S.C. Secession Declaration Debate

(Transcribed by Ben Barnhill, Furman University from the Charleston, South Carolina, Courier, Dec. 22, 1860.

December 22, 1860 (Fifth Day of the State Convention.)

The Committee, to whom was committed the duty of preparing an Address to the people of the Southern States, to declare the causes which justify the secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, made their report as follows:


The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act.

In the year 1765, that portion of the British Empire embracing Great Britain, undertook to make laws for the government of that portion composed of the thirteen American Colonies. A struggle for the right of self-government ensued, which resulted, on the 4th of July, 1776, in a Declaration, by the Colonies, "that they are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; and that, as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do."

They further solemnly declared that whenever any "form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government." Deeming the Government of Great Britain to have become destructive of these ends, they declared that the Colonies "are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

In pursuance of this Declaration of Independence, each of the thirteen States proceeded to exercise its separate sovereignty; adopted for itself a Constitution, and appointed officers for the administration of government in all its departments -- Legislative, Executive and Judicial. For purposes of defense, they united their arms and their counsels; and, in 1778, they entered into a League known as the Articles of Confederation, whereby they agreed to entrust the administration of their external relations to a common agent, known as the Congress of the United States, expressly declaring, in the first Article "that each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right which is not, by this Confederation, expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled."

Under this Confederation the war of the Revolution was carried on, and on the 3rd September, 1783, the contest ended, and a definite Treaty was signed by Great Britain, in which she acknowledged the independence of the Colonies in the following terms:

"ARTICLE 1. -- His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz: New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that he treats with them as such; and for himself, his heirs and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof."

Thus were established the two great principles asserted by the Colonies, namely: the right of a State to govern itself; and the right of a people to abolish a Government when it becomes destructive of the ends for which it was instituted. And concurrent with the establishment of these principles, was the fact, that each Colony became and was recognized by the mother Country as a FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATE.

In 1787, Deputies were appointed by the States to revise the Articles of Confederation, and on 17th September, 1787, these Deputies recommended, for the adoption of the States, the Articles of Union, known as the Constitution of the United States.

The parties to whom this Constitution was submitted, were the several sovereign States; they were to agree or disagree, and when nine of them agreed the compact was to take effect among those concurring; and the General Government, as the common agent, was then invested with their authority.

If only nine of the thirteen States had concurred, the other four would have remained as they then were -- separate, sovereign States, independent of any of the provisions of the Constitution. In fact, two of the States did not accede to the Constitution until long after it had gone into operation among the other eleven; and during that interval, they each exercised the functions of an independent nation.

By this Constitution, certain duties were imposed upon the several States, and the exercise of certain of their powers was restrained, which necessarily implied their continued existence as sovereign States. But to remove all doubt, an amendment was added, which declared that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people. On the 23d May, 1788, South Carolina, by a Convention of her People, passed an Ordinance assenting to this Constitution, and afterwards altered her own Constitution, to conform herself to the obligations she had undertaken.

Thus was established, by compact between the States, a Government with defined objects and powers, limited to the express words of the grant. This limitation left the whole remaining mass of power subject to the clause reserving it to the States or to the people, and rendered unnecessary any specification of reserved rights.

We hold that the Government thus established is subject to the two great principles asserted in the Declaration of Independence; and we hold further, that the mode of its formation subjects it to a third fundamental principle, namely: the law of compact. We maintain that in every compact between two or more parties, the obligation is mutual; that the failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement, entirely releases the obligation of the other; and that where no arbiter is provided, each party is remitted to his own judgment to determine the fact of failure, with all its consequences.

In the present case, that fact is established with certainty. We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.

The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows:

"No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."

This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.

The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States.

The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. 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 States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

The ends for which this Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. 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.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to enloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

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.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its peace and safety.

On the 4th of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.

The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.

Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanctions of a more erroneous religious belief.

We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.

And, for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

[end of secession declaration]

Mr. ADAMS moved the adoption of the report.

Mr. FURMAN. There is a statement in that document that all the States North of the sectional line, cast their votes for a sectional candidate for the Presidency of the United States. I believe such is not the case.

Mr. INGLIS. I find recorded in the statute books of one of the States that four votes were cast for Lincoln and three for Douglas. I have heard, and I know, that Pennsylvanians deny, not only by words, but in conversation and writing, that they have on their statute books any Personal Liberty law. They say they have a law to prevent kidnapping almost similar to a law in Virginia.

They say public sentiment has perverted the meaning of the law in reference to persons held to labor.

Mr. ------. I have in my hand an elaborate report made on this point by the Committee appointed by the Legislature of Virginia during the last session, in which the laws of each State profess to be accurately stated. I will read it to my friends in the Convention, and particularly to my friend from Chesterfield. It says: "In regard to Pennsylvania, prior to 1847 non-resident owners of slaves could remain within the State with their property six months. Slaves are allowed to testify in Courts. There is a law against kidnapping."

Mr. ENGLISH said Pennsylvania has quite recently revised her laws. It has not been long since she appointed Commissioners for that purpose. It would seem that nine of the Northern States have virtually annulled the Fugitive Slave law, while four others have by their acts so nearly committed something that amounts pretty much to practical disunion. In June, 1851, Daniel Webster, in his speech at Capons Springs, Va., remarked: -- "I do not hesitate to say and repeat that if the Northern States refuse willfully and deliberately to carry into effect that part of the Constitution which respects the restoration of the fugitive slaves, the South would no longer be bound to observe the compact. A bargain broken on one side is a bargain broken on all sides." Mr. English also quoted from DeBow's Review the actual position of Northern States in this respect.

Mr. ORR said he did not think Illinois had any censurable law on the subject.

Mr. INGLIS doubted the authority of the statements. We well know that it is denied that there is on any statute book a law in Pennsylvania forbidding the restoration of fugitives from labor. I desire that everything brought before this Convention shall be exclusively the truth. I think no declaration or facts should be introduced into so solemn a document as this address to the people of the Southern States until it be verified. We should not go to the report of the Legislature of Virginia, but have reference to the original source of information. We should go to the statute book of Pennsylvania if we wish to really and truthfully ascertain their laws on this subject. [Mr. Inglis here mentioned the fact of a planter with his servants at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In this instance, a reverend clergy actually exhorted men to throw stones at the Southern gentleman. He was into Court, but was cleared.] Many attempts to rescue slaves have been made like this.

Mr. GREGG did not think the paper of the Committee was entirely perfect. As a State paper, it is to go out as a new Declaration of Independence. It is to me defective and imperfect. Not one word is said about the tariff, which has caused us so many years of contest. The main stress is made upon the unimportant point of fugitive slaves, and the laws passed by various Northern States obstructing the recovery of fugitive slaves. If we undertake to set forth the causes which justify secession, we ought to publish all complete in one document, like that adopted in 1776. It should not be so long, for that document says too much. [Laughter.] We ought not to set forth a small portion of these reasons. But that is what this paper does. It is not the sort of paper to go before the Court to justify our cause.

A correct description of the paper would be to declare some of the causes which justify South Carolina for leaving the Federal Union. If it is prone to set forth in a solemn declaration some of the causes, let the title be altered, and then, if the Convention think proper, let it go forth. Up to the moment we made ourselves free, we were living under a protective tariff, and, that was a violation, which justified our secession. For forty years we, and those who went before us, had submitted to unconstitutional expenditures by the General Government. This was a violation of the compact, justifying our secession. In 1852 the people of South Carolina solemnly declared of the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States by the Federal Government. There were then causes which justified this State, so far as any obligation is concerned, in dissolving the Union.

I believe there was nothing said in that solemn Ordinance, upon this or against these laws obstructing the recovery of fugitive slaves. Many of the Acts relative to fugitives have been passed since `52. I think a majority of them have. But when South Carolina,. eight years ago, declared the causes then existed which fully justified the State in seceding, did they confine themselves to these miserable Fugitive Slave Laws -- no, I think it unworthy of this body -- unworthy of the State of South Carolina to send forth a new Declaration of Independence, and in it say nothing of any cause justifying their action but fugitive slaves. I propose to lay this document upon the table. If further discussion is desired, I will not interrupt. We had either to refer it back to the Committee or lay it on the table. I prefer laying it on the table because so much stress is made on the subject of fugitive slaves.

Mr. KEITT. I agree with the gentleman from Richland, that the power of taxation is the central power of all governments. Put that power into my hands, and I care very little what the form of government it is; I will control your people through it. That is the question in this address. We have instructed the Committee to present a summary of the reasons which influenced us in the action we have now taken. My friend from Richland said that the violation of the Fugitive Slave Laws are not sufficient, and he calls up the Tariff. Is that one of the causes at this time? What is that cause? Your late Senators, and every one of your members of the House of Representatives, voted for the present tariff. [Mr. Miles. I did not.] Well, those who were there at the time voted for it, and I have no doubt you would, if you were in it. The question of the tariff did agitate us in 1832, and it did array this State against the Federal Government.

I maintain, and do always maintain, that this State triumphed then. Mr. Clay said, before nullification, that the protective tariff system had been established for all time. After the Nullification Ordinance, Mr. Clay did say that the State had accomplished the destruction of that system, and that the State had triumphed. The history of that time has never been written. It is true, we were cheated in the compromise; and really, sir, in what single compromise have we not been cheated? My opinion is, that the State of South Carolina and every other Southern State have been dealing with faithless confederates.

But the Tariff is not the question which brought the people up to their present attitude. We are to give a summary of our causes to the world, but mainly to the other Southern States, whose co-action we wish, and we must not make a fight on the Tariff question.

The Whig party, thoughout all the States, have been protective Tariff men, and they cling to that old issue with all the passion incident to the pride of human opinions. Are we to go off now, when other Southern States are bringing their people up to the true mark? Are we to go off on debateable and doctrinal points? Are we to go back to the consideration of this question, of this great controversy; go back to that party's politics, around which so many passions cluster? Names are much -- associations and passions cluster around names.

I can give no better illustration than to relate an anecdote given me by a member from Louisiana. He said, after the election of Lincoln, he went to an old Whig party friend and said to him: We have been beaten -- our honor requires a dissolution of the Union. Let us see if we cannot agree together, and offered him a resolution to this effect --Resolved, That the honor of Louisiana requires her to disrupt every tie that binds her to the Federal Government. [Laughter.]

It is name, and when we come to more practicability we must consult names. Our people have come to this on the question of slavery. I am willing, in that address to rest it upon that question. I think it is the great central point from which we are now proceeding, and I am not willing to divert the public attention from it. I believe the address, in this respect, cannot. The gentlemen from Chesterfield (Mr. Inglis) says that certain constructions of the Act of Pennsylvania are denied. He might have gone further and have said that certain constructions of the Personal Liberty Bills are denied. I have never seen any Abolitionist yet who did not say that these Acts had no reference to fugitive slaves.

I, myself, have very great doubts about the propriety of the Fugitive Slave Law. The Constitution was, in the first place, a compact between the several States, and in the second, a treaty between sections, and, I believe, the Fugitive Slave Law was a treaty between sections. It was the act of sovereign States as a section; and I believe therefore, and have very great doubts whether it ought not have been left to the execution of the several States, and failing of enforcement , I believe it should have been regarded as a causi belli.

I go for the address, because, I believe it does present succinctly and conspicuously what are the main primary causes.

Mr. GREGG. If this address was to be a declaration of the immediate causes which produced the secession of South Carolina, what the gentleman has said might be applicable, but its title does not say so. Another document has been before the body -- that document has been made the special order for another occasion. I am unwilling to take a vote upon this address when it may be inconsistent with the that other paper. If we wish to find the immediate cause of the secession of South Carolina, the immediate cause of all is the election of Lincoln.

Mr. INGLIS. I would like to know from the gentleman from Orange, who has just taken his seat, if he has the information whether or not the State of Virginia has not on her statute book an Act to prevent, presenting almost word for word the same as that of Pennsylvania?

Mr. KEITT. I really don't know. It is very possible. The gentleman will find in the very elaborate speech of Mr. Toombs, where he writes at length on this subject, every explanation of the various differences between the States.

Mr. INGLIS. I moved to amend declaration on the fourth page by striking out the word fifteen, and inserting many, so as to read many States, instead of fifteen; and then on the fifth page to strike out the sentence which contains the enumeration of the States.

Mr. MIDDLETON announced the result of the second ballot.

Mr. MAZYCK. If in order, I move that this report be made the Special Order for to-morrow, at 1 o'clock.

Mr. DARGAN. I rise for the purpose of expressing my concurrence in some of the observations addressed to the Convention by the gentleman from Richland; and also of the imminent propriety there was that there should be a concurrence and a symmetry in the causes which are alleged in this Convention for the secession of South Carolina, and the sentiments which are enunciated in the address to the people of the Southern States. As the address is made the Special Order for to-morrow, I move that the document submitted by the gentleman from St. Phillip's and St. Michael's be also made the Special Order of to-morrow, at 1 o'clock.