Was slavery an important reason why South Carolina seceded?

South Carolina was the first slave-holding state to secede from the Union December 20, 1860.  Why did South Carolina secede?

Read the full declaration of causes for why SC seceded from Wikipedia.

One can read the complete declaration and sufficiently conclude that South Carolina seceded over what her politicians felt was the right to maintain slavery as an institution.

I’ve excerpted out the statements related to slavery.

DECLARATION OF THE IMMEDIATE CAUSES WHICH INDUCE AND JUSTIFY THE SECESSION OF SOUTH CAROLINA FROM THE FEDERAL UNION.

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 current of anti-slavery feeling has led her (New York) more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress….

The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burdening 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.

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.

Harper’s Weekly, November 23, 1861

In Georgetown, Charleston, Colleton, and Beaufort Districts are several parishes, in which more than 90 per cent of the inhabitants are slaves. In Lower All-Saints parish, Georgetown District, the population is reported to be 222 whites, no free negroes, and 6468 slaves. In the parish of St. Luke, lying west of Broad River, in Beaufort District, the population is 88 slaves to 12 whites. In the city of Charleston the colored population was 53 per cent., six-sevenths of which were free colored people. Only 53 per cent. in the city reduces the percentage of the whole District to 65 per cent., although in the parishes of St. James, Santee, St. Thomas, St. Andrews, and St. Johns, which lie toward the coast, more than 90 per cent. of the inhabitants are slaves.

7 comments

  1. I’m can’t see the point here. Slavery was the only catalyst for the Civil War. I cannot imagine any issue other than slavery which would have encouraged southerners to put down the broom and march off to kill or be killed. No community would mobilize over a tariff. We often the argument that the real causes of the Civil war, from the southern perspective, was state sovereignty and individual property rights. What did the southern states believe to be their exclusive powers? What property did they fear losing?

    1. Regina, what to you (and me) is self-evident, is entirely neglected by many. There are a lot of people who completely mitigate slavery’s role in South Carolina seceding.

    2. The Confederate soldier was not fighting to preserve slavery. Since less than 10 % owned slaves(and some of those slave owners were black), common sense will tell you the soldier is not volunteering to fight and die so some rich plantation owner can keep his slaves. Rather, the common Confederate soldier was fighting to preserve his land, his state and his freedom. Remember the North invaded the South, not the reverse. The firing on the Star of the West was because Lincoln had signed an armistice with South Carolina agreeing to no increased fortification of men or guns at Fort Sumter. The Star of the West was a violation of this armistice.

  2. My initial response was overly simplistic. If southern angst were a tree, it’s impossible to miss all the branches (issues) hovering over and around it. But each of those branches are firmly attached to the trunk of that tree. The branches do not lead to the trunk, they stem out from it. And the trunk, firmly and deeply rooted, the center of the southern world view, is slavery.

    I don’t have the credentials to say this, but the Civil War is just another example of an entire society going completely insane. Every country has experienced this in one way or another. In fact, it has happened so often that to mention one event, would not do justice to all the others.

    For numerous reasons, the institution of slavery in South Carolina was different than other slave states. And if you recall the Nullification Crisis which occurred several decades earlier, President Jackson began to ready the country for war with the southern states, when the SC assembly resolved to succeed from the union.

    Why would some students of the conflict marginalize slavery’s role in the conflict? I will not pretend to know.

  3. In the Secession Document, the failure of the Northern states to obey Federal Law concerning the return of runaway slaves was ONE reason for secession. One must read the entire document to understand all reasons.
    The excessive tariffs being imposed and additional ones proposed is also a primary reason for secession. One must understand that of the entire federal budget at that time, Va., NC, SC and Georgia contributed 90% in the form of tariffs. Lincoln could not afford to lose this revenue.
    Another thing you must understand is that the Confederate States did not invade the North, but rather the North invaded the South. Remember, Virginia did not secede until Lincoln mandated that they supply troops to invade the Seceded States.

  4. Why would some students of the conflict marginalize slavery’s role in the conflict? The answer to that is fairly simple in my opinion.

    Slavery was an evil institution and by admitting slavery was the root cause of the civil war, Southern apologists lose what they view as the high ground in their argument that the war was about tariffs (utter revisionist nonsense) or state sovereignty and individual rights. The only state’s right that was in question was the right to own slaves and preserve a slave dependent economy. Southern states feared northern abolitionists would eventually outnumber them in congress and put an end to the institution, a very likely scenario. Rather than see the abolition of slavery (and cheap labor) they chose secession and war.

    Review Alexander Stephen’s ‘Cornerstone Speech’ or the papers of the Southern Secession Commissioners if you have any doubt about the real root cause of the war.

  5. As the ink was still drying on our present constitution, southerners began chafing beneath the wrath of slavery’s whirlwind. Every single person capable of doing so, understood the root hypocrisy of building a free government upon slave toiled soil. In the decades prior to the Civil War numerous measures were introduced into congress which either eradicated, amended, or maintained the institution of slavery. Tariffs were to southerners, what communism was to European Nazis; a false ill wind through which they could swing and hit their real targets–anyone. If the north had not invaded the south, how would we define freedom today?

    The percentage of whites, and non-whites, owning slaves has been mentioned and placed at approximately 10 percent. Some would place that number closer to 30 percent, but either number raises the same question–what were poor whites fighting for? Were they completely blind to the correlation between the degrees of their poverty and the numbers of slaves? Did they not know that while their hunger was satiated with clay cakes and dandelion soup, some slaves feasted on left-over steak and a myriad of nutritious stews? Why wasn’t simple mathematics enough to apprise a poor white that the financial worth of the lowest field slave was 15 or 20 times more than they could hope to earn in a year?

    I don’t know the answers are to these questions. However, I am confident that the answers are NOT states’s fights, individual property rights, or tariffs.

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