Commentary: Slavery was secessionists' cause

One hundred fifty years after our state seceded from the United States, precipitating the secession of our sister states and, ultimately, the Civil War, there is heated disagreement over just what that secession and war were about. Those who insist that it was fought over slavery and those who insist that it was all about our state preserving its rights as a state, with slavery but one of many factors (if that), can agree on only one thing: The other side is rewriting history.

But for the men who declared on Dec. 20, 1860, that “the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of ‘The United States of America,’ is hereby dissolved,” there was no ambiguity. As the members of South Carolina’s secession convention made perfectly clear in the “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” they were indeed leaving the union in order to preserve the sovereign rights of our state, but they had only one right in mind: the right to own slaves.

The language of the S.C. Declaration is so straightforward, so unambiguous that it is difficult to comprehend that there ever could have been any disagreement over what drove South Carolina to secede. So before any more breath is wasted in arguing about just what our state will be commemorating on Monday, we are reprinting the Declaration on this page. We would urge anyone who doubts that our state seceded in order to preserve slavery — or, for that matter, anyone who has come to accept the fiction that slavery was merely one of several cumulative causes — to read this document.

What we found most striking in rereading the Declaration was the complete absence of any other causes. After laying out the argument that the states retained a right to secede if the Union did not fulfill its constitutional and contractual obligations, the document cited the one failing of the United States: its refusal to enforce the constitutional provision requiring states to return escaped slaves to their owners. “This stipulation was so material to the compact,” the document declares, “that without it that compact would not have been made.”

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