Secession of South Carolina from the United States of America


As anyone who has taken a course in early American history has been told, one key reason that the Civil War was fought was to preserve the union of states, as the southern states, one by one, seceded from the United States in order to form the Confederate States of America. This secession, which threatened to destroy the new nation before it had time to fully blossom, began with South Carolina’s exit from the union of the United States. The purpose of this paper is to discuss why South Carolina seceded, the effect that this action had on the rest of the southern states, and the role that South Carolina’s action played in sparking the Civil War.

A Nation Divided

One of the key issues that divided the United States in the late 1850s and early 1860s was slavery; more precisely, the northern states by and large were opposed to slavery and sought to abolish it (hence the term “abolitionist”); in contrast, the southern states supported slavery due to a great extent to the fact that slave labor was essential for effectively operating the many cotton plantations that dotted the southern landscape. Cotton was a huge cash crop, responsible for a great deal of the southern economy, and plantation owners grew rich at the expense of slave laborers. Various sources debate whether or not slaves were treated well, but the fact that every slave was denied total freedom is undeniable.

An event that caused the slavery dispute to reach full volume was John Brown’s Raid in 1859, when John Brown, a fierce opponent of slavery, led a group of men on an attack against the U.S. arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, in an effort to gain the weapons needed to build an anti-slavery army and also to send a strong message to the south that slavery would be fought with force (John Brown’s Raid, 1859). Ironically, Brown was captured and hanged for rebellion against the U.S., but this action sent a clear message to the pro-slavery states that action needed to be taken to protect the institution of slavery.
South Carolina Leads the Secession Movement

Following John Brown’s raid, the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States in 1860 brought more urgency to the secession movement. Lincoln, a staunch anti-slavery president, wanted to eradicate slavery, but had consider the rumors of secession to be the complaints of a small southern minority, and that the common bond all Americans felt would prevent any state from leaving the Union(Secession Crisis). The fact is that nothing could be further from the truth. Beginning in the early 1850s, the sentiments of fierce states rights supporters like South Carolina’s legendary John C. Calhoun, planted the seeds of secession. Echoing the feelings of the late Calhoun, the congress of South Carolina called a convention to consider secession in November, 1860, shortly after Lincoln’s election. Participating in that convention were well known secessionists, known as fire-eaters, such as Robert Barnwell Rhett, Sr. The fire-eaters operated out of the restrictions of traditional politics, and therefore played by their own rules to advance their secessionist views (Phillips). On December 20 of that same year, that convention unanimously passed a resolution of secession. The news of the resolution, which was viewed by many to be a “divorce from the North”, sparked celebrations, fireworks, and ringing church bells, much like American independence did less than a century before (American Civil War Introduction). The die was cast for a revolution, from which there was no turning back, at least for South Carolina. In a bold move, the state took the first action that so many other states in the south had contemplated for so long.

Effects of South Carolina’s Secession

When South Carolina seceded from the Union, the action was the first domino to fall so to speak. Emboldened by the South Carolina decision, the other states that would eventually make up the Confederate States of America- Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee- followed this example and broke away from the U.S.

South Carolina Sparks Civil War

South Carolina’s intense desire for freedom from the constraints of the U.S. culminated in the conflict at Fort Sumter, Charleston, on April 12, 1861. Based on previously unsuccessful efforts for South Carolina to gain control of this fort, still under U.S. military control, South Carolina formed a huge army of its own and attacked Fort Sumter, gaining control of it and killing U.S. soldiers in the process. This act of rebellion constituted treason against the U.S., and in response, Abraham Lincoln called up 75,000 troops to squash the confederacy. In response to Lincoln’s move, the other seceded states took up arms along with South Carolina and the Civil War had begun. With the beginning of war, other states that had considered secession but did not yet do so (Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland) were compelled to also break from the U.S. and join the newly formed C.S.A. In response to this, the U.S. once again increased its troop involvement, and the Civil War continued to escalate from that point forward. States were forced to choose, and although often difficult, the tough decisions were made by the individual states, based mainly on the slavery question. In the bigger picture, issues such as states’ rights, economic progress, religious convictions and the like also were considered in these decisions of secession. Despite conventional wisdom, the Civil War began for many reasons, but the actions of South Carolina remain a key element in the formation of the C.S.A. and the resulting conflict.

Aftermath of Secession

In this paper, we have discussed the events leading up to South Carolina’s break from the Union and the ensuing results. As an aftermath of what South Carolina did, the American Civil War would drag on for four years, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives, and causing a rift that would take generations to come. In the final analysis, the South Carolina situation showed the universal issues of freedom, rebellion, conflict and human nature, as well as the resilience of the United States of America, the great experiment in democracy that continues to grow stronger with each generation.

Works Cited

American Civil War Introduction. Son of the South. 16 Jan. 2006 .

John Brown’s Raid, 1859. 2004. EyeWitness to History. 16 Jan. 2006 .

Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell. The Course of the South to Secession: An Interpretation. Ed. E. Merton Coulter. New York: D. Appleton, 1939.

Secession Crisis. 2003. National Park Service. 16 Jan. 2006 .

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