South Carolina Secedes from the Union 

1987 25¢ Bicentenary Statehood: South Carolina
US #2343 was issued for South Carolina’s 200th anniversary.

On December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union.

Well before the start of the American Civil War, South Carolina came into conflict with the federal government. South Carolina depended heavily on foreign trade and federal tariffs discouraged foreign trade.

In 1828, soon after an economic depression struck the US, Congress raised tariffs. This law became known as the “tariff of abominations.” Anti-federal sentiment spread throughout the state. Vice President John C. Calhoun, a South Carolinian, wrote the “South Carolina Exposition,” which claimed that no state could be bound by a law it deemed unconstitutional.

1862 1¢ Confederate States - John C. Calhoun - orange
US #CSA14 – Confederate stamp picturing John C. Calhoun

When tariffs were raised again in 1832, the state passed the Ordinance of Nullification. This ordinance declared the tariff acts of 1828 and 1832 void. This action prompted President Andrew Jackson to threaten sending troops to enforce federal law. In 1833, Congress passed a compromise tariff bill, and the Ordinance of Nullification was repealed.

By the 1860s, South Carolina had the largest percentage of enslaved people in the US – 57% of the state’s population was enslaved with 46% of white families owning at least one black person. The issue of slavery in America was a major point of contention in the mid-1800s. Violent clashes, such as those at Harpers Ferry, brought national attention to the debate. By the election of 1860, the nation was split on the issue.

According to one South Carolina politician, “If the Republican Party with its platform of principles, the main feature of which is the abolition of slavery and, therefore, the destruction of the South, carries the country at the next Presidential election, shall we remain in the Union, or form a separate Confederacy? This is the great, grave issue. It is not who shall be President, it is not which party shall rule – it is a question of political and social existence.”

1866 15¢ Lincoln, black
US #77 – America’s first mourning stamp

Abraham Lincoln faced Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas and two pro-slavery candidates in the 1860 presidential race. When the results were tallied, Lincoln easily won the November 6 election. Despite receiving only 39.8% of the popular vote, Lincoln won a majority in 15 states totaling 169 electoral votes, and a plurality in three earning him 11 more.  Any hope Southern states had of preserving the institution of slavery appeared to be dashed.

Days later, the South Carolina General Assembly passed the “Resolution to Call the Election of Abraham Lincoln as US President a Hostile Act” and announced the state intended to secede from the United States. The general assembly then called for a state convention to consider secession and selected delegates. The secession convention met on December 17 in Columbia and voted unanimously 169-0 to secede from the United States.

1976 13¢ State Flags: South Carolina
US #1640 – The South Carolina flag was first created in 1775 using the blue from soldiers’ uniforms and the crescent emblem on their caps.  South Carolina troops successfully defended a fort made from palmetto logs, inspiring the palmetto tree in the state flag.

The ordinance was officially adopted on December 20, 1860. That day South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. President James Buchanan proclaimed the secession illegal, but did nothing to stop it. Days later, on December 24, the committee drafted a Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina, which explained why they had seceded. This declaration claimed it was because of “increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery.”

1937 3¢ Constitution Sesquicentennial
US #798 was issued for the 150th anniversary of the Constitution.

The declaration also criticized the free states for refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Acts. They claimed it went against the 4th article of the Constitution: “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.” The declaration went on to say that the non-slaveholding states had broken this agreement, releasing South Carolina from its obligation to be part of the Union. (Read the full text of the declaration here.)

1961 4¢ Civil War Centennial: Firing on Fort Sumter
US #1178 was issued for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

In the coming months, South Carolina prepared for an expected attack from the US military and also worked to convince other states to secede. They succeeded and between January and May 1861, ten more states joined them, creating the Confederate States of America that February. The first battle of the war would be fought in South Carolina that April.

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5 responses to "South Carolina Secedes from the Union "

5 thoughts on “South Carolina Secedes from the Union ”

  1. The South Carolina politician quoted in the sixth paragraph misspoke himself when he said that the main feature of the Republican Party platform was, “…the abolition of slavery.” Of course, there were abolitionists in the Republican Party, but the party platform did not propose the end of slavery. Abraham Lincoln, the Republican nominee for president personally opposed slavery, but as candidate, he never promised to abolish slavery.

  2. Challenging times for a young nation. Thankfully Abraham Lincoln was up to the task to lead the nation. I do believe if he had lived to serve a 2nd term reconstruction of the south would have been a top priority of his administration. Many of the tragedies that followed the Civil War may have been averted.

    • I agree with Bond, James. Among the many tragedies of the Civil War, one of the worst was the untimely death of Lincoln. One of the greatest mistakes was choosing Andrew Johnson as Vice-Presidential candidate in the election of 1864. It was a political decision to balance the Republican ticket, but of course, no-one thought that Johnson would be President. As President, Johnson opposed and vetoed nearly every Reconstruction measure passed by congress. They were passed by congress over his veto, but Johnson’s continued resistance and lack of cooperation caused great damage. Reconstruction certainly would have been different with Lincoln as President.

  3. I agree with Mr. Bond and Mr. Gaunt.
    What a tragedy to lose
    Abraham Lincoln.
    In my lifetime we lost
    JFK and ended up with Johnson

    and almost Ronald Reagan.
    I remember both of those presidents well.

    Merry Christmas to all
    Blessings to all

  4. Don’t be too hard on Johnson. Vietnam was a major cluster screw-up with plenty of blame to go around inc. Kennedy, the congress and Johnson. He signed into law two major civil rights laws, and many of his anti-poverty and other Great Society programs inc. Medicare are a positive legacy of his presidency.


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