Today In Charleston History: June 3

1812-War of 1812

John C. Calhoun introduced a bill in Congress supporting war against Great Britain. As chairmen of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Calhoun wrote, “The honor of a nation is its life. Deliberately to abandon it, is to commit an act of political suicide.” Calhoun was described as “the young Hercules who carried the war on his shoulders.” 

1850-Road to Secession.

One hundred seventy-six delegates from Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee, met at McKendree Methodist Church in Nashville for nine days to consider a possible course of action if the United States Congress decided to ban slavery in the new territories being added to the country as a result of Westward Expansion and the Mexican-American War. 

Rhett2-246x300

Robert Barnwell Rhett

With the death of John C. Calhoun in March 1850, radical secessionists, called “fire-eaters” including Robert Barnwell Rhett, Maxcy Gregg, James H. Adams, David F. Jamison, and Daniel Wallace, demanded that South Carolina secede, regardless of the course adopted by other slaveholding states. Cooperationists, meanwhile, professed their willingness to secede but argued that separate secession would leave South Carolina isolated and impotent. The fire-eaters were extreme advocates of southern rights. They walked out on the Nashville convention in 1850.

Most of this was in response to the Wilmot Proviso, a congressional proposal to ban slavery in the territory gained in the Mexican War, and the so-called Compromise of 1850, a series of measures maneuvered through Congress in an attempt to pacify both northern and southern interests. South Carolina secessionists brought their state to the brink of disunion but were disappointed by the growing acceptance of the Compromise of 1850 across the South. Procompromise Whigs and Democrats successfully played on party loyalty to wean southern states away from the notion of a southern party committed solely to the defense of slavery—a goal to which much of South Carolina was committed.

The convention adjourned without taking any action against the Union, and the issue of secession was temporarily tabled.

1864Bombardment of Charleston.

Gus Smythe, a member of the Confederate Signal Corps in Charleston, wrote to his sister, Sarah Anne, about the Union shelling from his perch in St. Michael’s Church steeple:

They are now using a very heavy gun, & the roar of the shells as they fly on their path of destruction is really awful. One struck quite close to the Steeple this morning just as I left, in Broad Street, between King and Meeting … Strange that these shells never give me a moments thought now. I hear them coming & they all seem a matter of course, & I pay no attention to them at all.

Gus Smythe

Gus Smythe

Today In Charleston History: December 20

1752

King George II confirmed the charter of the Two-Bit Club at the Court of St. James. Soon afterward, the name was changed to the South Carolina Society and began including non-French members.

1782 – Slavery

Capt. Joseph Vesey returned to Charlestown with his wife, Kezia, their son John and Vesey’s personal servant / cabin boy, sixteen year-old Telemaque.

1783

The first theatrical performance in Charleston after the British evacuation was held in the Exchange Building.

1800 – Slavery

 A law was passed making it more difficult to emancipate slaves. Also passed was “An Act Respecting Slaves, Free Negroes, Mulattoes and Mestizoes” which permitted blacks to gather for religious worship only after the “rising of the sun and before the going down of the same … a majority [of the congregation] shall be white persons.”

Perhaps thinking that the “Christianization [sic] of the city’s black labor force would have a stabilizing effect,”  the white authorities ignored late night church meetings among all black congregations for many years.

1826

The South Carolina Jockey Club was formed.

1860 – Secession

On this day, a secession convention meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, unanimously adopted an ordinance dissolving the connection between South Carolina and the United States of America.

Click here to read the Charleston Mercury’s account of secession. 

The convention had been called by the governor and legislature of South Carolina once Lincoln’s victory was assured. Delegates were elected on December 6, 1860, and the convention convened on December 17. Its action made South Carolina the first state to secede. 

A teenager named Augustus Smythe procured a seat in the balcony of Charleston’s South Carolina Institute Hall on the night of December 20, 1860.  Over the next three hours Smythe watched the members of the South Carolina legislature sign the Ordinance of Secession, officially removing the state of South Carolina from the Union and establishing an independent republic, ultimately called the Confederate States of America. The raucous celebration after that historic event spilled into the Charleston streets, with men whooping, drinking whiskey and shooting pistols in the air. Smythe had the calm foresight to make his way through the crowd to the stage and remove the inkwell and pen which had been used to sign the Ordinance. These items today are in the collection at the Confederate Museum, housed in Market Hall on Meeting Street.

secssion images

Upon the signing of the Ordinance of Secession, all the church bells in Charleston began to ring. James Petigru asked a passerby, “Where’s the fire?” The man responded, “Mr. Petigru, there is no fire; those are the joy bells in honor of the passage of the Ordinance of Secession.”

 Petigru responded, “I tell you there is a fire. They have this day set a blazing torch to the temple of constitutional liberty, and please God, we shall have no more peace forever.” Late in the day, Petigru was again asked about secession and famously remarked, “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.”