Many students know that South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union before the Civil War, but they do not know how and when it happened. This lesson explores the events and impact of South Carolina’s secession in 1861.
Before the Civil War
For many students, the Civil War starts with just one or two key events.
States in the South seceded, or officially withdrew from the Union, and shots were fired at Fort Sumter in April of 1861. While this is true, there was a lot of behind-the-scenes action that drew the United States into war, as well.For decades, the North and South fought bitterly over the issue of slavery.
As you may know, the South’s economy depended almost entirely on the institution of slavery. Meanwhile, the North had almost no reliance on slavery. At the same time ideas of abolition, or bringing an end to slavery, were growing increasingly popular in that part of the country. Every time a new state petitioned to enter the Union, the country geared up for heated debate and precarious compromise.
By the end of 1860, over a quarter of a century of tension came to a head with a single event: the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency.
South Carolina Secedes
You’re probably wondering to yourself, ‘Why was the election of Lincoln such a big to-do?’ While Lincoln was very popular in the North and in Western states, he was absolutely hated in the South. Lincoln ran on the Republican ticket, a political party that was very clear about its stance against slavery. Southern states feared that Lincoln would interfere with their way of life and do away with slavery as president. In reality, Lincoln didn’t actually run on an anti-slavery platform.Despite this fact, states like South Carolina were in a complete uproar when the results of the 1860 election were announced. On November 10, 1860, just four days after Lincoln won the election, South Carolina’s two U.
S. senators resigned from their positions. That same day, state leaders announced that there would be a convention in mid-December to discuss the possibility of secession. South Carolina was prepared to leave the United States in protest of the federal government’s threat to states’ rights and sovereignty and it was ready to strike out on its own.In early December of 1860, before Lincoln officially took office in 1861, President James Buchanan did his best to keep the Union together. He even negotiated deals with the leaders of South Carolina.
Although Buchanan knew that South Carolina was preparing itself for a possible conflict by increasing the size of its militia, the president agreed not to reinforce or attack any fort in South Carolina’s possession.On December 17, 1860, a convention of state leaders met in Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, to discuss secession. Within three days, the convention was decided. With a unanimous vote of 169 to 0, South Carolina decided to secede from the Union.
Shortly after, South Carolina made additional preparations for war including taking over a federal arsenal in Charleston. By the end of December, the U.S. government had control of a single fort in South Carolina, the famous Fort Sumter.
South Carolina may have been the first state to secede from the Union, but it was certainly not the last. Within just three weeks, South Carolina’s bold actions triggered a landslide of action in the South.
Between January 9 and February 1, 1861, six additional states seceded. Mississippi seceded on January 9th, Florida seceded on January 10th, Alabama seceded on January 11th, Georgia seceded on January 19th, Louisiana seceded on January 26th, Texas seceded on February 1st.On February 4, South Carolina and the other six southern states met in Montgomery, Alabama, to discuss forming the Confederate States of America, a separate country consisting of the seceded states. Four days later, the seven states adopted their own constitution, which was based on the U.
S. Constitution, and braced themselves for the impending battle. Within a month and a half, the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, marking the beginning of the Civil War.
On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected to the presidency. His victory greatly concerned the Southern states.
As a Republican candidate, the South feared that he would bring about theabolition, or an end to slavery in the United States. The South’s agrarian economy depended on slave labor, and South Carolina’s political leaders believed states had the right to determine their own laws. Shortly after Lincoln’s victory, South Carolina began discussing the possibility of leaving the Union.On December 17, 1860, state leaders met in Columbia, South Carolina, and three days later they voted unanimously. That day they seceded, or officially withdrew, from the Union.
Within a few short weeks, six other states followed South Carolina’s lead. On February 4, 1861, the seven seceded states met in Montgomery, Alabama, and formed the Confederate States of America, a separate country consisting of the seceded states. The North and the South were at war within six weeks after shots were fired at the Battle of Fort Sumter.