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Monday, December 20, 2010

South Carolina secedes from the United States 150 years ago today

Edward Ball reminds us in yesterday’s New York Times that when 169 members of the South Carolina legislature voted unanimously on December 20, 1860, to secede from the United States, the reasons they offered had more to do with slavery than with “states’ rights.” The vote was a swift reaction to the election in November of Abraham Lincoln, who would not take office until March 4, 1861. The initial Ordinance of Secession was just 158 words, but within four days the legislature issued a more detailed declaration:
The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows:

"No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."

This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. . . The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States. . . . For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.
But the failure of the northern states to return fugitive slaves wasn’t the only problem:
A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.
For the reasons detailed, the “People of South Carolina” declared that their union with “the other States of North America is dissolved.” South Carolina hoped to spark a chain of secessions throughout the south, and seven other states seceded before Lincoln took office.

Also of interest:
Related LOA volumes: The Civil War: The First Year Told By Those Who Lived It

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