Why Did South Carolina Secede?

South Carolina was the first state to secede after Abraham Lincoln’s election.  They also provided us a statement of the reasons why they were seceding:

[begin quote]

Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union

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; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act.

In the year 1765, that portion of the British Empire embracing Great Britain, undertook to make laws for the government of that portion composed of the thirteen American Colonies. A struggle for the right of self-government ensued, which resulted, on the 4th of July, 1776, in a Declaration, by the Colonies, “that they are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; and that, as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.”

They further solemnly declared that whenever any “form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government.” Deeming the Government of Great Britain to have become destructive of these ends, they declared that the Colonies “are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

In pursuance of this Declaration of Independence, each of the thirteen States proceeded to exercise its separate sovereignty; adopted for itself a Constitution, and appointed officers for the administration of government in all its departments– Legislative, Executive and Judicial. For purposes of defense, they united their arms and their counsels; and, in 1778, they entered into a League known as the Articles of Confederation, whereby they agreed to entrust the administration of their external relations to a common agent, known as the Congress of the United States, expressly declaring, in the first Article “that each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right which is not, by this Confederation, expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.”

Under this Confederation the war of the Revolution was carried on, and on the 3rd of September, 1783, the contest ended, and a definite Treaty was signed by Great Britain, in which she acknowledged the independence of the Colonies in the following terms: “ARTICLE 1– His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz: New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that he treats with them as such; and for himself, his heirs and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.”

Thus were established the two great principles asserted by the Colonies, namely: the right of a State to govern itself; and the right of a people to abolish a Government when it becomes destructive of the ends for which it was instituted. And concurrent with the establishment of these principles, was the fact, that each Colony became and was recognized by the mother Country a FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATE.

In 1787, Deputies were appointed by the States to revise the Articles of Confederation, and on 17th September, 1787, these Deputies recommended for the adoption of the States, the Articles of Union, known as the Constitution of the United States.

The parties to whom this Constitution was submitted, were the several sovereign States; they were to agree or disagree, and when nine of them agreed the compact was to take effect among those concurring; and the General Government, as the common agent, was then invested with their authority.

If only nine of the thirteen States had concurred, the other four would have remained as they then were– separate, sovereign States, independent of any of the provisions of the Constitution. In fact, two of the States did not accede to the Constitution until long after it had gone into operation among the other eleven; and during that interval, they each exercised the functions of an independent nation.

By this Constitution, certain duties were imposed upon the several States, and the exercise of certain of their powers was restrained, which necessarily implied their continued existence as sovereign States. But to remove all doubt, an amendment was added, which declared that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people. On the 23d May , 1788, South Carolina, by a Convention of her People, passed an Ordinance assenting to this Constitution, and afterwards altered her own Constitution, to conform herself to the obligations she had undertaken.

Thus was established, by compact between the States, a Government with definite objects and powers, limited to the express words of the grant. This limitation left the whole remaining mass of power subject to the clause reserving it to the States or to the people, and rendered unnecessary any specification of reserved rights.

We hold that the Government thus established is subject to the two great principles asserted in the Declaration of Independence; and we hold further, that the mode of its formation subjects it to a third fundamental principle, namely: the law of compact. We maintain that in every compact between two or more parties, the obligation is mutual; that the failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement, entirely releases the obligation of the other; and that where no arbiter is provided, each party is remitted to his own judgment to determine the fact of failure, with all its consequences.

In the present case, that fact is established with certainty. We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.

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 greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.

The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States.

The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the 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. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening [sic] them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. 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. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.

The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.

Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief.

We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.

Adopted December 24, 1860 [end quote]

So why did South Carolina secede?  Here’s what they said:  “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 greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.

“The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States.

“The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the 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. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.”  This references the Fugitive Slave Clause and the John Brown Raid on Harper’s Ferry.  Many free states passed personal liberty laws that were struck down by the US Supreme Court.  They then passed new laws that they believed complied with the Supreme Court’s ruling.  It is now up to a slaveholder who is denied the return of his slave to sue in Federal court to test the constitutionality of the new laws.  That’s the way the system works.  There is no right of transit for slaves in the Constitution.  It was generally recognized even at the time that a slave whose owner deliberately and voluntarily brings them into a free state was automatically free upon touching free soil.  This is because slave laws are only in effect within the borders of the states that have those laws.  What South Carolina is complaining about regarding right of passage is that free states are exercising their state rights to not have slavery recognized within their states.  State rights, to South Carolinians, are only there to protect slavery, not to protect freedom.  And two fugitives from the raid on Harper’s Ferry were denied extradition from Ohio.  It would be up to Virginia to bring suit for their extradition.

In addition, they claim, “These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening [sic] them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

“We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”  Here South Carolina plays fast and loose with the truth.  The government was not established to facilitate slavery.  You can’t even find mention of slavery in the Constitution with the exception of the amendment that abolished it.  The right of property in slaves was not recognized in the Constitution.  There were no emissaries who incited slaves to insurrection, but abolitionists did want slaves to escape.  These abolitionists were not sent by their states.

They continue, “For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. 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. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that ‘Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,’ and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.”  So they have a problem with Lincoln because he’s antislavery.  They admit that his election was in accordance with the Constitution.

They say, “This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.” Here they are complaining that in some Northern states, African-Americans are allowed to vote.

And they show what they are complaining about:  “On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.”  Clearly they are all about protecting slavery.  They’re upset that the Republicans want to restrict slavery from expanding, they are upset that Republicans will appoint antislavery judges, and they are upset that Republicans would like to see slavery come to an end throughout the United States.  They see a threat to slavery in the Republicans, and that is why they are seceding.

Like other seceding states, South Carolina sent commissioners as official representatives to explain why they seceded and to persuade other states to secede.  John McQueen was South Carolina’s commissioner to Texas.  On February 2, 1861, he gave a speech to the Texas Secession Convention.  In it, he said, “I trust I may not be intrusive if I refer for a moment to the circumstances which prompted South Carolina in the act of her own immediate secession, in which some have charged a want of courtesy and respect for her Southern sister States. She had not been disturbed by discord or conflict in the recent canvass for president or vice-president of the United States. She had waited for the result in the calm apprehension that the Black Republican party would succeed. She had, within a year, invited her sister Southern States to a conference with her on our mutual impending danger. Her legislature was called in extra session to cast her vote for president and vice-president, through electors, of the United States and before they adjourned the telegraphic wires conveyed the intelligence that Lincoln was elected by a sectional vote, whose platform was that of the Black Republican party and whose policy was to be the abolition of slavery upon this continent and the elevation of our own slaves to equality with ourselves and our children, and coupled with all this was the act that, from our friends in our sister Southern States, we were urged in the most earnest terms to secede at once, and prepared as we were, with not a dissenting voice in the State, South Carolina struck the blow and we are now satisfied that none have struck too soon, for when we are now threatened with the sword and the bayonet by a Democratic administration for the exercise of this high and inalienable right, what might we meet under the dominion of such a party and such a president as Lincoln and his minions.”  This official representative of South Carolina identifies two issues causing secession:  the threat of abolition of slavery and the threat of equality of blacks and whites.  Slavery and white supremacy, he says, were the reasons for secession.

John Preston was South Carolina’s commissioner to Virginia.  He gave a speech to the Virginia Secession Convention on February 19, 1861.  In that speech he said, “As preliminary to this statement, I would say, that as early as the year 1820, the manifest tendency of the legislation of the general government was to restrict the territorial expansion of the slaveholding States. That is very evident in all the contests of that period; and had they been successful to the extent that some hoped, even then, the line that cut off the purchase from France might have been projected eastward to the bottom of the Chesapeake and sent Virginia and half of Tennessee and all of Kentucky, Virginia proper, after she had given to non-slavery her northwestern empire, to the non-slavery section. That might be the line. The policy, however, has been pushed so far as to deprive this Southern section of that line of at least seven-tenths of the valuable acquisitions of the government.”  So he is first talking about the expansion of slavery as a concern.  Next, however, he speaks about the tariff during the Nullification Crisis:  “Besides this, I would state. as preliminary, that a large portion of the revenue of the government of the United States has always been drawn from duties on imports. Now, the products that have been necessary to purchase these imports, were at one time almost exclusively, and have always mainly been the result of slave labor, and therefore the burden of the revenue duties upon imports purchased by these exports must fall upon the producer who happens also to be the consumer of the imports.”  Here he relates it to the slavery issue, then makes the patently false claim that the burden for paying the tariff fell on the slave states.  Such is not the case.

He continued, “In addition to this, it may be stated, that at a very early period of the existence of this Government, the Northern people, from a variety of causes, entered upon the industries of manufacture and of commerce, but of agriculture scarcely to the extent of self support. This may have arisen from a variety of causes; among them, perhaps, an uncongenial climate, a barren soil, but an alluring sea coast adapted to commerce, besides an inherent tendency upon the part of the people of these latitudes to the arts of manucraft and traffic; and while, therefore, it was important that all the sources of the revenue should be kept up to meet the increasing expenses of the Government, it also manifestly became of great importance that these articles of manufacture in which they have been engaged should be subject to the purchase of their confederates. They, therefore, invented a system of duties partial and discriminating, by which the whole burden of the revenue from this extraordinary system fell upon those who produced the articles of exports which purchased the articles of imports, and which articles of import were consumed mainly, or to a great extent, by those who produced the exports.”  Again, he’s suggesting that the whole burden of the tariff fell on the south, which is, we know, a false claim.  The tariff was overwhelmingly paid by Northerners who actually used imported goods, whereas southerners didn’t use nearly the same amount.

He then continues his misrepresentation of the history:  “Now, the State of South Carolina being at the time one of the largest exporters and consumers of imports, was so oppressed by the operations of this system upon her, that she was driven to the necessity of interposing her sovereign reservation to arrest it, so far as she was concerned. This interposition, together with the rapid spread of the principle of free trade all over the world, did arrest the iniquity in the shape in which it was then presented. It could no longer be the avowed policy of the Government to tax one section for the purpose of building up another. But so successful had been the system; to such an extent had it already, in a few years, been pushed; so vast had been its accumulations of capital; so vastly had it been diffused throughout its ramifications as seemingly to inter-weave the very life of industry itself, in the two sections into each other in the form of mechanics, of manufactures, ships, merchants, and bankers. The people of the Northern States have so crawled and crept into every crevice of our industry which they could approach, and they have themselves so conformed to it, that we ourselves began to believe that they were absolutely necessary to its vitality; and they have so fed and fattened, and grown so great and large as they feed and fatten upon this sweating giant of the South, that with the insolence natural to sudden and bloated wealth and power, they begin to believe that the giant was created only as their tributary.”  Once again, this is rubbish.  But is this one of his identified reasons for secession?  No.  “This, gentlemen, brings me directly to the causes which I desire to lay before you. For fully thirty years or more, the people of the Northern States have assailed the institution of African slavery. They have assailed African slavery in every form in which, by our contiguity of territory and our political alliance with them, they have been permitted to approach it.”  So the causes he identifies begins with hostility to slavery.

He says, “During that period of thirty years, large masses of their people have associated themselves together for the purpose of abolishing the institution of African slavery, and means, the most fearful were suggested to the subject race-rising and murdering their masters being the charities of those means. In pursuance of this idea, their representatives in the federal government have endeavored by all the means that they could bring to bear, so to shape the legislation as almost to limit, to restrict, to restrain the slaveholding States from any political interest in the accretion of the government. So that as my distinguished colleague [Judge Benning], stated to you on yesterday, the decree goes forth that there are to be no more slave States admitted into the Union.”  So we see abolition of slavery and restriction of slavery’s expansion is the complaint here.

He moves on to his second cause:  “Secondly, then, in pursuance of the same purpose that I have indicated, a large majority of the States of the Confederation have refused to carry out those provisions of the Constitution which are absolutely necessary to the existence of the slave States, and many of them have stringent laws to prevent the execution of those provisions; and eight of these States have made it criminal, even in their citizens to execute these provisions of the Constitution of the United States, which, by the progress of the government, have become now necessary to the protection of an industry which furnishes to the commerce of the Republic $250,000,000 per annum, and on which the very existence of twelve millions of people depends. In not one of these seventeen States can a citizen of one of the fifteen States claim his main property, and in many of them the persons of the citizens of these States have been violated, and in numerous cases the violence has resulted in murder.”  There were slave renditions going on in Northern states all the time, so he’s not telling the truth, but we see here his second cause is enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law.

His third cause deals with John Brown:  “Third. The citizens of not less than five of our confederates of the
North have invaded the territory of their confederates of the slaveholding States, and proclaimed the intention of abolishing slavery by the annihilation of the slaveholders; and two of these States have refused to surrender the convicted felons to the demand of the invaded States; and one of these-one of the most influential-one, perhaps, recognized as the representative of what is called American sentiment and civilization, has, in its highest solemn form, approved of that invasion; and numbers of people, scattered throughout the whole extent of these seventeen States, have made votive offerings to the memory of the invaders.”  His complaint here is that John Brown raided Harper’s Ferry, that two fugitives from that raid weren’t extradited, and that many folks in the free states, exercising their First Amendment right, expressed their admiration for Brown and his men.  Freedom of speech, I suppose, can only apply to proslavery speech.

We now get to his fourth cause:  “Fourth. The most populous, and by far, the most potent of our late confederates, has for years proclaimed, through the federal legislature and by her own sovereign act, that the conflict between slavery and non-slavery is a conflict for life and death. Now, there is the calm, oft-reiterated decree of a State containing three millions of people, conducting four-fifths of the commerce of the Republic, with additional millions diffused through the whole of these 17 States. And many of these States themselves have decreed that the institution of slavery is an offence to God, and, therefore, they are bound by the most sacred attributes which belong to human nature, to exterminate it. They have declared, in their most solemn form, that the institution of slavery, as it exists in the States of their political confederates, is an offence to their social institutions, and, therefore, that it should be exterminated. Finally, acting upon the impulse of their duties of self-protection and self-preservation, majorities, large majorities throughout the whole of these 17 States have placed the executive power of the Federal Government in the hands of those who are bound by the most sacred obligations, by their obligations to God, by their obligations to the social institutions of man, by their obligations of self-protection and self-preservation, to place the system of slavery as it exists in the Southern States upon a course of certain and final extinction. Twenty millions of people, having in their hands one of the strongest Governments on earth, and impelled by a perfect recognition of the most powerful obligations which fall upon man, have declared that the vital interests of eight millions of people shall be exterminated. In other words, the decree, the result of this cumulation which I have endeavored to show you, was inaugurated on the 6th of November last, so far as the institution of slavery is concerned, in the confederates of the Northern non-slaveholding States. That decree is annihilation, and you can make nothing shorter of it.”  His fourth cause, then, is that people in the North want to see slavery abolished and elected an antislavery president to abolish slavery.  All of his four causes relate to the protection of slavery.  Note that he referred to the tariff only in his discussion of the Nullification Crisis, not in his discussion on why secession was necessary in 1860 and 1861.

Unlike the other states, South Carolina published a second document.  This was their “Address to the Slaveholding States.”  This wasn’t a recitation of their reasons for seceding as some would claim.  They had already done that in their Declaration of Causes.  Instead, this was a statement to other slaveholding states to remind them that they believed they were more valuable to the Union than the Union was to them.  This document was written by Robert Barnwell Rhett.  In it, Rhett writes, “The Southern States now stand in the same relation toward the Northern States, in the vital matter of taxation, that our ancestors stood toward the people of Great Britain. They are in a minority in Congress. Their representation in Congress is useless to protect them against unjust taxation, and they are taxed by the people of the North for their benefit exactly as the people of Great Britain taxed our ancestors in the British Parliament for their benefit. For the last forty years the taxes laid by the Congress of the United States have been laid with a view of subserving the interests of the North. The people of the South have been taxed by duties on imports not for revenue, but for an object inconsistent with revenue — to promote, by prohibitions, Northern
interests in the productions of their mines and manufactures.”  As we’ve seen, this is hogwash, but Rhett is building the case that secession of the slave states would hurt the free states much worse than the loss of union with the free states would hurt the slave states.  To further that end, he writes, “The people of the Southern States are not only taxed for the benefit of the Northern States, but after the taxes are collected three-fourths of them are expended at the North. This cause, with others connected with the operation of the General Government, has provincialized the cities of the South. Their growth is paralyzed, while they are the mere suburbs of Northern cities. The bases of the foreign commerce of the United States are the agricultural productions of the South; yet Southern cities do not carry it on. Our foreign trade is almost annihilated. In 1740 there were five shipyards in South Carolina to build ships to carry on our direct trade with Europe. Between 1740 and 1779 there were built in these yards twenty-five square-rigged vessels, beside a great number of sloops and schooners to carry on our coast and West India trade. In the half century immediately preceding the Revolution, from 1725 to 1775, the population of South Carolina increased seven-fold.”  His message to the slave states is that if they leave, they’ll be just fine, whereas the free states’ economies would never be able to stand the loss of the slave states.

But even here, Rhett can’t help but warn of the danger to slavery posed by Lincoln and the Republicans:  “Experience has proved that slave-holding States can not be safe in subjection to non-slaveholding States. Indeed, no people ever expect to preserve their rights and liberties unless they are in their own custody. To plunder and oppress where plunder and oppression can be practiced with impunity, seems to be the natural order of things. The fairest portions of the world have been turned into wildernesses, and the most civilized and prosperous communities have been impoverished and ruined by Anti-Slavery fanaticism. The people of the North have not left us in doubt as to their designs and policy. United as a section in the late Presidential election, they have elected as the exponent of their policy one who has openly declared that all the States of the United States must be made Free States or Slave States. It is true that among those who aided in this election, there are various shades of Anti-Slavery hostility. But if African Slavery in the Southern States be the evil their political combinations affirm it to be, the requisitions of an inexorable logic must lead them to emancipation. If it is right to preclude or abolish Slavery in a territory, why should it be allowed to remain in the States? The one is not at all more unconstitutional than the other, according to the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. And when it is considered that the Northern States will soon have the power to make that Court what they please, and that the Constitution has never been any barrier whatever to their exercise of power, what check can there be in the unrestrained councils of the North to emancipation? There is sympathy in association, which carries men along without principle; but when there is principle, and that principle is fortified by long existing prejudices and feelings, association is omnipotent in party influences. In spite of all disclaimers and professions there can be but one end to the submission by the South to the rule of a sectional Anti-Slavery Government at Washington; and that end, directly or indirectly, must be the emancipation of the slaves of the South.”

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20 comments

  1. Thanks for doing this secession explanation/breakdown for so many states, did you do them all?
    It also helps to get more insight rather than just “what they said”. Its really helpful for many of us when you show where they play “fast and loose” and the context for many of their complaints.

    1. I still have to do Tennessee.

      1. Al, When are we gonna get Tennessee’s breakdown? I heard some interesting claims regarding Tennessee:

        -Tennessee didn’t even want to secede and only did so after the North made an army to attack the South (although this is a typical claim for the upper south)

        They of course go on to say had it not been for this, Tennessee would have never seceded…and possibly ended slavery…after all…about 1/3 of the state was anti-slavery and sided with the Union in the war.

        The latter portion obviously seems much more subjective and speculative (counter-factual queries and alternate reality stories I don’t really care for…) than the first but still…

        1. I have to acquire a few items before I can address Tennessee. They are different from the others in that their secession ordinance was passed by their legislature, not a secession convention.

          1. Fair enough. Looking forward, glad it sounds like you are still planning to do it though. Feels incomplete that you have them all except one haha (although I did recommend you touch on the southern border states too).

  2. Al, I was curious about this particular statement:

    “The people of the Southern States are not only taxed for the benefit of the Northern States, but after the taxes are collected three-fourths of them are expended at the North”

    1) There were no federal taxes at the time, what does he mean the southern states are “taxed”?

    2) how accurate is the latter claim that “three-fourths” is spent at the North? Is there a way to verify just how accurate/inaccurate this is? I’m sure its total nonsense, but how can we actually see it laid out?

    3) Doesn’t Jeff Davis make some similar statement, some complaint about not getting enough revenue spent the way of the south? You wouldnt happen to know about that would you?

    PS: when is the Tennessee one coming out?

    1. It’s talking about the tariff, which as I’ve shown in another post already is nothing more than a red herring. People in the seceding states paid no more than 17% of the tariff, and most likely paid a substantial amount less than that. As to where the money was spent, since the vast majority of the tariff was spent by sections other than the South, they actually got a bonus in that what was spent on them was more than what they paid. I’ve not seen anything from Davis on this, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t say anything about it.

      Tennessee will get finished when I have the time and am not distracted by other interests. 🙂

      1. What is the basis for the 17% figure?

        1. The percentage of the total U.S. population who were free and living in the seceding states.

          1. Al, After TN have you considered doing a post on the border states? Obviously it wouldnt be called “why did Kentucky secede” but the border states could have their own theme, why didn’t Kentucky secede or something…worth a suggestion.

            Alot of people use the border states to say, see it wasn’t about slavery look at the “northern states” that didn’t rebel even though they had slaves.

          2. The first thing I do with those folks is point out they’re geographically challenged, because the slave states that didn’t secede are Southern states. The next thing I do is point out they confuse “confederate” with “Southern” and “Union” with “Northern.” They are very different. Then, I point out the percentage of the populations of the loyal slave states who were enslaved, plus the percentage of slave-owning families in the loyal slave states, and contrast that with the corresponding figures from the seceding slave states. Finally, I point to what the secessionists said.

            I may do something on the loyal slave states at some point in the future.

  3. (Al, this may be a double reply, as an earlier attempt got “eaten” by the system. If you can find that one, it is better—longer—than this one.)

    Two points:

    1. I think the “Notify me of new comments via email” thingie is not enabled correctly. I’m sure I would have set that when I made my 5/25 post, and I got no email.

    2. As I understand it from a quick look late last night, the 17% is essentially a population measure. Given that the South had more than its share of rich folks, I can believe they were buying more dutiable luxury items, perhaps enough to lift their fraction of the tariff above their population fraction.

    1. Jim,

      1. I have no control at all on the Notify function. That’s something at WordPress Central.
      2. The South had rich folks, but it also had poor folks, and as Prof. Robert Russel wrote, rural areas use less imported goods than urban areas, and the South lagged well behind the rest of the country in urban areas. Given that, I’ll stand by my claim they could have paid no more than 17%, a per capita amount, and that is being generous.

      1. I can’t argue against your point, because it has a lot of merit. It is one of those things that needs more study, and I am not sure the data even exists. We’d really need a lot of paperwork on transactions from NY import houses to SC (and GA, etc.) consumers. I know I have seen rhetoric from 1860s Southerners in which they clearly (and, I think, sincerely) claim they are “paying more than their share.” None of this argues against the basic point that the tariff had virtually zero impact on secession—I think you know me well enough to understand that—I just think it is a hole in our knowledge. I don’t disagree with your 17% figure—heck, I quoted Russel in my unpublished essay on the tariff, largely thanks to you—I just wish it were more solid.

        1. I agree, Jim. We’ll probably never have really solid numbers, but in the absence of concrete data I think the per capita figure is the best we’re ever going to have, and I’m convinced it’s an overestimate.

  4. one thing to remember is that a tariff has broader impact than the revenue generated.

    Tariffs raise prices across the board so a person, company or population. feels an impact if they purchase a tariffed good, regardless whether it is manufactured abroad or not.

    of course, Calhoun, et al, claimed the white south ‘paid’ the bulk of the tariff, rather than they ‘paid higher prices because of the tariff’. I’m not quite sure they said what they meant, were poor economists or speaking for impact rather than accuracy.

    IIRC, the 2 most tariffed items were railroad iron and finished wool cloth. Areas where these were manufactured would generally be economically better off with a protectionist tariff. Regions that did not make these goods would have a higher cost to buy the products though not necessarily generate tariff revenue for the government.

    1. As you point out, the claim is that the South paid 70% or more of the tariff. What they were doing was propagandizing, telling other southern states that the Union needed them far more than they needed the Union. Today’s neoconfederates are just poor at history as well as economics because they think it was a true claim and they think it’s more important than slavery in bringing on the Civil War.

      1. Al, I had the point brought up that, why “propagandize” using the tariff to other southern states, if slavery was the issue? they were after all, fellow slave owning states. Why the need to propagandize? They couldn’t be honest? I think your answer is key: “telling other southern states that the Union needed them far more than they needed the Union”

        1. Exactly. They were calculating the value of the Union. They all knew the real conflict was over slavery. All the secession commissioners were very clear on that. Calculating the value of the Union was meant to move the fence sitters and those who were fearful that they would lose too much by seceding. It was to convince them they would lose little and the Union would lose more.

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