Sunday, December 20, 2015


JFK+50:  Volume 6, No. 1803


Charleston, South Carolina (JFK+50) One century and fifty-five years ago today, December 20, 1860, the State of South Carolina seceded from the United States of America by ratifying an Ordinance of Session here in Charleston.

When he heard the news about his state's leaving the Union, Attorney General James L. Petigru said...

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

Mr. Petigru is said to be 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, he 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..." 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."

The bust of Petigru seen below is displayed in the Charleston City Council chamber.  The plaque below reads...

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

Bust of James Louis Petigru
City Council Chamber
Charleston, SC
Photo by John White (2015)

City Council Chamber
Charleston, SC
Photo by John White (2015)

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

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.

Mr. Pettigru's 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.