Millions of American school children begin each day by reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance,” never questioning why the phrases “one nation” and “indivisible” (which many believe to be “invisible” anyway) are contained within.
These simple words encapsulate the question of secession: whether a state in the “one nation” of the United States of America could constitutionally “divide from” that country. This question led to a civil war in America that claimed over 600,000 lives.
It can be argued that the first shot of that war didn’t come at Ft. Sumter, South Carolina in 1861, but a few months earlier and a hundred-and-fifteen miles away at a church in Columbia, South Carolina. It was there, 150 years ago today, that those assembled unanimously said adios to the United States, leaving the 33-state Union behind.
The vote for secession came about in response to the election a month earlier of Abraham Lincoln, who had promised to limit the spread of slavery during his administration. As the southern state with the highest percentage of slaves, South Carolina led the fight to keep the “peculiar institution” intact. Within two months, lame duck president James Buchanan set on his hands while six other slave states left the Union to join South Carolina in the new Confederate States of America.
The preservation of the horrid institution of African-American slavery was the reason the Confederacy was created, but the restoration of the Union, and not slavery’s abolition, was why most Northerners fought in the Civil War.
South Carolina paid dearly for leading the way on secession. After General Sherman’s Union troops completed their “March to the Sea” in Savannah, Georgia, they turned their vengence towards South Carolina, the state they felt most responsible for starting the war. In early 1865, Sherman’s troops cut a swath of destruction across the state, reducing Columbia, the “cradle of secession,” to ashes.
So, the secessionist question was answered once-and-for-all by the Union armies, right? Not so fast. In recent years, large secessionist movements have grown in states like Alaska and Texas where one poll claimed that 22% of the population believed that secession is a right granted by the Constitution.
And how is South Carolina planning to remember secession; an act intended to allow the state to forever keep blacks in forced servitude?
By having a ball.
That’s right. In an egregious display of bad taste, the “Secessionist Gala” will be held tonight in downtown Charleston, which will include a play, dinner, dancing, and the display of the original “Ordinance of Secession.” The local chapter of the NAACP plans to protest the event, which their president calls “a celebration of slavery.”
Just when you thought the wounds of the Civil War had finally scarred over, some folks just had to come in and rip off the scabs.
December 20th, 2010 at 10:48 am
Good article! As an alumni of the University of South Carolina and past resident of Columbia South Carolina I am sure I speak on behalf of all students there as well as residents of Columbia and surrounding communities when I say that we never wanted the adoption of slavery by our ancestors. We can not change the actions of our forefathers and the subsequent action taken by the Union that started the Civil War. I am proud to be from South Carolina and no one I have ever known in my 24 years living there has ever supported what their founders did by endorsing slavery. As a past resident I can affirm that many things have changed, but some things have not changed since the Civil War. There is still not much integration of blacks into white communities and there is surprisingly still many people who hold intense bitterness towards whites for slavery even though they had nothing to do with it. Some of my black friends growing up actually realized they were glad for at least one byproduct of slavery, and that is that they can now live in the United States as free men and women with every possibility afforded to them and not a war torn African country like their ancestors now do. Also, if you call a black person in the south an African American they will tell you they are NOT from Africa, they will tell you they are from America which makes them an American, not an African American.
December 20th, 2010 at 11:26 am
Tremendous comments, Chad. And of course, I meant no offense to the vast majority of the people of SC who would in no way condone any form of racism. I simply address people who may not take the time to learn all aspects of their own history before staging something as insensitive as a “Secessionist Ball.” I imagine not one person in a hundred who actually attends the ball will do so to rub the spectacle into the faces of any blacks that may be offended. But I do think a better way to go about things would be to acknowledge the history of the event, but not “celebrate” it. It could have been done in a manner that could have gone a long way towards truly burying the past. As we both know, (since we may both be descended from AH Stephens, former VP of the Confederacy and slaveowner) there is nothing we can do to change our history. But we can certainly help clean up the mess our ancestors caused, and continue to make things better for everyone going forward. … How many days till the newest Stephens arrives?
December 20th, 2010 at 12:17 pm
I was never aware that the people of Charleston had a “Secessionist Ball”. That’s horrible. I hope at least it’s to honor their ancestors as fallen soldiers for fighting what at the time they thought was right. I think that the leaders of the Confederacy should have all been tried for treason.
On a lighter note. . . London is approaching the day of his birth into the world! Any day now we hope. Erin’s full term, and if she doesn’t go into labor by January 7th then we’ll induce.