Friday, December 24, 2010

Declaration of the Immediate Causes...

Secession Convention
150 years ago today South Carolina adopted a “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” You can read that declaration here. The paper was to tell the world why they were leaving the Union. We will spend a little time looking at what they said.

War for Independence

They began with the history of the War for Independence and beyond. They declared that the war was to preserve from Great Britain “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.”


They also held that because they voluntarily joined the Union by ratifying the Constitution, they had the rights of the laws of contract.  “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...” Therefore they assert that they have a right to leave because as they are about to say, they believe the federal government had not fulfilled its Constitutional duties.

Fugitive Slaves

Their first grievance was the violation of the fugitive slave law. In the Constitution (as we have previously seen) the states were required to return escaped slaves to their masters. But with the rise of the abolition movement against slavery, the Northern states passed laws which rejected their Constitutional requirement because they did not believe slavery was just.

Resistance to Slavery

They also complained that even though the US Constitution left it it to each individual state to govern itself, the other states denounced the institution of slavery as a sin and encouraged the slaves to escape or rebel against their masters. They also said that they were no longer equal members of the Union when a candidate for President had been elected, Abraham Lincoln, who said that the, “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free.” Therefore they properly feared that they would be under attack from the Federal government because they held slaves.

Separation from the Union

They concluded by saying this:
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.
You may recognize that they are using the exact same language that the founders used in the Declaration of Independence. They were pointing back the the War for Independence and claimed that they had the right to do the same thing in 1860.

Concluding Thoughts

Notice in this document that South Carolina’s main reason to leave the Union was not that the North did not have slaves. It was because they believed that the Constitution had been violated by the states ignoring the fugitive slave law, and that it would be broken further when the federal government headed by Abraham Lincoln would attempt to eradicate slavery from the Southern states.


Post a Comment