First State to Secede


James Buchanan

The First State to Secede from the Union
On December 20th, 1860, South Carolina held a secession convention in Charleston and its Representatives voted unanimously, 169 to 0, for secession from the Union. South Carolina therefore became the first state to secede from the union. The secession  of South Carolina meant its withdrawal from the union in the belief that it was justified in establishing its independence.

First State to Secede
James Buchanan was the 15th American President who served in office from March 4, 1857 to March 4, 1861. One of the key events towards the end of his presidency was the First State to Secede.

First State to Secede: The South Carolina Convention
The South Carolina convention met in Institute Hall (aka Secession Hall) in Charleston, SC on December 17, 1860. Three days later, on December 20, 1860 the convention adopted a declaration stating "that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states, under the name of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved."

First State to Secede: Lincoln, president elect
On November 6th, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States. Representing the Republican Party Lincoln carried all of the free states and none of the slave states. Lincoln had received a great majority of the electoral votes, but his opponents had received more popular votes. Lincoln was therefore elected president by a minority of the voters from one section, the Republicans. In the period between the election of Lincoln in November and his inauguration in March, the Union disintegrated. And South Carolina was the first state to secede.

Secession Hall, Charleston

Secession Hall, Charleston

First State to Secede: Why was South Carolina the first state to secede?
Why was South Carolina was the first state to secede? The answer to this is rooted in American history and dates back to
John C. Calhoun who responded to the infamous Tariff of Abominations by writing the 1828 South Carolina Exposition and Protest that protested against the laws passed in relation to protective tariffs (taxes) and threatened to secede from the union. This document caused the Nullification Crisis and brought the sectional interests of the North and the South into conflict for the first time. The people of South Carolina felt that these events were particularly disliked by the Republicans and that South Carolina would be unfairly targeted by the new, dominant political party. South Carolina was therefore the first state to secede from the union, based on past events, their desire to protect their states rights and safeguard the institution of slavery, which they believed was essential to their economy.

First State to Secede: The Slavery Issue
The Republicans had declared that they had no intention to interfere with slavery in the states, which had been repeatedly reiterated by Lincoln who had said that Congress had no right to meddle with slavery in the southern states. Despite these assurances Southern slave owners believed that slavery was in danger.
For the first time, all the southern states were united, but South Carolina was the first to take action.

First State to Secede: Why Secession (withdrawal) from the Union?
Southern leaders were doubtful of the true intentions of the Republicans and the president elect with their Abolitionist ideals. The secessionists believed they had the legal right to withdraw from the voluntary union under the constitution. Many believed that the time had come to secede from the Union and to establish a Southern Confederacy. Others believed that the threat of secession would force the Northerners to accept their terms as the price of a restored Union. South Carolina was the first to make a stand, and was the first state to secede.

First State to Secede: The Secession of South Carolina
The election of the abolitionist Republican party, led by Abraham Lincoln, prompted South Carolina to take action. On November 10, 1860, just three days after receiving news of the Republican victory, the General Assembly called for a Convention of the People of South Carolina to be held on
December 17th, 1860 in order to draw up an Ordinance of Secession. A propaganda campaign followed in South Carolina associating the Republican Party with the ruin of southern civilization, fanning the flames of "popular excitement" over secession.  In the hope of preventing Civil War from breaking out, Senator John Crittenden from Kentucky proposed the Crittenden Compromise on December 18, 1860 which, amongst many other points, assured the continuation of slavery in states where it already existed and William Seward proposed a less complicated compromise on March 2, 1861, called the Corwin Amendment.


Presidential Seal


First State to Secede: The South Carolina Convention and the Ordinance of Secession
The South Carolina
convention duly commenced on December 17th, 1860. The location was first Columbia where the South Carolina Convention passed a unanimous resolution to Secede from the union and resolved to appoint a committee to draft an Ordinance of Secession. Due to a smallpox epidemic in Columbia, the convention moved to Charleston at the Institute Hall, which would be renamed the Secession Hall. On December 20, 1860 the South Carolina convention adopted and signed a simple ordinance (decree) repealing the 1788 state convention’s adoption of the Constitution.

First State to Secede: The South Carolina Convention and the Declaration of Immediate Causes
On December 24, 1860 the South Carolina convention also adopted a "Declaration of Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union" which defended the state’s right to secede from the Union. On the same day Governor Francis W. Pickens proclaimed Independence, Freedom, and Sovereignty for South Carolina. President James Buchanan declared the secession illegal, but the 'lame-duck' president did not act to stop it.

First State to Secede: The South Carolina Causes of Secession
The cause of the state’s action was the "increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery" and northern states failure to enforce the fugitive slave laws, subverting the Constitution, and the election of a President who favored the abolition of slavery by declaring that the "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and encouraging the public to believe that "slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction".

First State to Secede: The Commonwealth of South Carolina, the Palmetto Republic
By adopting the Ordinance of Secession and the "Declaration of Immediate Causes" the State of South Carolina became the Commonwealth of South Carolina, the Palmetto Republic. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union and in doing so became a new nation "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."

First State to Secede: The Military
During the South Carolina Convention resolutions were also made declaring that that all previously owned federal properties in the state were now owned by South Carolina and the called on the federal government to restore the authority of South Carolina to the Charleston Arsenal, Fort Moultrie, Castle Pinckney and Fort Sumter. The delegates to the South Carolina also resolved that a law should be passed allowing members of the military, who resigned their rank in the United States army, would retain their rank in the Commonwealth of South Carolina.

First State to Secede: The Significance
The significance of the first state to concede was that six other Southern states, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, would follow the lead of South Carolina by also holding secession conventions and joining the Secession of the Southern States. This event was one of the Causes of the Civil War. By the time of the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1861, the six states had also seceded and formed the Confederate States of America.

First State to Secede - President James Buchanan Video
The article on the First State to Secede provides an overview of one of the major events of his presidential term in office. The following James Buchanan video will give you additional important facts and dates about the political events experienced by the 15th American President whose presidency spanned from March 4, 1857 to March 4, 1861.




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