A special session of the North Carolina legislature assembled on the 1st. Governor John Ellis, a secessionist who had been trying to convince his fellow North Carolinians to leave the Union, finally got support for the idea after the Confederates captured Fort Sumter and President Abraham Lincoln called on the state to furnish troops to the Federal government to invade the South. Ellis had already authorized militia to seize three Federal coastal forts and the Federal arsenal at Fayetteville. Legislators almost unanimously approved holding a special election on the 13th for delegates to attend a state convention on the 20th to consider secession.
Before the convention assembled, volunteers answered Ellis’s call for service by gathering at Raleigh. The Confederate government extended an invitation for North Carolina to join the Confederacy, three days before the secession convention was scheduled to begin. Since the state was situated between two Confederate states, North Carolina’s secession was virtually a foregone conclusion.
A referendum in February had resulted in voters rejecting a call for a secession convention. But now, with war passions enflamed, the result of a second referendum was decidedly different. Voters selected overwhelmingly secessionist delegates who gathered to debate not so much whether to secede, but on what principles the ordinance of secession should be based. A practice vote on an ordinance of secession revealed that it would pass easily.
In fact, the ordinance passed unanimously. It read in part: “The Union now subsisting between the State of North Carolina and the other States, under the title of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved, and that the State of North Carolina is in the full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State.” North Carolina became the 10th state to leave the Union.
The ordinance noted that the election of a Republican president could have prompted North Carolina to secede, but “the people of North Carolina, though justly aggrieved by the evident tendency of this election, and of these principles, did, nevertheless, abstain from adopting any such measure of separation.” The final push out of the Union came when Lincoln called on North Carolina to send troops to Washington. This, according to the ordinance, was done for the “fixed purpose of the Government and people of those States to wage a cruel war against the seceded States, to destroy utterly the fairest portion of this continent, and reduce its inhabitants to absolute subjection and abject slavery.”
The next order of business was to ratify the Confederate Constitution and thereby join the Confederacy. Delegates resolved that “the State of North Carolina does hereby assent to and ratify the Constitution for the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America, adopted at Montgomery, in the State of Alabama, on the 8th of February, 1861.” The delegates rejected putting the question of either seceding or joining the Confederacy to a popular vote. The state legislature endorsed the convention’s resolutions the next day, making them official.
Celebrations erupted in Raleigh, where “Stephen Ramseur’s Battery fired a salute of a hundred guns… and everybody congratulated everybody else.” By this time most North Carolinians favored secession, even those in the previously Unionist mountain counties.
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