Secession Crisis

    South Carolina Secedes  "The First To Act"  December 20, 1860

The doctrine of state's rights, the legality of secession, and the institution of black slavery had been issues of debate in the United States for decades before the election of Abraham Lincoln brought on the secession of the Southern states. Time after time the South had forced political compromises by threatening to dissolve the union, but by 1860 many Northern politicians had come to view the threat as a bluff and were sick of compromising when it came to slavery. Southerners were thoroughly indoctrinated in the issues, and their education emphasized the inviolability of the Constitution and honored such state's-rights leaders as Thomas Jefferson and John C. Calhoun.

"The tug has to come and better now, than any time hereafter," wrote President-elect Lincoln in response to the movements among Southerners toward making good their threat to remove themselves from the United States if he were elected. On November 10, 1860, four days after the election, the legislature in South Carolina, the undisputed leading agitator for secession and the home of John C. Calhoun, became the first of the Southern congresses to call for a convention to consider secession.

Meeting in Charleston on December 20, that convention passed unanimously the first ordinance of secession, which stated, "We, the people of the State of South Carolina in convention assembled, do declare and ordain... that the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of 'the United States of America,' is hereby dissolved," making South Carolina a free and independent country. The people of Charleston went wild with joy amid fireworks, booming cannon, and ringing bells. Within six weeks, six other states in the Deep South followed South Carolina out of the Union. Southern diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut wrote, "We are divorced, North and South, because we have hated each other so."

Fascinating Fact:  Lincoln had considered the talk of secession to be bluff and bluster. He believed the attachment Southerners felt for the United States would not allow them to leave the Union.


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