When Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 with no electoral votes at all from below the Mason Dixon Line, the South decided that time had come to break the links with the rest of the Union The action was not shocking, as secession had been threatened for years, but the actual break must have sobered many who had never before faced the reality of separation. By February, 1861, seven states had seceded, and following the firing on Ft. Sumter, South Carolina and Lincoln's subsequent call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion, four more states left. Here are the secession documents of three states, which clearly state their reasons for separation.
Mississippi | South Carolina | Virginia
Whereas, the constitutional Union was formed by the several states in their separate sovereign capacity for the purpose of mutual advantage and protection;
That the several states are distinct sovereignties, whose supremacy is limited so far only as the same has been delegated by voluntary compact to a federal government, and, when it fails to accomplish the ends for which it was established, the parties to the compact have the right to resume, each state for itself, such delegated powers;
That the institution of slavery existed prior to the formation of the federal Constitution, and is recognized by its letter, and all efforts to impair its value or lessen its duration by Congress, or any of the free states, is a violation of the compact of Union and is destructive of the ends for which it was ordained, but in defiance of the principles of the Union thus established, the people of the Northern states have assumed a revolutionary position toward the Southern states;
That they have set at defiance that provision of the Constitution which was intended to secure domestic tranquillity among the states and promote their general welfare, namely: "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";
That they have by voluntary associations, individual agencies, and state legislation interfered with slavery as it prevails in the slaveholding states,
That they have enticed our slaves from us and, by state intervention, obstructed and prevented their rendition under the Fugitive Slave Law;
That they continue their system of agitation obviously for the purpose of encouraging other slaves to escape from service, to weaken the institution in the slaveholding states by rendering the holding of such property insecure, and as a consequence its ultimate abolition certain;
That they claim the right and demand its execution by Congress, to exclude slavery from the territories, but claim the right of protection for every species of property owned by themselves;
That they declare in every manner in which public opinion is expressed their unalterable determination to exclude from admittance into the Union any new state that tolerates slavery in its constitution and thereby force Congress to a condemnation of that species of property;
That they thus seek by an increase of Abolition states "to acquire two-thirds of both houses," for the purpose of preparing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States abolishing slavery in the states, and so continue the agitation that the proposed amendment shall be ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states;
That they have, in violation of the comity of all civilized nations and in violation of the comity established by the Constitution of the United States, insulted and outraged our citizens when traveling among them for pleasure, health, or business, by taking their servants and liberating the same, under the forms of state laws, and subjecting their owners to degrading and ignominious punishment;
That to encourage the stealing of our property they have put at defiance that provision of the Constitution which declares that fugitives from justice into another state, on demand of the executive authority of that state from which he fled, shall be delivered up;
That they have sought to create domestic discord in the Southern states by incendiary publications;
That they encouraged a hostile invasion of a Southern state to excite insurrection, murder, and rapine;
That they have deprived Southern citizens of their property and continue an unfriendly agitation of their domestic institutions, claiming for themselves perfect immunity from external interference with their domestic policy;
We of the Southern states alone made an exception to that universal quiet;
That they have elected
a majority of electors for President and Vice-President on the ground that there
exists an irreconcilable conflict between the two sections of the Confederacy
in reference to their respective systems of labor and in pursuance of their
hostility to us and our institutions, thus declaring to the civilized world
that the powers of this government are to be used for the dishonor and overthrow
of the Southern section of this great Confederacy. Therefore:
Be it resolved by the
legislature of the state of Mississippi that, in the opinion of those who
now constitute the said legislature, the secession of each aggrieved state is
the proper remedy for these injuries.
THE PEOPLE of the state of South Carolina, in convention assembled, on the 2nd day of April, A.D. 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States by the federal government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the states, fully justified this state in their withdrawal from the federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding states, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.
And, now, the state of South Carolina, having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act.
In the year 1765, that portion of the British empire embracing Great Britain undertook to make laws for the government of that portion composed of the thirteen American colonies. A struggle for the right of self-government ensued, which resulted, on the 4th of July, 1776, in a Declaration, by the colonies, "that they are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; and that, as free and independent states, they have 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."
They further solemnly declared that whenever any "form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government." Deeming the government of Great Britain to have become destructive of these ends, they declared that the colonies ,.are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."
In pursuance of this Declaration of Independence, each of the thirteen states proceeded to exercise its separate sovereignty; adopted for itself a constitution, and appointed officers for the administration of Government in all its departments-Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. For purposes of defense, they united their arms and their counsels, and, in 1778, they entered into a league known as the Articles of Confederation, whereby they agreed to entrust the administration of their external relations to a common agent, known as the Congress of the United States, expressly declaring, in the 1st Article, "that each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not, by this Confederation, expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled."
Under this Confederation,
the War of the Revolution was carried on; and on the 3rd of September, 1783,
the contest ended, and a definite treaty was signed by Great Britain, in which
she acknowledged the independence of the colonies in the following terms:
Article 1. His Britannic
Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz.: New Hampshire, Massachusetts
Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,
and Georgia, to be free, sovereign, and independent states; that he treats with
them as such; and, for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all
claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and
every part thereof.
Thus were established the two great principles asserted by the colonies, namely, the right of a state to govern itself; and the right of a people to abolish a government when it becomes destructive of the ends for which it was instituted. And concurrent with the establishment of these principles was the, fact that each colony became and was recognized by the mother country as a free, sovereign, and independent state.
In 1787, deputies were appointed by the states to revise the Articles of Confederation; and on Sept. 17, 1787, these deputies recommended, for the adoption of the states, the Articles of Union, known as the Constitution of the United States.
The parties to whom this Constitution was submitted were the several sovereign states; they were to agree or disagree, and when nine of them agreed, the compact was to take effect among those concurring; and the general government, as the common agent, was then to be invested with their authority.
If only nine of the thirteen states had concurred, the other four would have remained as they then were - separate, sovereign states, independent of any of the provisions of the Constitution. In fact, two of the states did not accede to the Constitution until long after it had gone into operation among the other eleven; and during that interval, they each exercised the functions of an independent nation.
By this Constitution, certain duties were imposed upon the several states, and the exercise of certain of their powers was restrained, which necessarily impelled their continued existence as sovereign states. But, to remove all doubt, an amendment was added which declared that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. On the 23rd of May, 1788, South Carolina, by a convention of her people, passed an ordinance assenting to this Constitution, and afterward altered her own constitution to conform herself to the obligations she had undertaken.
Thus was established, by compact between the states, a government with defined objects and powers, limited to the express words of the grant. This limitation left the whole remaining mass of power subject to the clause reserving it to the states or the people, and rendered unnecessary any specification of reserved rights. We hold that the government thus established is subject to the two great principles asserted in the Declaration of Independence; and we hold further that the mode of its formation subjects it to a third fundamental principle, namely, the law of compact. We maintain that in every compact between two or more parties, the obligation is mutual; that the failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement entirely releases the obligation of the other; and that, where no arbiter is provided, each party is remitted to his own judgment to determine the fact of failure, with all its consequences.
In the present case, the fact is established with certainty. We assert that fourteen of the states have deliberately refused for years past to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own statutes for the proof.
The Constitution of the United States, in its 4th Article, provides as follows: "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."
This stipulation was so material to the compact that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which obligations, and the laws of the general government, have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa have enacted laws which either nullify the acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these states the fugitive is discharged from the service of labor claimed, and in none of them has the state government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution.
The state of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of antislavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own laws and by the laws of Congress. In the state of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the states of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder and with inciting servile insurrection in the state of Virginia. Thus the constitutional compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the nonslaveholding states; and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.
The ends for which this Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be "to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a federal government in which each state was recognized as an equal and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights; by giving them the right to represent, and burdening them with direct taxes for, three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.
We affirm that these ends for which this government was instituted have been defeated, and the government itself has been destructive of them by the action of the nonslaveholding states. Those states have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the states and recognized by the Constitution. They have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted the open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace of and eloign the property of the citizens of other states. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and, those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books, and pictures to servile insurrection. For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common, government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found, within that article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has I been drawn across the Union, and all the states north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
This sectional combination for the subversion of the Constitution has been aided, in some of the states, by elevating to citizenship persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South and destructive of its peace and safety.
On the 4th of March next this party will take possession of the government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunal shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.
The guarantees of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the states will be lost. The slaveholding states will no longer have the power of self-government or self-protection, and the federal government will have become their enemy.
Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation; and all hope of remedy is rendered vain by the fact that the public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanctions of a more erroneous religious belief.
We, therefore, the people
of South Carolina, by our delegates in convention assembled, appealing to the
Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly
declared that the Union heretofore existing between this state and the other
states of North America is dissolved; and that the state of South Carolina has
resumed her position among the nations of the world, as [a] separate and independent
state, 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
Virginia Ordinance of Secession
An ORDINANCE to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, by the State of Virginia, and to resume, all rights and powers granted under said Constitution.
The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under the said constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression; and the federal government having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the southern, slaveholding states:
Now, therefore, we the people of Virginia do declare and ordain, that the ordinance adopted by the people of this state in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June 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 all acts of the general assembly of this state ratifying or adopting amendments to said constitution, are hereby repealed and abrogated; that the union between Union between the state of Virginia and the other states under the constitution aforesaid is hereby dissolved, and that the state of Virginia is in the full possession and exercise of all the rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent state.
And they do further declare,
that said constitution of the United States of America is no longer, binding
on any of the citizens of this state.
This ordinance shall take effect and be an act of this day, when ratified by a majority of the votes of the people of this state, cast at a poll to be taken thereon on the fourth Thursday in May. next, in pursuance of a schedule hereafter to be enacted.
Done in convention, in
the city of Richmond, on the seventeenth day of April, in the year of our Lord
one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and in the eighty-fifth year of the
commonwealth of Virginia.
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