South Carolina Secession: History of State's Attempts to Secede, From Slaves to Guns

SC_State_House_at_evening
State lawmakers in South Carolina have introduced a bill saying they could consider seceding from the United States if the federal government were to confiscate legally purchased guns from residents. Above, the South Carolina State House. Public domain

If South Carolina were to secede from the United States as some officials are threatening to do, it wouldn't be the first time that state led a secession movement in a quarrel with the federal government.

State lawmakers there are working on a bill that calls for the legislature to consider secession over larger gun rights and possession issues. The legislation states officials would "convene to consider whether to secede from the United States based upon the federal government's unconstitutional violation of the Second Amendment … if the federal government confiscates legally purchased firearms in this state."

The bill is still listed as being in the House Judiciary Committee.

Although it's unclear whether the bill will become a law and whether any nationwide discussion on guns and gun rights will lead to changes at the federal level—or even to an action as advanced as confiscating legally acquired firearms, as the right often claims—the proposed measure echoes previous events in American history.

South Carolina was the first of 11 states to secede at the beginning of the Civil War. Shortly after President Abraham Lincoln was elected from the Republican Party in late 1860, South Carolina voted to secede.

Five states followed suit in January 1861, then another in February, to create the original Confederate States of America. Several other states joined after the war with the Union broke out.

Although the Civil War's central conflict was about the future of slavery in the country and not gun ownership, there are parallels to the threat of secession today. The Confederacy was revolting against the threat to their "property"—their slaves—and South Carolina's new bill is linked to potential violations of the Second Amendment and a threat against property—their firearms.

SC_State_House_at_evening
State lawmakers in South Carolina have introduced a bill saying they could consider seceding from the United States if the federal government were to confiscate legally purchased guns from residents. Above, the South Carolina State House. Public domain

In South Carolina's secession declaration, which was adopted in December 1860, the state pointed to its right to "separate control over its own institutions," including slavery. It said the non-slaveholding states were interfering with the institutions and with the "rights of property."

"Those states … have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the states and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery," the declaration read. "They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection."

South Carolina is not the first to discuss secession in modern times. California has advocated for separation from the U.S. and is currently working toward getting a ballot proposition in 2020 that would allow voters to decide whether to open up a secession discussion. If the proposition were to pass, people would decide whether to stay or leave in a separate vote.

Secession happens on a state level as well. Several years ago, more rural, conservative parts of Colorado discussed separating from the urban areas to form a new state, citing political differences.

On the East Coast, the borough of Staten Island has long seen strong support for seceding from New York City to form its own separate city. Some people on Long Island, consisting of the two easternmost counties of New York State, have talked of breaking off to form their own state.

South Carolina Secession: History of State's Attempts to Secede, From Slaves to Guns | U.S.