Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union

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The Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union was a proclamation issued on December 24, 1860, by the government of South Carolina to explain its reasons for seceding from the United States. It followed the brief Ordinance of Secession that had been issued on December 20. The declaration is a product of a convention organized by the state's government in the month following the election of Abraham Lincoln as U.S. President, where it was drafted in a committee headed by Christopher Memminger.


The first published Confederate imprint of secession
"The seceding South Carolina delegation" (Harper's Weekly, December 22, 1860)

An official secession convention met in South Carolina following the November 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.[1] On December 20, 1860, the convention issued an ordinance of secession announcing the state's withdrawal from the union.[2] The ordinance was brief, containing no explanation of the reasoning behind the delegates' decision:

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 twenty-third day of May in the year of our Lord One Thousand Seven hundred and eight eight, whereby the Constitution of the United State of America was ratified, and also all Acts and parts of Acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying amendment of the said Constitution, are here by repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of “The United States of America,” is hereby dissolved.[3]

The convention had previously agreed to draft a separate statement that would summarize their justification and gave that task to a committee of seven members comprising Christopher G. Memminger (considered the primary author[4]), F. H. Wardlaw, R. W. Barnwell, J. P. Richardson, B. H. Rutledge, J. E. Jenkins, and P. E. Duncan.[5] The document they produced, the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, was adopted by the convention on December 24.[4]


The opening portion of the declaration outlines the historical background of South Carolina and offers a legal justification for its secession. It asserts that the right of states to secede is implicit in the Constitution and this right was explicitly reaffirmed by South Carolina in 1852. The declaration states that the agreement between South Carolina and the United States is subject to the law of compact, which creates obligations on both parties and which revokes the agreement if either party fails to uphold its obligations.

The next section asserts that the government of the United States and of states within that government had failed to uphold their obligations to South Carolina. The specific issue stated was the refusal of some states to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and clauses in the U.S. Constitution protecting slavery and the federal government's perceived role in attempting to abolish slavery.

The next section states that while these problems have existed for twenty-five years, the situation had recently become unacceptable due to the election of a President (this was Abraham Lincoln although he is not mentioned by name) who was planning to outlaw slavery.

The final section concludes with a statement that South Carolina had therefore seceded from the United States.


While later claims have been made that the decision to secede was prompted by other issues such as tariffs, these issues were not mentioned in the declaration. The primary focus of the declaration is the perceived violation of the Constitution by northern states in not extraditing escaped slaves (as the Constitution required in Article IV Section 2) and actively working to abolish slavery (which they saw as Constitutionally guaranteed and protected). The main thrust of the argument was that since the Constitution, being a contract, had been violated by some parties (the northern abolitionist states), the other parties (the southern slave-holding states) were no longer bound by it.

The declaration does not make a simple declaration of states' rights. It asserts that South Carolina was a sovereign state that had delegated only particular powers to the federal government by means of the U.S. Constitution. It furthermore protests other states' failure to uphold their obligations under the Constitution. The declaration emphasizes that the Constitution explicitly requires states to deliver "person(s) held in service or labor" back to their state of origin.

The declaration was the second of three documents to be officially issued by the South Carolina Secession Convention. The first was the Ordinance of Secession itself. The third was "The Address of the people of South Carolina, assembled in Convention, to the people of the Slaveholding States of the United States", written by Robert Barnwell Rhett, which called on other slave holding states to secede and join in forming a new nation. The convention resolved to print 15,000 copies of these three documents and distribute them to various parties.[6]

The declaration was seen as analogous to the Declaration of Independence. Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas offered similar declarations when they seceded following South Carolina's example. The 1776 Declaration of Independence states:

...Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government...[7]


  1. ^ Latner, Richard B. "December 20, 1860". Crisis at Fort Sumter: Dilemmas of Compromise. Tulane University. Retrieved November 18, 2012. 
  2. ^ "'An Ordinance to dissolve the Union between the State of South Carolina and other States,' or the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession, 20 December 1860". Teaching American History in South Carolina Project. 2009. Retrieved November 18, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Ordinance of Secession". Columbia, South Carolina: South Carolina Department of Archives and History. 1860. 
  4. ^ a b "'Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,' 24 December 1860". Teaching American History in South Carolina Project. 2009. Retrieved November 18, 2012. 
  5. ^ Journal of the Convention 1862, p. 31, 39.
  6. ^ Journal of the Convention 1862, p. 82, 88.
  7. ^

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