The following began verbatim from Brooks, and is being modified to South Carolina as I can find the resources and time.  This is precisely the path I took for the revolutionary war.  Brooks has outstanding short descriptions of these events, even if for our sister state, Georgia.


The Election of Lincoln

When the Republican Party succeeded in 1860 in electing their candidate, the Southern states determined to break away from the Union. This purpose was due to the fact that the United States government had come under the control of a sectional political party, whose avowed intention was to disregard the right of the South, as expressed in the Dred Scott decision, to take slaves into the western territories. The Republican Party did not threaten to abolish slavery, but only to prevent its further extension. Another important cause of enmity was the aid given by the Northern people to escaping slaves, despite the fact that the law gave the slave holder every right to their recapture.

Theory of Secession

The tide of sectional hatred was so strong in 1860 that there would probably have been some kind of revolutionary attempt to destroy the Union, even if there had been no such idea as secession; but the Southern leaders were able to put their action on what was held to be a constitutional right to withdraw peaceably from the Union. The idea was that the states had voluntarily entered the Union with the right reserved to get out of it whenever it suited them to do so, and that this was not necessarily a warlike measure. Many Southerners undoubtedly voted to secede in the firm belief that no war would result. Earlier in the history of the country the right of a state to withdraw peaceably from the Union had been widely held, and at several critical moments threats of secession had been made, the most notable case being in 1814, when the New England states had held a convention at Hartford, Connecticut, to discuss secession on account of their dislike of the War of 1812.  Thus there was precedent, in the North no less!

Nationalism vs. State Rights

But since that time the "national" idea had grown much stronger in the North. People had come to think of the Union as permanent and "indissoluble" except by violent revolution. The nationalism of the North was in part the result of the coming of millions of immigrants from Europe who knew nothing about state rights and were determined to prevent the destruction of the Union; and in part to the spread of railways and commercial interests, which tended to weld the North together. In the South, on the other hand, it was claimed that public sentiment had not been so heavily influenced by immigrants, since few had gone there, and industry remained agricultural instead of becoming industrial.  I find this hard to reconcile with South Carolina, which had heavy immigrant populations of German, Irish, Scots, and some French.  Brooks claims that Southern people therefore continued to think of the Union as temporary and of states as the sovereign power. The result was that when secession occurred, the North waged war on the seceding states to force them to remain in or return to the Union, not primarily to destroy slavery. Still, the long struggle over slavery extension must be regarded as the real cause of the war, since had this cause of disagreement not existed there would have been no secession in 1860.

Stephens and the Union Cause.

Southerners were not unanimous in support of the concept of secession.  For example, in Georgia, a number of leaders were opposed to secession, among them Alexander H. Stephens, Benjamin H. Hill, Herschel V. Johnson, and Dr. Lovick Pierce. When the Georgia legislature met in November, 1860, the members began at once to discuss secession. Most of those who spoke favored immediate withdrawal from the Union, but Stephens made one of his greatest speeches, directing his argument against secession. He said it would put the South in the wrong to secede because Lincoln had been elected, since his election was entirely legal. He thought the South ought not to act hastily, but wait and see whether the acts of the Republican Party would be such as to hurt the South. Stephens did not believe anything harmful to Southern interests would be done, basing his belief on the fact that in both houses of Congress the majority of the members were not Republicans. He expressed himself as willing to secede if it became clear that the North intended to treat the South unfairly. He closed by urging that a special election be held to see what was the will of Georgia on the subject.

The Secession Convention, 1861

Adopting Stephens' suggestion, a call was issued for the election of members to a state convention. Robert Toombs was the most powerful advocate of immediate secession. There were other leading secessionists. The total vote in the election of delegates was 87,366. Of this number 50,243 were for secession; 37,123 against secession, a plurality but certainly not overwhelming!  The cities and the plantation areas were for secession, the mountainous district and the small farmer element of southeast Georgia were for the Union. In several instances strong unionist orators carried parts of even the black belt (the "black belt" refers to the belt of alluvial to soil, very rich farm land, which tended to have more slave owning plantations). The convention met in January, 1861. Judge Nisbet introduced a resolution in favor of immediate secession on January 18. This resolution was carried by 166 votes to 130, again not overwhelming!  A committee was appointed to draw up a Secession Ordinance. Judge Nisbet was made chairman and wrote the Ordinance. This was adopted by a vote of 208 to 89, many opponents of immediate secession voting for the measure, since it was sure to be adopted. The delegates did not differ so much on the right to secede as on the wisdom of immediate secession.

The Montgomery Convention, February, 1861

As soon as the ordinance had passed, all Georgians united in support of secession. A convention of delegates of the seven states that had seceded, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, was held in Montgomery, Alabama, in February, 1861. Georgia sent ten delegates. Howell Cobb was made presiding officer or chairman of the convention. It was thought that the presidency of the Confederacy would be given to a Georgia man, but the delegates were unable to agree on a Georgian. Jefferson Davis was made President and Alexander H. Stephens Vice-President. Toombs became Secretary of State, but resigned to take a place in the army. Thomas R. R. Cobb played an important part as member of the committee that drew up the constitution of the Confederate States.


The people of the United States had been accustomed to threats of secession throughout the history of the Union. Secession was held in the South to be a peaceable method of withdrawing from the Union. The North, however, did not accept this doctrine and fought the South to compel her to return to the Union. Georgia was reluctant to withdraw, as is indicated by the large vote cast against secession in the election of the convention of 1860 and by the test vote in the convention itself. Stephens was the leader of this element. Georgians played a prominent part in the establishment of the new government, Howell Cobb acting as chairman of the Montgomery Convention.

Return to Prelude to War

Return to Civil War Outline

Copyright ©2013 USGenWeb Civil War web site. These documents may be freely used for private purposes, and included in your own genealogy.  However, all of these documents are copyrighted and may not be sold, nor given to anyone who may attempt to derive profit from same. Please send any errors, corrections, conjectures, updates, etc. to Dr. Frank O. Clark.