Was South Carolina justified in seceding from the Union?

Quick answer:

South Carolina was not constitutionally justified in seceding from the Union because the Constitution, which the state had ratified when it joined the Union in 1788, had no clause or written procedure for departing from the Union. Their reason for seceding was to preserve their right to slavery, a morally broken system.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One reason that South Carolina was not justified in leaving the Union was constitutional. In short, South Carolina, along with twelve other states, had chosen to join the Union when it ratified the Constitution in May of 1788. Like every other state that ratified, they joined without qualifications or conditions. The Constitution contained no provision allowing states to leave the Unionindeed, it would have been self-defeating to include such a stipulation. So there was no constitutional basis for secession. To do so was to essentially nullify or negate the Constitution.

South Carolina, in announcing its decision to leave the Union, claimed it was justified in doing so because several Northern states were violating the Fugitive Slave Act (which itself was based on a clause in the Constitution), yet South Carolina itself had claimed the right of states to nullify laws in 1833, when it provoked a crisis over nullifying a tariff its leaders saw as injurious to their interests.

Finallyand most importantlyto argue that South Carolina was justified in leaving the Union is essentially to argue that the state had the right to continue to enslave human beings. In a "Declaration of the Immediate Causes of Secession" issued by the state's secession convention in December of 1860, South Carolina complained that Northern states, with the election of Abraham Lincoln, had taken up a uniform and explicit anti-slavery position, one which threatened their rights as slaveholders:

A geographical line has 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.

In short, as the state's leaders themselves said at the time, South Carolina left the Union to preserve slavery. There can be no moral justification for such a cause.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why did South Carolina want to secede from the Union?

The South seceded because they did not want the North to be able to tell them what to do.  In specific, they did not want the North to be able to do anything that would hurt the institution of slavery.  They feared that the North would do that once Abraham Lincoln became president.

Lincoln had been elected without getting any votes from Southern states.  This made the South believe that he would govern only for the benefit of the North.  As part of this fear, they were afraid that he would abolish slavery in the South.

The South wanted to be left alone to rule itself, which meant having slavery.  They feared that Lincoln would not let them have slavery, so they seceded.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What were the reasons the South wanted to secede from the Union?

There were several reasons why the South wanted to secede from the Union. One reason had to deal with slavery. The South believed in the concept of slavery. The South was very concerned that slavery would be banned in the future. When President Lincoln got elected, the South was convinced he would end slavery, even though President Lincoln never said he would do that.

Another reason why the South seceded from the Union was because of the South’s belief in states’ rights. The South believed that states should have the right to nullify laws that hurt one state or region while benefitting another state or region. The North opposed this idea. The North believed federal laws took priority over state laws.

The South was also concerned about the differences in the economies of the North and of the South. Because the South had primarily an agricultural economy, they supported economic policies that were different than those the North supported. The North was primarily an industrial economy. For example, the North wanted protective tariffs to be higher, which the South opposed.

Since the North and the South had so many differences, which couldn’t be resolved by compromise, it was not surprising that a split occurred. The South believed its whole way of life and everything in which they believed would be in jeopardy if they stayed in the Union.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on