Why did South Carolina Secede from the Union? In Their Own Words: to Protect Their States Rights to Maintain Slavery.

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26 Comments

  1. If the statements of SC lead you to believe slavery was the cause…you need to read the secession commissioners. These men went from the already seceded states to those states still deciding and made speeches and delivered letters on what had caused those states to secede.

    Prof. Charles Dew’s book is great…The Apostles of Disunion or you can read some of the speeches here…

    http://civilwarcauses.org/commish.htm

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    1. Corey Meyer said: {If the statements of SC lead you to believe slavery was the cause… you need to read the secession commissioners.}

      Corey, could you expand on this comment? Is the suggestion that I might not believe that slavery was the cause upon reading those other documents?

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    2. “The commissioners included in their speeches a constitutional justification for secession, to be sure, and they
      pointed to a number of political “outrages” committed by the North in the decades prior to Lincoln’s
      election. But the core of their argument—the reason the right of secession had to be invoked
      and invoked immediately—did not turn on matters of constitutional interpretation or political
      principle. Over and over again, the commissioners returned to the same point: that Lincoln’s
      election signaled an unequivocal commitment on the part of the North to destroy slavery and that
      emancipation would plunge the South into a racial nightmare.” Charles Drew

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  2. Not at all…just the opposite…reading the secession commissioners should solidify the understanding that the south seceded over the issue of slavery and really slavery alone.

    Corey

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  3. Like you i have read many book’s, And letter’s from people in the war on both sides, I do know this the north did not like the gettysburg address,When Abe said we would free the slaves if the north won. When he gave this address some time after the war had started, They thought this would draw out the war longer.I notice you did not put that fact in your statement’s perhaps this could be caused by a { pro-north} view

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    1. Curry,

      The post was about SC’s reasons for seceding. The comments you made have nothing to do with SC’s reasons for seceding.

      If you have a blog where you discuss Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address and the feeling of the North to slavery, I’d love to have a link to that.

      Reply

  4. You know, I’ve read this before…although a while back.

    And I agree that South Carolina left for the most part because of the slavery issue, and their secession statement illustrates that well. But I would contend that it REALLY has more to do with State’s Rights than it does slavery.

    I know….Bear with me here:

    If you read carefully the arguments that are made…(especially without the bold print), their arguments are about Constitutionality and the North’s disregard for the Constitution because of their attitude towards slavery. In other words, read one way, it was the NORTH’S attitude toward slavery, NOT the South’s that forced the secession.

    Now whether the North was right and the South was wrong is relevant, but it’s not near as relevant as whether the North gave South Carolina ample reason to feel that the rights of their State was being violated by other States and the Federal Government both. For instance, it could have gone the other way:

    If the SOUTH had had the same financial power as the North did (controlling the banks, pushing for tariffs, etc), and the NORTH were the slave states, and every time a free black man crossed the border into the North, he was taken as a slave, AND Southern States started passing laws that said it was A-OK to do this, against the Federal Constitution, and the Federal Government did didley to stop it…would Southern States have had the right to secede then?

    I know this is a rough and possibly implausible scenario, but the truth is you can’t ignore that the institution of slavery was protected by the Constitution (God forgive us), and South Carolina saw that the Federal Government and the States of the North were willing to violate those protections…well…because they thought it was the “right” thing to do.

    Maybe it was the “right” thing to do…protect the freedom of a captured slave. But was it the legal thing to do? And when other State Governments and Federal Government conspire (pass laws) to do something illegal (unconstitutional) against a State…what is that State supposed to do? Revolt? Not likely. Virginia wouldn’t have let that happen. (and if you want to see the RIGHT reasons for seceding…see Virginia).

    It very well could have been something else…it could have been cotton, or taxes, or whatever. However, in those areas, laws were passed, through a Constitutional process through State and Federal Governments, and South Carolina’s nullifications were met with just disdain. But in on NO other issue did South Carolina have its Constitutionally protected place in the union violated in a more underhanded fashion than than it did in the issue of slavery.

    So were the Northern States “right” in protecting the freedom of escaping blacks? Sure.
    Was the South “wrong” to have slaves? Oh GOD yes.
    But was South Carolina accurate in saying that its Constitutional protections had been compromised on this rather touchy issue of slavery? Yep. Absolutely.
    Is that a good enough reason to secede? I think so.
    Does that mean it was the “right” thing to do? well that’s a tough call. I wasn’t there and neither were you, but if it was that easy, these discussions would have ceased a long time ago.

    Thanks…enjoy your day!

    Reply

    1. The main purpose of my post was to note that slavery was the cause of secession; believe it or not, that is a very controversial issue with many people. As such, I don’t think I’ll get into the “legality” of secession for this post.

      I will note the following:
      o There’s no question that slavery was legal at the time of the war.

      o I do believe that, in the face of despotism, a group of people may secede from their government.

      o I don’t know that fighting against anti-slavery counts as “battling despotism.”

      o I like the argument against secession that is here: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=3487

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    2. I wondered if anyone would get that. Reading carefully, it was the northern states’ DISREGARD FOR THE CONSTITUTION that drove S. Carolina to secede. Yes, slavery was part of the issue – but the fact that the northern states were acting UNCONSTITUTIONALLY is clearly the bottom line. One must wonder how things might have been different had the North pursued an end to slavery in a CONSTITUTIONAL manner.

      And S. Carolina clearly has it correct that they had a RIGHT to secede, as did any state of the Union. Imagine a similar situation today: Portugal, Spain, Greece and Ireland decide to leave the European UNION, so Germany, France and the other EU members decided to go to WAR against them to force them to remain? And yet Americans today seem puzzled by the idea of a state leaving the union.

      Lincoln is on record as personally not liking slavery – but being willing to free all, some or none of the slaves to maintain Federal control of the South. Ironically, it appears that while Lincoln was personally opposed to slavery involving blacks, he thoroughly approved of the North enslaving the entire South.

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  5. saw a typo from the sixth paragraph:

    “…as a slave, AND NORTHERN States started passing laws that said it was A-OK to do this, against the Federal…”

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  6. Secession was due to slavery but the war was fought to preserve the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation was a war time measure to create servile insurrection in the South. Notice that it didn’t free any slaves in the border states or Confederate territory under Union control.

    You need to understand that slavery was protected in the Constitution. South Carolina was complaining about the northern states violating the Constitution by not enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that most of us are judging this with a 21st century mindset. At the time, even abolitionists didn’t believe that the black man was equal to the white man. Practically everyone was against allowing blacks to vote, hold office or testify in court against a white man.

    The war was brought on due to sectional differences.In the forming of new countries, civil wars are almost a necessity.

    Reply

    1. Secession was due to slavery but the war was fought to preserve the Union

      Agreed.

      The Emancipation Proclamation was a…

      The EP is not relevant to my post. I may discuss the EP in the future.

      You need to understand that slavery was protected in the Constitution. South Carolina was complaining about the northern states violating the Constitution by not enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act.

      Yes, you are repeating what they say in the secession declaration.

      Another thing to keep in mind is that most of us are judging this with a 21st century mindset… At the time, even abolitionists didn’t believe that the black man was equal to the white man. Practically everyone was against allowing blacks to vote, hold office or testify in court against a white man.

      I am not “judging” the declaration, just pointing out that a lot of people want to deny that secession was about the desire to protect states rights to maintain slavery.

      Also, saying that “everybody” was against black equality is wrong – I am sure the 4 million slaves and freemen believed otherwise. And their beliefs do count..

      The war was brought on due to sectional differences.

      Agreed. The point here is that the South seceded to protect their states’ rights to preserve slavery, which I think is a point we agree on.

      In the forming of new countries, civil wars are almost a necessity.

      That is an interesting thought. Do you have a blog or other forum where you’ve made that point? I wouldn’t mind looking at that discussion.

      Reply

  7. Dear Lunchcountersitin,

    Slavery is wrong, most would agree. But saying that SC seceded to protect their rights to maintian slaves is very narrow-minded. It implies that slavery was the only right they wished to maintain. Had the North and the Federal government infringed on any of the State’s rights of SC they would have had the right and the duty to secede. I quote “The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union”. The rights that were infrindged upon is immaterial.

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  8. As to the issue of the legality of succession by South Carolina, the Articles of Confederation stated there would be a perpetual union of the states but such language is completely absent in the new constitution. More specifically the federal government was only entrusted with specific powers enumerated by the new constitution and all powers not expressly granted were reserved to the states via the tenth amendment. Therefore South Carolina was within its rights to leave the union. I don’t like the label “civil war”, it should be called for what it was “the war for southern independence”.

    Reply

    1. Independence for who? Certainly not the 40% of the South still left in servitude. Also the The Emancipation Proclamation was based on the President’s powers due to wartime – hence Lincoln cleverly used General Butler’s (?) example of seizing and freeing the slaves as war contraband. Hence under this legal precedent he could not have freed the slaves in the border state (because they were not at war hence slaves could not contribute to their war effort) even if he wanted to.

      Reply

  9. I think when we read these articles now, we read them and automatically apply modern definition to one word which held a different meaning at the time the articles were written. By doing as such, we redefine a critical moment in our nation’s history, and replace it with yet another critical issue of our nation’s history. The key word is slave.

    When we read this now, having been raised in a time that we no longer believe in ownership of slaves, we see the word slave as a person who was treated in unethical and callous ways. In other words, a black man owned by a white man, often mistreated and abused. Therefore the word slave is humanized and sympathized. So for a modern man to read the articles, it is easy to assume the secession began over slavery alone.

    When the states wrote their articles of secession, the word slave did not encompass such a broad meaning. A slave was merely one’s property. History tells us a slave was equal to a horse or mule, nothing more, nothing less. A slave was just a specific form of property and would have been used a such in the articles of separation.

    When you dehumanize the word slave to simply property, as it was meant in period correct definition, the Civil War technically was not fought over slavery. It was fought because progressive states refused to obey federal law and return property to the rightful owners, thus violating state rights of the non-progressive states.

    Slavery definitely played a critical role in the events leading to secession,but at the end of the day, the true reason was the violation of state rights.

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  10. Nice blog entry. Many of the comments certainly indicate the need for it.

    By the way, if states like South Carolina were so in favor of state’s rights, why are they so concerned with the application of the Fugitive Slave Act to the North? The answer, of course, is that they were in favor of state’s rights when it protected the institution of slavery and in favor of federal power when it protected slavery. As always, the answer comes back to slavery.

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  11. I disagree with your assessment Structure. I think South Carolina was in support of the Constitution (the contract between the federal government and the governments of the states). They weren’t seceeding to uphold their rights as a state, they seceeded because they believed that if the federal government broke the contract, which it did, that they had the duty to the people of the state of South Carolina to break away from a tyranical organization and form a new government to protect the people’s rights

    Reply

    1. I agree with you in part. I think South Carolina did believe that it was being true to its own interpretation of the Constitution. I think they did genuinely feel that they were subject to tyranny under the Republican Party.

      But let’s be clear: they were specifically afraid that the Republican Party would seek to put the institution of slavery on the path to its eventual destruction. The tyranny that SC feared was the tyranny of anti-slavery.

      For SC secession was not an end in itself. it was the means to an end. Secession was the means, but the protection and preservation of slavery was the end.

      Reply

      1. It was more the precedence of the federal government being able to pick and choose what parts of the constitution they would and would not uphold. Really like the entry.

  12. Really, the fourteen states that South Carolina deems to violate the Constitution had only one thing in common: they didn’t enforce the fugitive slave act and didn’t have slavery existing in their state. Whether or not the issue was federal control or slavery makes no difference, they seceded due to government not acting to aid the south in enforcing forced labor. Didn’t matter what the issue was that caused this thought to occur, but the slavery issue was the breaking point, the key point that raised awareness and fervor on the issue of feds overstepping their boundaries. The document goes on at length and repeats itself several times that slavery was the issue and that government control caused it. Oh, and the Constitution was a binding document that is not self-terminating at any point. Countries only exist because of documents like these.

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  13. First things first folks….. There was an actual peace treaty between the state of South Carolina and the U.S. federal goverment. Major Anderson had his troops at Fort Moltrie and could not do anything that seem as a military action, he did. He movd the troops from Fort Moltrie to Fort Sumter and it was this fact that South Carolina ordered the secession convention. Not only on charleston but also in abbeyville (mountian area) and central regions (Columbia). Seccession was passed based upon old laws which began under Andrew Jacksons atempt to put down their cottoen trade by an excise tax on cotton, then….an unknown viec President ….John C. Callhoun resigned. My hero of the South, GOD BLESS YA! This document you read was a legitmate order passed to save the States rights under old revolutariny laws. South Carolina based their facts on that, each and every one of the thirteen colonies had that right given to them. By the breaking of the peace treaty…Maj. anderson broke the the agreement between S.C. and the U.S. thus the seccession was on…The South was born a Nation was born!

    Reply

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