throw off a Government to which we have been accustomed, and to provide new safeguards for our future security. If anything has been decided by the elections which sent us here, it is, that South Carolina must dissolve her connection with the (Federal) Confederacy as speedily as possible.”

Jamison listed grievances against the Federal government and then said:

“Let us be no longer duped by paper securities. Written Constitutions are worthless, unless they are written, at the same time, in the hearts, and founded on the interests of the people; and as there is no common bond of sympathy or interest between the North and South, all efforts to preserve this Union will not only be fruitless, but fatal to the less numerous section.”

This evening, delegates approved a resolution: “That it is the opinion of this Convention that the State of South Carolina should forthwith secede from the Federal Union, known as the United States of America.” Another resolution was approved to draft an ordinance of secession by a vote of 159 to 0. But before this could be done, the convention adjourned due to a smallpox breakout in Columbia and reconvened at Charleston’s Institute Hall the next day.

Delegates spent the 18th and 19th conducting committee work and offering various motions and resolutions. On the 20th, the delegates voted 169 to 0 in favor of a resolution:

“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and parts of Acts, of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of ‘The United States of America’ is hereby dissolved.”

Charleston Mercury headline | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Charleston Mercury headline | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The formal signing took place that evening in Institute Hall. Printers distributed placards announcing the news, and massive celebrations occurred throughout Charleston. The festivities featured ringing church bells, booming cannon, fireworks, marching bands, “Minute Men” militia, and hysterical people waving palmetto flags. The governor and other public officials joined in, and an observer said, “The whole heart of the people had spoken.”

The pandemonium drowned out the minority of people who opposed secession and feared what hardships it could bring. Respected Unionist Judge James L. Petigru said, “I tell you there is a fire; they have this day set a blazing torch to the temple of constitutional liberty, and, please God, we shall have no more peace forever.”

In Washington, President James Buchanan learned of South Carolina’s secession while serving as guest of honor at the extravagant wedding of Louisiana Congressman J.E. Bouligny to Mary Parker. Buchanan (a bachelor) was attended by Mrs. Sarah Pryor, wife of states’ rights champion Congressman Roger Pryor of Virginia. Seated at a table, Buchanan heard loud shouts from an adjoining room and asked Mrs. Pryor, “Madam, do you suppose the house is on fire?”

Mrs. Pryor went into the hall, where Congressman Lawrence Keitt of South Carolina was leaping in the air and shouting, “Thank God! Oh, thank God—South Carolina has seceded! I feel like a boy let out of school!” Mrs. Pryor returned to the table and whispered to Buchanan, “It appears, Mr. President, that South Carolina has seceded from the Union. Mr. Keitt has a telegram.” Stunned, Buchanan slumped in his chair before quickly calling for his carriage.

President-elect Abraham Lincoln took the news of South Carolina’s secession calmly from his home in Springfield, Illinois as the news spread throughout the country on the 21st. The four South Carolina congressmen formally resigned their seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and meetings took place to debate secession or union.

The South Carolina convention approved a resolution on December 22 declaring that Forts Moultrie and Sumter, Castle Pinckney, and the Federal arsenal in Charleston Harbor should “be subject to the authority and control” of the state and “that the possession of said forts and arsenal should be restored to the State of South Carolina.” Convention attendees appointed three delegates to go to Washington and issue these demands to Federal officials.

On the 24th, convention delegates approved the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union. The declaration stated that the Union was no longer an equal collection of states because the free states had “assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions…”

The Declaration also cited “encroachments on the reserved rights of the states” and “an increasing hostility of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery” and “the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery” as among the causes. South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens issued a proclamation calling his state sovereign, free, and independent from the U.S. in accordance with this Declaration of Immediate Causes.

Convention delegates also issued a statement to the slave states, indicating their reasons for seceding and asserting that the free states had overthrown the Constitution: “It is no longer a free Government, but a despotism.” The delegates urged the other southern states to assert their sovereignty and control their own destinies. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives laid the resignation letter of the four South Carolina congressmen from December 21 on the table and retained their names on the roll, thus rejecting their resignations.

Other southern states began calling for conventions to consider secession as well. On the year’s last day, the South Carolina convention approved electing commissioners to other southern states to consider forming a provisional overall government.

—–

Sources

  • Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 214
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 6
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 234
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 11-15
  • Wikipedia: Timeline of Events Leading to the American Civil War
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7 thoughts on “The South Carolina Secession

  1. […] The Convention of the People of South Carolina resumed at Charleston. […]

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  2. […] the day that South Carolina seceded from the U.S., Major Anderson, commanding Federal forces in the harbor, began preparing to secretly […]

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  3. […] delegation of three South Carolinians arrived in Washington to demand that the Federal government transfer ownership of forts and other property to the state […]

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  4. […] The Convention of the People of South Carolina resumed at Charleston. […]

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  5. […] the convention to consider secession on January 23. By that time, five states had already seceded (South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia). Three days later, the delegates used gold pens to […]

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  6. […] The Wabash landed Marines to take Fort Walker, and army forces took over Fort Beauregard. Commander John Rodgers, acting as Du Pont’s aide, obtained the formal surrender of both forts. At 2:20 p.m., he received the honor of raising the U.S. flag over Fort Walker, the first U.S. flag to be hoisted on South Carolina soil since the state seceded. […]

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  7. […] ships, at the entrance to Savannah Harbor on the 17th. Three days later, on the anniversary of South Carolina’s secession from the Union, Davis sunk 16 whaling vessels in Charleston […]

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