Monday, December 20, 2010

Our Nation Divided: South Carolina Secedes

"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."

This ordinance written by a delegation in South Carolina officially broke ties with the United States of America on this date, 150 years ago. A monumentally significant moment in American History which many, including newly elected President Lincoln, did not believe would happen. The differences between to North and South had been an issue since the very founding of the United States. The signers and debaters of the Constitution in 1787 were very carefully to keep in tact the fragile divide between the North and South, namely the issue of slavery. The issue of slavery itself was placed on the back burner in order to allow the passage of the Constitution by all the states. The divide however only grew larger. With slavery at the center the differences economically, politically, and even religiously became too overwhelming for the government to control. Compromises and negotiations only accomplished in putting off the problem rather than solving it. Finally with the election of the first Republican President whose party was proactively against slavery, many of the Southern states believed the time for debate and legislation had come to an end and separation was the only answer. Still many around the country did not believe it would happen. The feeling that the Union was still strong and the brotherly ties to its founding were still close. Then, on January 5, 1861, the citizenry of theUnited States and the world learned of not just the secession of South Carolina but much more.

"On the 26th, a resolution was passed declaring citizens of South Carolina all citizens of the United States within her limits on the 20th inst., the date of her secession. Another provides for a Convention of slaveholding States at Montgomery, Alabama, for the purpose of forming a Southern Confederacy, under the Constitution of the United States.  The Convention, in secret session, adopted an ordinance continuing the present Federal revenue officers in their places, and also continuing the United States revenue and navigation laws in force, subject to certain regulations.""Governor Pickens has, agreeably to the ordinance of session, issued a proclamation, proclaiming to the world sovereign, free and independent State, and as such has a right to levy war, conclude peace, negotiate treaties, leagues, or covenants, and do all acts whatever that rightly appertain to a free and independent State."
--Harper's Weekly Jan 5, 1861
Not only did everyone learn that South Carolina hadclaimed independence from the United States of America but they were commissioning for a convention to rally all Southern states in creating a confederacy of their own accord. Now following the news of South Carolina's secession six other states: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas all seceded from the Union in January 1861. Lincoln at this time wasn't even officially President. His election was in November however his inauguration was still nearly two months away. President Buchanan was not surprisingly absent from this whole affair so many officially from the South and North sought out Lincoln to make some kind of public statement to reassure the South and avoid permanent separation. Lincoln however refused. In a letter which was written just before South Carolina's official secession but in the midst of heavy talk by Southern states to break away, Lincoln responded privately to a North Carolina congressman by stating,
"Is it desired that I shall shift the ground upon which I have been elected? I can not do it. You need only to acquaint yourself with that ground, and press it on the attention of the South. It is all in print and easy of access. May I be pardoned if I ask whether you have ever attempted to procure the reading of the Republican platform, or my speeches by the Southern people? If not, what reason have I to expect that any additional production of mine would meet a better fate? It would make me appear as if I repented for the crime of having been elected, and was anxious to apologize and beg forgiveness."
Lincoln clearly was not going to put himself in a position of weakness where the Southern states would feel like if they flexed their muscle enough or made threats, such as secession, they would get their way. The Union must be preserved in Lincoln's eyes but not at the expense of his principles on slavery and not by giving in to demands. Lincoln's first real public statement does not actually come until March 4, 1861 which is his inaugural address to the nation as President of the United States. This will be the subject of a future "Our Nation Divided" post in March.

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