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Secession (Divine, 2007)

Robert A. Divine et al., eds., The American Story, 3rd ed. (2 vols., New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2007), 1: 380-381.
South Carolina, which had long been in the forefront of southern rights and proslavery agitation, was the first state to secede, doing so on December 20, 1860, at a convention meeting in Charleston. The constitutional theory behind secession was that the Union was a "compact" among sovereign states, each of which could withdraw from the Union by the vote of a convention similar to the one that had ratified the Constitution in the first place. The south Carolinians justified seceding at that time by charging that “a sectional party” had elected a president “whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.”

In other states of the Cotton Kingdom, there was similar outrage at Lincoln’s election but less certainty about how to respond to it. Those who advocated immediate secession by each state individually were opposed by the “cooperationists,” who believed the slave states should act as a unit. If the cooperationists had triumphed, secession would have been delayed until a southern convention had agreed on it. Some of these moderates hoped a delay would provide time to extort major concessions from the North and thus remove the need for dissolving the Union. But South Carolina’s unilateral action set a precedent that weakened the cooperationists’ cause.


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