Saturday, December 20, 2014



Charleston, South Carolina (JFK+50) 154 years ago today, December 20, 1860, the State of South Carolina seceded from the United States of America and upon hearing the news of the adoption of the Ordinance of Secession, Attorney General James L. Petigru said...

"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.  According to the University of South Carolina School of Law, James Petigru was recognized as "one of the state's great lawyers" and, despite his stand against secession "never lost the respect and admiration of his fellow South Carolinians..."

James L. Petigru

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."**

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."

Delegates were elected on December 6, 1860.  The convention convened the following day.  The Ordinance of Secession 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.

"Memory Hold the Door, James Louis Petigru," University of South Carolina School of Law,

"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.

*James L. Petigru (1789-1863) was born in the Abbeville District and  graduated from South Carolina College.  He was admitted to the bar in 1812 and came to the Holy City to practice law in 1819.  Although a slaveholder, Mr. Petigru 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. JLP then moved to Summerville and died in 1863.

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

Charleston SC City Hall
80 Broad Street
Photo by Billy Hathorn (2012)


Charleston, South Carolina (JFK+50) So read the headline of the Charleston Mercury on this day, December 20, 1860, as a convention meeting here in Charleston 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)


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.

Charleston, SC (JFK+50) 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)

Plaque by the Preservation Society of Charleston
Photo by John White (2013)