On Dec. 20, 1860, 169 men — politicians and people of property — met in the ballroom of St. Andrew’s Hall in Charleston, S.C. After hours of debate, they issued the 158-word “Ordinance of Secession,” which repealed the consent of South Carolina to the Constitution and declared the state to be an independent country. Four days later, the same group drafted a seven-page “Declaration of the Immediate Causes,” explaining why they had decided to split the Union.
The authors of these papers flattered themselves that they’d conjured up a second American Revolution. Instead, the Secession Convention was the beginning of the Civil War, which killed some 620,000 Americans; an equivalent war today would send home more than six million body bags.
The next five years will include an all-you-can-eat special of national remembrance. Yet even after 150 years full of grief and pride and anger, we greet the sesquicentennial wondering, why did the South secede?
I can testify about the South under oath. I was born and raised there, and 12 men in my family fought for the Confederacy; two of them were killed. And since I was a boy, the answer I’ve heard to this question, from Virginia to Louisiana (from whites, never from blacks), is this: “The War Between the States was about states’ rights. It was not about slavery.”…
[continues in the New York Times]