Today in Charleston, South Carolina, a “Secession Gala” will be held to mark the Sesquicentennial of South Carolina’s leaving the Union–or, as the event’s website describes it, to “celebrate the state of South Carolina for the second time becoming an independent nation.” The event is sponsored in part by the “Sons of Confederate Veterans” and what appear to be a variety of reenactment groups; the whole affair is organized by the Confederate Heritage Trust. The event’s website describes it as a fairly glamorous affair–black tie if you don’t come in period costume. There is no mention of slavery on the site.
To bring slavery back to the public eye, the NAACP will hold a protest march in response. It is altogether fitting and proper to do that. After all, the Gala will gleefully display the original Ordinance of Secession, but I saw no mention of the Declaration of Immediate Causes which was published four days later and spelled out, “in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding states,” the reasons why. They cited the Declaration of Independence as well as Article One and the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution guaranteeing them sovereignty, along with numerous other historical examples; in many ways it is quite well-reasoned, especially when we come to the core of their objections. They point out that many states have neglected their constitutional obligations to South Carolina, citing Article Four: “No person held to labor or service in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up to the party to whom such service or labor may be due.” South Carolina was citing laws made in the Northern states to protect fugitive slaves–and they were right, it was a violation of the Constitution to do so. As the last straw, South Carolina points out, the northern states “have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the Common Government because he has declared that that ‘government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free.'” In short, South Carolina argues, the Constitution was written to protect slavery and as it was now failing to do so, they had the right to dissolve it just like any other “political bands which have connected them with another.”
So yes, while tonight’s Secession Gala will not speak of slavery, slavery was absolutely in South Carolina’s mind, and it is good that the NAACP is here to remind us.
For my part I will just remind my readers that there will be a lot of such anniversaries coming up, and I encourage you all to reflect on the events as they roll by, remembering the horror of war as well as its most positive outcomes. In April it will be 150 years from Fort Sumter; in September of 2012, we will have the anniversary of the bloodiest day in American history, the Battle of Antietam, worse by far than September 11th or even Pearl Harbor. And on January 1st, 2013, it will be the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Mark the occasion somehow, when the day comes.
I am certain that President Obama will.