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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

The chief port of South Carolina


Thus

was Abraham Lincoln elected President of the United States. But many who voted for him had hardly recorded their votes before they became a little afraid of the thing they had done. Through the whole continent ran the ominous whisper: "What will the South do?"

And men held their breath, waiting for what was to follow.

CHAPTER IX

SECESSION AND CIVIL WAR

It is a significant fact that the news of Lincoln's election which caused so much dismay and searching of heart throughout the Southern and Border States was received with defiant cheers in Charleston, the chief port of South Carolina. Those cheers meant that there was one Southern State that was ready to answer on the instant the whispered question which was troubling the North, and to answer it by no means in a whisper.

South Carolina occupied a position not exactly parallel to that of any other State. Her peculiarity was not merely that her citizens held the dogma of State Sovereignty. All the States from Virginia southward, at any rate, held that dogma in one form or another. But South Carolina held it in an extreme form, and habitually acted on it in an extreme fashion. It is not historically true to say that she learnt her political creed from Calhoun. It would

be truer to say that he learnt it from her. But it may be that the leadership of a man of genius, who could codify and expound her thought, and whose bold intellect shrank from no conclusion to which his principles led, helped to give a peculiar simplicity and completeness to her interpretation of the dogma in question. The peculiarity of her attitude must be expressed by saying that most Americans had two loyalties, while the South Carolinian had only one. Whether in the last resort a citizen should prefer loyalty to his State or loyalty to the Union was a question concerning which man differed from man and State from State. There were men, and indeed whole States, for whom the conflict was a torturing, personal tragedy, and a tearing of the heart in two. But practically all Americans believed that some measure of loyalty was due to both connections. The South Carolinan did not. All his loyalty was to his State. He scarcely pretended to anything like national feeling. The Union was at best a useful treaty of alliance with foreigners to be preserved only so far as the interests of the Palmetto State were advantaged thereby. His representatives in House and Senate, the men he sent to take part as electors in the choosing of a President, had rather the air of ambassadors than of legislators. They were in Congress to fight the battles of their State, and avowed quite frankly that if it should ever appear that "the Treaty called the Constitution of the United States" (as South Carolina afterwards designated it in her Declaration of Independence) were working to its disadvantage, they would denounce it with as little scruple or heart-burning as the Washington Government might denounce a commercial treaty with England or Spain.

South Carolina had been talking freely of secession for thirty years.


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