Commemorating Secession Without Asking Why

The Sons of Confederate Veterans is hoping to erect a monument commemorating the 170 South Carolinians who signed the ordnance of secession in December 1860.  The South Carolina division is proposing to install an 11 1/2-foot-tall stone memorial as the centerpiece of a 40-foot by 40-foot landscaped plaza at Patriots Point.  According to the news article:

The name of each of the signers and the wording of the secession document would be among the text and images engraved on each side of the monument.  Albert Jackson, chairman of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ monument committee, called the secession debate and the subsequent unanimous approval of the ordinance “a significant action” for South Carolina. Most people are not aware of the history behind it, he said.

Mr. Jackson is no doubt correct that “most people are not aware of the history behind” South Carolina’s decision to secede from the Union within weeks of Abraham Lincoln’s election.  Here is South Carolina’s Ordnance of Secession:

AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union 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 twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the “United States of America,” is hereby dissolved.

Done at Charleston the twentieth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty.

What the SCV Leaves Out

Unfortunately, if this is the extent of the text that will be included on the SCV’s monument than it is safe to say that Mr. Jackson’s own commitment to educating the public as to why this ordnance was passed will have gone unfulfilled.  Perhaps the SCV should propose a much larger monument so as to include text that would explain why this decision was made.  I shared this story, along with the text from the ordnance, with students in my Civil War Memory course this morning and when I asked whether the text was sufficient to explain this event they immediately asked why it was carried out.  That seems like a reasonable question.  Luckily, the same body explained to the citizens of the state why secession carried the day in its “Declaration of Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina” which was adopted on December 24, 1860.  Here is a short excerpt, but I encourage you to read it in its entirety:

We affirm that these ends for which the government was instituted have been defeated, and the government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding states.  Those states have assumed the right of deciding upon the right of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property as established in fifteen of the states and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other states.  They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain have been incited by emissaries, books, and pictures to servile insurrection.

I assume that the educated members of the SCV are aware of this document.  The SCV wishes to commemorate an event without any acknowledgment of the reasons behind it.  That’s called bad history and the manipulation of the past.  Will the citizens of South Carolina allow their own history to be butchered on one of the most prominent spots in Charleston?  We shall see.

7 comments… add one
  • Daniel Jan 25, 2010 @ 18:32

    If we can look at the issue of seccession itself absent the reason why, we have to ask the fair question. Was seccession legal? This was something that was never settled as Jefferson Davis never got his trail. I think a monument that honors the bravery of men to challenge this is a good thing. Also without this challenge the war to end slavery would have never occurred or would have been delayed. I think we must refrain from demonizing organizations that choose to honor men they admire.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 25, 2010 @ 21:14

      No one is demonizing the SCV. The question is whether or not they are telling the complete story about South Carolina's decision to secede from the Union. In this case it is clear that they are not committed to telling that story.

  • msimons Jan 24, 2010 @ 0:23

    We'll see what happens. Kevin I believe the SCV is trying to play PC by leaving the dirty laundry out.

  • Jim Steele Jan 21, 2010 @ 15:51

    The proposed monument is a disgrace. Once again, the Sons of Confederate Veterans is embarrassing my home state of South Carolina and progressive Southerners everywhere. However, as a public history professional whose career has focused on managing and interpreting Civil War sites, I am not a bit surprised. My experience has taught me that significant numbers of the S.C.V. would support installation of a 100-feet tall, day-glo statue of Robert E. Lee on top of Fort Fisher's bastions, and the same people would oppose and ridicule a small commemorative tablet dedicated to the 3,300 U.S. Colored Troops who fought here. For people who bleat endlessly about “truth” and “education,” they are surprisingly reluctant to share the whole story and allow the public to draw its own conclusions.

    • johnnyjoyner Jan 22, 2010 @ 15:24

      I could see that statue now, maybe with his sword raised flashing as a beacon for the ships coming into Wilmington. Of course after listening to loud boos and hissing at the arrival of Union reenactors and the cheers as they fell at your battle reenactment, I am not sure if the SCV is not as active and militant in NC as they are in SC.

    • Richard Jan 22, 2010 @ 21:24

      You would think Fort Fisher would have a monument to the white men from NC who served in the Union Army at Fort Fisher and Beaufort and surrounding areas. If I had the resources there would be one. And it would glow in the dark.

      • Jim Steele Jan 23, 2010 @ 15:19

        No doubt, commemoration of Southern Unionists is practically non-existent in the former Confederacy, or anywhere else for that matter. Even today it is impossible for many Southerners to admit there was dissent in the Confederacy, and that not everyone was on-board with secession. The only monument standing at Fort Fisher celebrates the martial virtues of North Carolina's Confederate soldiers and their heroic defense of the “Confederate Gibralter.” Not surprising given the United Daughters of the Confederacy built the monument in 1932. Development of Fort Fisher as a state historic site began in the late 1950s, as a direct result of Centennial excitement and the efforts of the New Hanover County Confederate Centennial Commission. Again, it is not surprising the roles Union soldiers, Southern Unionists, U.S. Colored Troops, and hundreds of enslaved black laborers played here has not been commemorated in stone and bronze. Of course, Fort Fisher did have a handful of alleged “Black Confederates;” I imagine some S.C.V. members would go all-out to give Fort Fisher a monument to those men!

Now that you've read the post, share your thoughts.