150 years ago today, South Carolina declared treason to defend slavery, seceding from the Union in order to preserve its ability to own, sell, rape, and murder black people. 4 1/2 years later and 500,000 dead Americans later, this treason was crushed.
But of course, the South has contested the meanings of this event ever since they lost the war. Beginning in 1866, they reshaped the meanings of the war to be a noble cause in defense of an idealized agrarian past with contented slaves working in the fields and eating watermelon to the sound of banjos at the end of the day. The civil rights movement challenged that narrative, but hardly defeated it.
There were many factors that led to the Secession Crisis of 1860, but at the root of it all was the institution of slavery, and it’s protection and expansion.
And the great Eric Foner:
Contemporaries had little doubt about the reasons for secession. With no support in the slave states, the Republican party had just elected Abraham Lincoln president on a platform committed to halting slavery’s westward expansion. Lincoln himself had called slavery a “monstrous injustice” and had declared that the nation could not exist indefinitely half-slave and half-free. In explaining its decision, South Carolina’s convention warned that the ultimate result of Republican rule would be “the emancipation of the slaves of the South”.
Within a few months, 10 slave states had joined South Carolina in the Confederate States of America. Its founders forthrightly announced that they had created a slaveholders’ republic. The new nation’s “cornerstone”, declared Confederate Vice-President Alexander H Stephens, was the principle “that slavery, subordination to the superior race” was the “natural and moral condition” of black Americans.