The “Secession Crisis” describes a historical event in United States history that occurred between 1860-61. During the Secession Crisis, several states in the southeastern region of the United States, made the decision to secede, or legally separate themselves from, the United States. The rationale behind this decision was increasing pressure from Northern, “free soil” states and the Federal government for the Southern, “slave” states to emancipate their slaves. The idea of the abolition of slavery did not sit well with many whites in the Southern power elite, who had acquired their wealth and status mainly through agricultural plantations that were maintained with slave labor. The elite white Southerners saw the demands of Northerners that they free their slaves as an encroachment upon their liberty, as well as a threat to their status. Some historians have even tried to state that the Secession Crisis of 1860-61 was not about slavery and abolition at all, but was actually the fruit of a longstanding economic and social conflict between the wealthy, industrial North, and the comparatively poorer, agricultural South. In all reality, the abolitionist movement was gaining steam worldwide, largely precipitated by British abolitionists, and enforced by the British Navy, who at the time had the strongest naval force in the world. The British Navy would often intercept slave ships en route from the West Coast of Africa and embark them, and free the slaves. This is just an example of the immense pressure that the British were placing on the rest of the world to abolish African slavery, and the Northern states were fully prepared to acquiesce, both in the name of the moral good, and in the name of maintaining peaceable diplomatic relations with Great Britain. The Southern states, however, whose bread and butter lie in their cotton, indigo, tobacco, rice, and sugar plantations, had a great deal to lose if slavery were to be suddenly abolished, and one by one, several made the decision to secede from the United States, and form their own independent nation, the Confederacy.
South Carolina was the first state to ratify the Articles of Confederation, and the first state to officially secede from the Union, in 1860. For South Carolina to be the juggernaut of Southern secession makes a great deal of sense, from a purely pragmatic standpoint. First of all, its economy was almost completely dependent on cash crops for export such as indigo and rice. Not only were they afraid of the sharp rise in agricultural labor costs that would occur if they were required to abolish slavery, but South Carolinian planters apparently also wanted to have the right to negotiate directly with Great Britain and Western European nations for the export of their agricultural goods, without having to deal with export regulations and taxes imposed by the Federal government. Another major factor in South Carolina’s enthusiasm for secession most likely had to do with the fact that the majority of its population was made up of African and African-descended slaves. White planters, who were in the demographic minority by a huge margin in South Carolina, were probably terrified of the possible violent backlash that would occur should the slaves and former slaves be emancipated. South Carolina had experienced a violent slave revolt in 1739, the Stono Rebellion, which probably made the members of the white minority in that state very afraid. In 1860, the white minority in South Carolina may have been thinking about the possibility of a redux of the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804, in which former African slaves violently rose up and took over the former French colony of Saint Domingue, killing many whites in the process. It is little wonder, then, that South Carolina wanted to secede so badly.
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