John Marszalek: What motivated South Carolina to secede so quickly?
Giles Distinguished Professor Emeritus of history at Mississippi State University
Over the years there has been a good deal of writing on secession and the coming of the war, and South Carolina, which went first, always receives particular interest. I continue to believe, however, that the best analysis of South Carolina secession remains an older but still classic publication: Steven Channing's, "Crisis of Fear in South Carolina" (1970).
The title gives insight into the thesis, but one must read the entire book to understand the subtlety and thoroughness of Channing's argument. It was fear about the future of slavery that drove South Carolina to leave the Union.
In a brief statement of Channing's argument: South Carolina feared what the newly organized Republican Party under new president Abraham Lincoln would mean to them. Lincoln said in his first inaugural that he would not touch slavery where it already existed, as in South Carolina, but that he would not allow it to expand into the new territories. In other words, slavery could only exist where it already did. However, South Carolinians feared slavery insurrection and what that would do to their white society. If slavery could not expand into the new territories, not only would land within the state soon be depleted, but blacks would come to outnumber whites by such a huge number that they would rise up and take over, egged on by the militant abolitionists.Thus, in order to protect themselves from such possibilities, to deal with such fears, South Carolina had to secede for self protection right away. Time was running out.
| December 13, 2010; 9:45 AM ET
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