Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thoughts on Secession

We have arrived at secession week here in North Carolina. On May 20, North Carolina left the Union. But alas, I get ahead of myself and my story.

South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860, and was quickly followed by Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. North Carolina could not really decide what do, but managed to put together a call for a convention to consider the question and to elect delegates. The call for a convention was barely defeated. It is interesting how past historians put a spin on this – often writing how the majority of people in North Carolina were pro-Union. Well, that majority was extremely slim. Just 650 votes, less than one percent of the votes cast, kept North Carolina from holding a convention to consider secession.

So North Carolina settled into a wait-and-see stance for about six week or seven weeks.

That changed in April. Abraham Lincoln sent reinforcements to Fort Sumter, and before they could arrived, Confederate forces opened fire on the South Carolina fortification, compelling the garrison to surrender on April 13. Lincoln then issued his famous call for 75,000 militia to go into the Deep South states to deal with the rebellion. North Carolina Governor John W. Ellis denied Lincoln the use of North Carolina Troops, and ordered the Federal fortifications at Wilmington and Morehead City seized, along with the arsenal at Fayetteville. Ellis then called the general assembly into special session on April 17. On May 1, the General Assembly issued a call for a convention and the election of delegates. Some members also attempted to pass legislation that would require any act of the Convention to be ratified by the people, but this failed.

The General Assembly Act called for men to go to the polls on May 13 to elect 120 delegates, to meet in Raleigh on May 20. Those that met in Raleigh on May 20 fell into two categories: secessionists, who believed in the idea that a state could secede from the Union; and revolutionaries, those who denied the right of secession and believed that a state could only leave the Union by resorting to revolution.

Burton Craige, convention delegate from Rowan County, introduced the secession ordinance, which was unanimously adopted. The convention then adopted the Constitution of the Confederate States. On May 21, the delegates gathered and signed North Carolina’s ordinance of secession.

So, my question to you is this: was North Carolina the last state to secede from the Union? Here is the dilemma.

Virginia left the Union on April 17.
Arkansas on May 6.
Tennessee on May 7, and,
North Carolina on May 20.

However, both Virginia’s and Tennessee’s secession ordinances had to be ratified by the people (white male voters). Virginia’s secession ordinance was ratified on May 23, and Tennessee’s on June 8.

John G. Barrett and W. Buck Yearns wrote in North Carolina Civil War Documentary that “the Tar Heel State was the last to secede from the Union…” (xi)

A recent piece on DocSouth from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill proclaims that “North Carolina was the last Southern State to join the Confederacy.” (

I could go on and on with these sources. Tennessee and Arkansas claim the same thing.

What do you think? Was North Carolina the last state to secede, or do the public ratifications of the secession ordinances from Virginia and Tennessee bump us up the list?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, but really, those referendums were little more than lip service. The wheels were already well in motion in Virginia and Tennessee, without the consent of the people. Perhaps it would be better if they just said that North Carolina was the final state to secede. Otherwise, it gets a bit more prickly to explain.