Friday, December 20, 2013



Charleston, South Carolina (JFK+50) 153 years ago today, December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the United States of America.

A "secession convention" passed unanimously an ORDINANCE OF SECESSION which...

 "dissolve(d) the union between the State of South Carolina and other States united with her under the compact entitled 'The Constitution of the United States of America.'"

          Charleston Historic Marker
                       Meeting Street
           Photo by John White (2012)

According to "The Americans, Reconstruction to the 21st Century,"...

"Lincoln's (1860) victory convinced Southerners--who had viewed the struggle over slavery partly as a conflict between the states' rights of self-determination and federal government control--that they had lost their political voice in the national government."

And the authors of "The American Pageant" argue that...

"Southern leaders regarded secession as a golden opportunity to cast aside their generations of 'vassalage' to the North."

Several Southern states would take action, but South Carolina was the first. 

Delegates were elected on the 6th of December and the convention convened here in Charleston on the 17th.

The SECESSION ORDINANCE was presented to the body just before 1 p.m. and the vote was completed in 15 minutes time.

The vote was taken behind closed doors, but once completed...

"loud shouts of joy rent the air" and "the enthusiasm was unsurpassed.

Old men went shouting down the streets. Cannon were fired and bright triumph was depicted on every countenance."

The news of South Carolina's secession was not so well received in the North. William Tecumseh Sherman said...

"This country will be drenched in blood...The people of the North (will) not let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it."


Charleston Mercury, December 21, 1860.

"The Americans, Reconstruction to the 21st Century," Tennessee Edition, by Gerald A. Danzer, J. Jorge Klor de Alva, Larry S. Krieger, Louis E. Wilson and Nancy Woloch, McDougal Littell, 2008.

"The American Pageant," by David Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas A. Bailey, 13th Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2006.


We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain...that the ordinance adopted by us in convention on the 23rd of May (1788), where by the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all acts...of the General Assembly of this State ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the "United States of America," is hereby dissolved.

Done at Charleston the 20th day of December in the year of our Lord, 1860.


Although opposed to nullification during the crisis in 1832, Charleston's Edward McGrady resigned his federal post as District Attorney and signed the Ordinance of Secession in 1860.

Edward McCrady's House
Charleston, SC
Photo by John White (2013)


Charleston, South Carolina (JFK+50) Reportedly upon hearing the news of the adoption of the Ordinance of Secession here in the city, Attorney General James L. Petigru* remarked...

"South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum."

Mr. Petigru was apparently the only unionist left in a state that was no longer a part of the union.

James L. Petigru was born in 1789 and graduated from South Carolina College (University of SC) in 1809.  He was admitted to the bar in 1812 and came to Charleston to practice law in 1819.

Petigru served in the State Legislature and later became Attorney General.

*James L. Petigru was a slaveholder but recognized the humanity of slaves and  defended the right of freedmen in court.

His home on Broad Street was burned in the fire of 1861 and his residence on Sullivan's Island was confiscated by the Confederate army to build a fort. 

Petigru moved to Summerville.  He died in 1863.

Stephen Hurlbut wrote President Lincoln in March 1861:

"At this day, Fort Sumter is the only spot where the United States have jurisdiction and James L. Petigru the only citizen loyal to the Union..."

Here is the last verse of a poem written in 1865 titled simply 'Petigru':

"Thus he died:  unnerved, unshaken
By opinion's subtle art;
Now the stricken city weepeth
And the nation holds his heart.

'Tis for this we render honor

That he ranks among the few,
Who, amid a reign of Error
Dared sublimely to be true."

There is a bust of Petigru displayed in the Charleston City Council chamber today which reads:

"James Louis Petigru.  
 Jurist, Orator, Heroic Man."

James L. Petigru Bust
Charleston City Council Chamber
Charleston SC City Hall
Photo by John White (2015)

SOURCES:  "Charleston's Last Union Soul," by Greg Hambrick, Charleston City Paper, April 6, 2011.

"Tour of the Council Chamber of the City of Charleston," conducted by Docent Lindsay M.P. Barrios, 80 Broad Street, Charleston, SC. January 8, 2015.

                Charleston City Hall
              "Four Corners of  Law"
                    80 Broad Street
                     Charleston, SC
      Photo by Billy Hathorn (2012)