South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948

By David Duncan Wallace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER L
SECESSION AND ITS CAUSES

SO OFTEN had South Carolina failed in her attempt to draw the South into secession that her leaders, now including many who had been for co-operation, were determined to force conclusions before indecision could dicker for new compromises. Aldrich wrote, "I do not believe the common people understand it. . . . We must make the move and force them to follow. That is the way of all revolutions and all great movements." Above all, there should be no Southern convention, anathema since the 1850 fiasco at Nashville, in which the border States might control. The way to secure co-operation, South Carolina held, was for her to lead off with an irrevocable act with or against which every other State would be obliged to act.

The legislature, having met to choose presidential electors, remained in session to await the national result. The grand jury in the Federal court in Charleston refused to function, as the North, "through the ballot box on yesterday, has swept away the last hope for the permanence, for the stability, of the Federal government of these sovereign States." Judge Magrath divested himself of his robe of office.

Magrath's act sent a thrill throughout the State and a feeling of discouragement to Washington as the official structure for the execution of Federal law crumbled. President Buchanan professed himself more disconcerted by this than by any other act except the occupation of Fort Sumter by Major Anderson. Magrath's course was the more influential as he had in 1850-52 opposed separate secession, and his dramatic stand is said to have brought the divided Charleston legislative delegation into unity for immediate action.

The legislature summoned the convention for December 17. At a militia and a mass meeting at Chesterfield on November 15, addressed by the legislators, on the proposal that those favoring immediate separate secession step forward four paces, every militiaman advanced. On the nineteenth a mass meeting at Chesterfield unanimously nominated a convention ticket pledged that "immediate separate secession was the only remedy . . . that could save the honor, and protect the rights and interests of the State." On November 22, on Magazine Hill (since called

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