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.