South Carolina’s Secession Opens Path to Civil War
When South Carolina became the first of the future Confederate States of America to secede from the Union, on Dec. 20, 1860, few were surprised. Secessionist talk had been heating up in South Carolina for months, and the nation had been lurching toward division ever since the Compromise of 1850 only partially checked the momentum leading to civil war. Slavery and states’ rights were two irreconcilable differences dividing North and South. It was perhaps fitting that South Carolina, first to secede, fired the first shots that started the Civil War when Confederate forces in Charleston Harbor attacked Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.
On the day South Carolina seceded the Albany Journal (Albany, New York) published this article:
The South Carolina Convention has appointed a Committee to report what property belonging to the United States should be demanded by the State after it shall secede. So soon as a conclusion is reached, a Commissioner is to be sent to Washington to procure the title deeds. If Gen. Jackson were President, he would send him home with a halter about his neck.
That which will press most crushingly upon the fame of President Buchanan, in the estimation of coming generations, will be his refusal to interpose the authority of the Government to prevent South Carolina from consummating her treasonable purposes.
The indications are that Georgia will not follow the blind lead of South Carolina. Unless she does, secession will be a sickly fizzle.
The New York Herald (New York, New York) published the news about South Carolina’s secession on the front page of its Dec. 21, 1860, issue:
Important from the South.
Actual Secession of South Carolina.
The Unanimous Passage of the Secession Act in the State Convention.
The Ordinance of Separation.
Great Rejoicings in the Streets of Charleston.
The Secession of South Carolina.
Washington, Dec. 20, 1860.
The news from Charleston of the passage by unanimous vote of the ordinance of secession, although expected, causes great excitement here.
In the House the members of the Gulf States gathered in numbers, and with joyful expressions at the information. Among others it produces various comments. The general feeling, however, seems to be one of painful regret that in the midst of so great efforts and proposed sacrifices to save the Union South Carolina should have been launched upon her solitary career. It is thought that she has exhibited but little consideration for those of her sister States, who, with equal cause for secession, defer their action for joint consultation and procedure.
It was supposed the Convention would hold off until the 22d of February, at the request of some South Carolina members of Congress.
Members of Congress who had paired off, with the intention of going home to pass the holidays, have reconsidered their determination, and some will remain, as they believe the moment for decisive action for weal or woe will be reached within a few days.
The city is filled with rumors from Charleston about the capture of forts, &c., none of which are well founded.
Ten O’clock P.M.
The excitement consequent upon the reception of the first report of the passage of the secession ordinance by South Carolina has partially subsided, and the city is unusually composed tonight. The goodbyes of retiring South Carolina members of the House were distinguished for their excellent humor, and the occasion seemed more like a departure of friends than of persons bound on a revolutionary mission.
An Ordinance to Dissolve the Union between the State of South Carolina and Other States United with Her under the Compact Entitled “The Constitution of the United States of America”
We, the people 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 23d day of May, in the year of our Lord 1788, 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.
The ordinance was taken up and passed, by the unanimous vote of 169 members, at quarter past one o’clock.
As soon as its passage was known without the doors of the Convention it rapidly spread on the street, a crowd collected and there was immense cheering.
Mr. Miles moved that the clerk telegraph to the members at Washington. Carried unanimously.
…At forty minutes past three the Convention took a recess, to meet at Institute Hall at half-past six o’clock, for the purpose of signing the ordinance.
As the Convention were leaving St. Andrew’s Hall the chimes of St. Michael’s Episcopal church pealed forth “Auld Lang Syne” and other tunes.
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