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The United States of America: A History
Book 3: Chapter XII - Secession


SOUTH CAROLINA was the least loyal to the Union of all the States. She estimated very highly her own dignity as a sovereign State. She held in small account the allegiance which she owed to the Federal Government. Twenty-eight years ago Congress had enacted a highly protective tariff. South Carolina, disapproving of this measure, decreed that it was not binding upon her. Should the Federal Government attempt to enforce it, South Carolina announced her purpose of quitting the Union and becoming independent. General Jackson, who was then President, made ready to hold South Carolina to her duty by force; but Congress modified the tariff, and so averted the danger. Jackson believed firmly that the men who then held the destiny of South Carolina in their hands wished to secede. "The tariff" he said, "was but a pretext. The next will be the slavery question."

The time predicted had now come, and South Carolina led hei sister States into the dark and bloody path. A convention of her people was promptly called, and on the 20th of December an Ordinance was passed dissolving the Union, and declaring South Carolina a free and independent republic. When the Ordinance was passed the bells of Charleston rang for joy, and the streets of the city resounded with the wild exulting shouts of an excited people. Dearly had the joy of those tumultuous hours to be paid for. Four years later, when Sherman quelled the heroic defence of the rebel city, Charleston lay in ruins. Her people, sorely diminished by war and famine, had been long familiar with the miseries which a strict blockade and a merciless bombardment can inflict.

The example of South Carolina was at once followed by other discontented States. Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida hastened to assert their independence, and to league themselves into a new Confederacy. They adopted a Constitution, differing from the old mainly in these respects, that it contained provisions against taxes to protect any branch of industry, and gave effective securities for the permanence and extension of slavery. They elected Mr. Jefferson Davis President for six years. They possessed themselves of the Government property within their own boundaries, it was not yet their opinion that the North would would fight, and they bore themselves with a high hand in all the arrangements which their new position seemed to call for.

After the Government was formed, the Confederacy was joined by other Slave States who at first had hesitated. Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas, after some delay gave in their adhesion. The Confederacy in its completed form was composed of eleven States, with a population of nine millions; six millions of whom were free, and three millions were slaves. Twenty-three States remained loyal to the Union. Their population amounted to twenty-two millions.

It is not to be supposed that the free population of the seceding States were unanimous in their desire to break up the Union. On the contrary, there is good reason to believe that a majority of the people in most of the seceding States were all the time opposed to secession. In North Carolina the attempt to carry secession was at first defeated by the People. In the end that State left the Union reluctantly, under the belief that not otherwise could it escape becoming the battle-ground of the contending powers. Thus, too, Virginia refused at first by large majorities to secede. In Georgia and Alabaiņa the minorities against secession were large. In Louisiana 20,000 votes were given for secession, and 17,000 against it. In many cases it required much intrigue and dexterity of management to obtain a favourable vote; and the resolution to quit the Union was received in sorrow by very many of the Southern people. But everywhere in the South the idea prevailed that allegiance was due to the State rather than to the Federation. And thus it came to pass that when the authorities of a State resolved to abandon the Union, the citizens of that State felt constrained to secede even while they mourned the course upon which they were forced to enter.

It has been maintained by some defenders of the seceding States that slavery was not the cause of secession. On that question there can surely be no authority so good as that of the seceding States themselves. A declaration of the reasons which influenced their action was issued by several States, and acquiesced in by the others. South Carolina was the first to give reasons for her conduct. These reasons related wholly to slavery. No other cause of separation was hinted at. The Northern States, it was complained, would not restore runaway slaves. They assumed the right of "deciding on the propriety of our domestic institutions." They denounced slavery as sinful. They permitted the open establishment of anti-slavery societies. They aided the escape of slaves. They sought to exclude slavery from the Territories. Finally, they had elected to the office of President Abraham Lincoln, "a man whose Opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery."

Some of the American people had from the beginning held the opinion that any State could leave the Union at her pleasure. That belief was general in the South. The seceding States did not doubt that they had full legal right to take the step which they had taken. And they stated with perfect frankness what was their reason for exercising this right. They believed that slavery was endangered by their continuance in the Union. Strictly speaking, they fought in defence of their right to secede. But they had no other motive for seceding than that slavery should be preserved and extended. The war which ensued was therefore really, a war in defence of slavery. But for the Southern love and the Northern antipathy to slavery, no war could have occurred. The men of the South attempted to break up the Union because they thought slavery would be safer if the Slave-owning States stood alone. The men of the North refused to allow the Union to be broken up. They did not go to war to put down slavery. They had no more right to put down %slavery in the South than England has to put down slavery in Cuba. The Union which they loved was endangered, and they fought to defend the Union.


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