From Uneasy Peace to Bitter Conflict

32e. The South Secedes

Alabama Capitol, 1861
Crowds gathered in front of the Capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama, the day that the secession bill was passed.

The force of events moved very quickly upon the election of Lincoln. South Carolina acted first, calling for a convention to secede from the Union. State by state, conventions were held, and the Confederacy was formed.

Within three months of Lincoln's election, seven states had seceded from the Union. Just as Springfield, Illinois celebrated the election of its favorite son to the Presidency on November 7, so did Charleston, South Carolina, which did not cast a single vote for him. It knew that the election meant the formation of a new nation. The Charleston Mercury said, "The tea has been thrown overboard, the revolution of 1860 has been initiated."

South Carolina Ordinance of Secession

open quote We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance adopted by us in convention on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the "United States of America," is hereby dissolved.end quote
Done at Charleston the twentieth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty.
The Progress of Secession
This map shows the states that seceded from the Union before the fall of Fort Sumter, those that seceded afterwards, the slave states that did not secede, and the Union states.

Within a few days, the two United States Senators from South Carolina submitted their resignations. On December 20, 1860, by a vote of 169-0, the South Carolina legislature enacted an "ordinance" that "the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of 'The United States of America,' is hereby dissolved." As Grist had hoped, South Carolina's action resulted in conventions in other southern states. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas all left the Union by February 1. On February 4, delegates from all these states except Texas met in Montgomery, Alabama, to create and staff a government called the Confederate States of America. They elected President Jefferson Davis. The gauntlet was thrown. How would the North respond?

Senator James Crittenden
Senator Crittenden's two sons went on to serve as generals on opposite sides of the Civil War.

A last ditch effort was made to end the crisis. Senator James Henry Crittenden proposed to amend the Constitution to extend the old 36°30' line to the Pacific. All territory North of the line would be forever free, and all territory south of the line would receive federal protection for slavery. Republicans refused to support this measure. What was the President doing during all this furor? Abraham Lincoln would not be inaugurated until March 4. James Buchanan presided over the exodus from the Union. Although he thought secession to be illegal, he found using the army in this case to be unconstitutional. Both regions awaited the arrival of President Lincoln and wondered anxiously what he would do.

On the Web
Declaration by the People of the Cherokee Nation
On October 28, 1861, the Cherokee Nation declared their support of the Confederate States of America. The text of the Declaration, reproduced in full on this webpage, offers yet another perspective on the state of the Union in the months preceding the Civil War.
Declarations of Causes of Secession
This webpage from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville provides the full texts of the Declarations of Causes of Secession of Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.
James Buchanan
This biography of James Buchanan, "lame duck" President of the United States during the secession crisis, is from a Tulane University website. It not only looks at events in his personal and political life, but also how historians have viewed his effectiveness as a President.
Jefferson Davis's Farewell Address to the U.S. Senate
Jefferson Davis was a U.S. Senator when Mississippi, the state he represented, seceded. As soon as he learned of the seceesion, he resigned his Senate seat. In his farewell address, he elaborated on the doctrines of nullification and secession. The full text is provided here.
Sen. John Crittenden
This biography of Sen. John Crittenden from Tulane University's website details his lengthy political career.
Texas Secession Convention of 1861
Over Governor Sam Houston's objections, Texans met in January 1861 to discuss secession. They adopted an Ordinance of Secession on February 2nd, and later voted to join the Confederacy. Read the history on this webpage and follow a link to the text of the Ordinance which includes an image of the signature page.
The Constitution of the Confederate States of America
Near the top of the Confederates' to-do list was the drafting of a constitution for the new Confederate States of America. The full text of the document, which was unanimously adopted on March 11, 186, is available at this website.
The Crittenden Compromise
The University of Tennessee at Knoxville has included some introductory information about Senator John Crittenden's Compromise, the final effort in the U.S. Senate to attempt to resolve the secession crisis, along with a transcription of the compromise resolution.
The Cherokee people had its origin in the South; its institutions are similar to those of the Southern States, and their interests identical with theirs. -Declaration by the People of the Cherokee Nation of the Causes Which Have Impelled Them to Unite Their Fortunes With Those of the Confederate States of America, October 28, 1861.
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