The Genesis of the Civil War

Author: Samuel Wylie Crawford  | Date: 1887

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Crisis in South Carolina (1860)


HARDLY had the Convention assembled at Columbia when a resolution was introduced by Chancellor J. A. Inglis to the effect that "it is the opinion of the Convention that the State should forthwith secede from the Federal Union known as the United States of America, and that a committee be appointed to draft an ordinance to be adopted by the Convention in order to accomplish this purpose of secession." . . . It passed without a dissenting voice.

Meantime, a contagious disease having broken out in the city, the Convention resolved to change its session to Charleston, and it reassembled in that city on the 18th. . . .

In the large room of Institute Hall, the Convention reassembled at 4 o’clock on the afternoon of the 18th of December. Crowds of excited people thronged the streets and open squares of the city, and filled the passage and stairways of the hall. Congratulations were exchanged on every side, while earnest dissatisfaction was freely expressed that the passage of the Secession Ordinance had been delayed.

Blue cockades and cockades of palmetto appeared in almost every hat; flags of all descriptions, except the National colors, were everywhere displayed. Upon the gavel that lay upon the Speaker’s table, the word "Secession" had been cut in deep black characters. The enthusiasm spread to the more practical walks of trade, and the business streets were gay with bunting and flags, as the tradespeople, many of whom were Northern men, commended themselves to the popular clamor by a display of coarse representations on canvas of the public men, and of the incidents daily presenting themselves, and of the brilliant future in store for them. . . .

On the 19th the Convention reassembled at St. Andrews Hall. . . .

The special order of the day being the resolution in reference to that part of the message of the President of the United States which refers to the property of the United States in South Carolina, it was considered, and a committee of thirteen was appointed, at the head of which was A. G. Magrath, to report to the Convention upon the resolution.

It was resolved, also, to send three commissioners, bearing an authenticated copy of the Secession Ordinance to Washington to be laid before the President and Congress. And, also, that these commissioners should be empowered to treat for the delivery of the forts, magazines, and other "real estate;" and they were authorized to treat of the public debt, and for a division of all the property held by the United States as the agents of the States, and until a new Confederacy should be formed. This latter resolution was referred to the "Committee on Foreign Relations." . . .

Early on the morning of the 20th knots of men were seen gathered here and there through the main streets and squares of Charleston. The Convention was not to meet until 12 o’clock, but it was understood that the Committee were ready to report the Ordinance of Secession, and that it would certainly pass the Convention that day. The report soon spread. Although this action had been fully anticipated, there was a feverish anxiety to know that the secession of the State was really accomplished, and as the hour of noon approached, crowds of people streamed along the avenues towards St. Andrew’s Hall and filled the approaches. A stranger passing from the excited throng outside into the hall of the Convention would be struck with the contrast. Ordinary business was quietly disposed of; the Mayor and Governor and the officials of the Legislature were invited to seats upon the floor; committees authorized by previous resolutions were announced by the President, the more noticeable being that of the late United States Judge Magrath, to head the Committee on so much of the President’s message as related to the property in the harbor, and W. P. Miles on Foreign Relations looking to the ordeal in Washington. Quietly the Convention had met, and had been opened with prayer to God. There was no excitement. There was no visible sign that the Commonwealth of South Carolina was about to take a step more momentous for weal or woe than had yet been known in her history.

Then followed the introduction of a resolution by Mr. R. B. Rhett, that a committee of thirteen be appointed to report an ordinance providing for a convention to form a Southern Confederacy, as important a step as the secession of the State itself. It was referred to the appropriate committee, when Chancellor Inglis of Chesterfield, the Chairman of the Committee to report an ordinance proper of secession, arose and called the attention of the President.

An immediate silence pervaded the whole assemblage as every eye turned upon the speaker. Addressing the chair, he said that the Committee appointed to prepare a draft of an ordinance proper, to be adopted by the Convention in order to effect the secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, respectfully report that they have had the matter under consideration, and believe that they would best meet the exigencies of the occasion by expressing in the fewest and simplest words all that was necessary to effect the end proposed, and so to exclude everything which was not a necessary part of the "solemn act of secession." They therefore submitted the following:


to dissolve the Union from [between] the State of South Carolina and other States united with her under the compact entitled "The Constitution of the United States of America."

We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, that the Ordinance adopted by us in convention, on the 23d day of May, in the year of our Lord, seventeen hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States was ratified, and also all the acts and part of 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 "United States of America" is hereby dissolved.

A proposition that business be suspended for fifteen minutes was not agreed to, and the question was at once put, with the result of a unanimous vote, at 1:30 P.M., of 169 yeas, nays none. An immediate struggle for the floor ensued. Mr. W. Porcher Miles moved that an immediate telegram be sent to the Members of Congress, at Washington, announcing the result of the vote and the Ordinance of Secession. It was then resolved to invite the Governor and both branches of the Legislature to Institute Hall, at seven o’clock in the evening, and that the Convention should move in procession to that hall, and there, in the presence of the constituted authorities of the State and the people, sign the Ordinance of Secession. That a clergyman of the city should be invited to attend, and upon the completion of the signing of the Ordinance, he should "return thanks to Almighty God in behalf of the people of this State and to invoke His blessings upon our proceedings." The Ordinance was then turned over to the Attorney-General and solicitors to be engrossed.

The invitations to the Senate and House of Representatives having been accepted, the Convention moved in procession at the hour indicated to Institute Hall, amid the crowds of citizens that thronged the streets, cheering loudly as it passed. The galleries of the hall were crowded with ladies, who waved their handkerchiefs to the Convention as it entered, with marked demonstration. On either side of the President’s chair were two large palmetto trees. The Hall was densely crowded. The Ordinance, having been returned engrossed and with the great seal of the State, attached by the Attorney-General, was presented and was signed by every member of the Convention, special favorites being received with loud applause. Two hours were thus occupied. The President then announced that "the Ordinance of Secession has been signed and ratified, and I proclaim the State of South Carolina," said he, "an independent Commonwealth."

At once the whole audience broke out into a storm of cheers; the ladies again joined in the demonstration; a rush was made for the palmetto trees, which were torn to pieces in the effort to secure mementos of the occasion. As soon as the passage of the Secession Ordinance at St. Andrews Hall was accomplished, a messenger left the house and rode with the greatest speed to the camp of the First Regiment of Rifles, South Carolina Militia, Colonel Pettigrew, one mile distant, where in front of the paraded regiment the Ordinance was read amid the loud acclamations of the men.

The adjournment of the Convention was characterized by the same dignity that had marked its sessions. Outside, the whole city was wild with excitement as the news spread like wild-fire through its streets. Business was suspended everywhere; the peals of the church bells mingling with salvos of artillery from the citadel. Old men ran shouting down the street. Every one entitled to it, appeared at once in uniform. In less then [than] fifteen minutes after its passage, the principal newspaper of Charleston had placed in the hands of the eager multitude a copy of the Ordinance of Secession. Private residences were illuminated, while military organizations marched in every direction, the music of their bands lost amid the shouts of the people. The whole heart of the people had spoken. . . .

Samuel Wylie Crawford, (New York, 1887), 47–55 passim.

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Chicago: Samuel Wylie Crawford, The Genesis of the Civil War in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed December 1, 2022,

MLA: Crawford, Samuel Wylie. The Genesis of the Civil War, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 1 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Crawford, SW, The Genesis of the Civil War. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 1 December 2022, from