Craig Symonds: What motivated South Carolina to secede so quickly?
Professor Emeritus at the United States Naval Academy
One reason why South Carolina was the first State to secede is simply that it was the state with the most to lose from any threat to slavery because it had the largest percentage of black slaves in its population (58%). In addition, ten years earlier, during the crisis provoked by the issue of slavery in the Mexican Cession and the Wilmot Proviso, southern delegates had met in Nashville to consider common action. There was a lot of discussion about secession, but there was disagreement about whether group action (the coordinated secession of all the slave states) or individual action (secession by one State) was the best route.
Cooperationists (as they were called) could not get agreement from all the States, and so secession did not happen, and eventually the Compromise of 1850 held the Union together. Even at the time, the more radical advocates of secession argued that if one state had shown the way by example, other states would have followed. With that in mind, South Carolina in 1860 did not want to wait to try to coordinated movement by several states, and instead acted alone in the expectation that their example would prove decisive to secessionists in other States. And it did.
| December 13, 2010; 9:47 AM ET
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