Though much of the lead-in to the Civil War focused on whether or not slavery would be allowed in America’s newest territories in the West, there’s no doubt that all figurative roads eventually led to South Carolina.
During Andrew Jackson’s presidency in the 1820s, his vice president, South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun, became a thorn in Jackson’s side with his aggressive advocacy for nullification, which Jackson strenuously rejected. In a nutshell, Calhoun said that if a state decided that the federal government wasn’t treating it fairly—in this case with regards to tariffs that were hurting the cotton trade in the Palmetto State—it could simply nullify the federal law, superseding it with law of its own.
As the abolition movement gained steam and tensions over slavery rose, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks took things to the next level. On May 22, 1856, he beat fellow Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts nearly to death with his walking cane on the Senate floor. Sumner had just given a speech criticizing pro-slavery forces—including a relative of Brooks—and called slavery “a harlot.” (In a show of support, South Carolinians sent Brooks dozens of new canes to replace the one he broke over Sumner’s head.)
In 1860, the national convention of the Democratic Party, then the dominant force in U.S. politics, was held in—where else?—Charleston. Rancor over slavery and state’s rights was so high that they couldn’t agree on a single candidate to run to replace President James Buchanan. Reconvening in Maryland, the party split along sectional lines, with the northern wing backing Stephen A. Douglas. The southern wing, fervently desiring secession, deliberately chose its own candidate, John Breckenridge, in order to split the Democratic vote and throw the election to Republican Abraham Lincoln, an outspoken opponent of the expansion of slavery.
During that so-called Secession Winter before Lincoln took office, seven states seceded from the union, first among them the Palmetto State, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition