The Union is Dissolved

An 1860 broadside with large black letters that read 'The Union is Dissolved'

Courtesy: Library of Congress, Alfred Whital Stern Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Digital ID no. us0120.

On December 18, 1860, the delegates of the Convention of the People of South Carolina met in Charleston to consider the weighty issue of secession. They were a politically powerful group: the 169 delegates included five former governors, forty former state senators, and one hundred former state representatives. Over 90 percent of the delegates owned slaves; more than 60 percent owned over twenty slaves each. Not a single black person—free or enslaved—served as a delegate, in a state whose population was roughly 58 percent African American. After two days of deliberation, the delegates gave voice to an increasingly popular sentiment among white South Carolinians. At 1:15 p.m. on December 20, they voted unanimously to secede from the Union, making South Carolina the first state to do so. As soon as the vote was tallied, messengers for the Charleston Mercury rushed to the newspaper offices with the adopted text. Within fifteen minutes, the broadside seen here was rolling off the presses.

The briefly worded ordinance of secession repealed the state convention ordinance of May 23, 1788, which ratified the U. S. Constitution. It also repealed all constitutional amendments subsequently ratified by the state’s general assembly and concluded with a declaration that the union of South Carolina with other states, constituting the United States of America, is now “dissolved.” On the evening of December 20, in a session lasting two hours, this ordinance was signed by all delegates. Four days later, the convention adopted a much longer document, “The Declaration of Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina,” which made it plain that the preservation of slavery was the animating spirit of South Carolina’s decision. Within four months, the Commonwealth of South Carolina, by then part of the Confederacy, would be at war with the United States of America.