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The Real Cause of the Civil War -- and where we are now

Unca Walt

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Most Americans today have a romanticized (and extraordinarily narrow) historical understanding of the conflict that we call the Civil War.

In their imaginations, it goes something like this: With passions inflamed by a moral renaissance in the North regarding the institution of slavery in the South, the two sides decided to go to war over the issue. In the end, the evil South was righteously razed by the armies of the North, and thus, slavery was ended, and the former slaves made American citizens, as Abraham Lincoln intended.

The initial salvo which began this cold war did not actually occur in 1832, but in 1828. The federal government issued new tariffs which were, by design, both harmful to the South and beneficial to Northern producers. A tariff of nearly 49-percent was issued on nearly all imported goods. The consequence was not only that Northern industries were protected by artificially pricing European competitors out of the market, but agrarian Southern economies were double-struck by being required to pay more for goods they had previously imported and the reduction in European trade meant less money for Europeans to compete for Southern cotton. And to make matters worse, there was fear in the South of retaliatory tariffs from Europe which would further harm commerce. Understandably, this came to be known in the South as the Tariff of Abominations, and it led to the 1832 Nullification Crisis.

South Carolina threatened to secede, but armed conflict was avoided (and bitter resentment assured) by the 1833 passage of both the Force Bill and the Compromise Tariff, which gave the federal government to right to militarily enforce tariffs and lowered the tariff rates, respectively.

It was this question which was at the heart of this constitutional crisis, “a bedrock question,” writes Robert Selph Henry in The Story of the Confederacy, “going to the very nature of government… The fundamental question of the relation of the states to the government they had created.”


Unca's Add To The Above: The construction of the Erie Canal -- which solely benefited the North -- was being paid for by the tariffs on the Southern states. This led to the rallying cry (never heard of any more) of "States Rights" as the reason for secession.
 

jimswift

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The Significance of the Historic Secession Oak in Downtown Bluffton
By: Megan Reilly

Secession Oak2.jpg


The Secession Oak played a key role in the formation of the Bluffton Movement in the 1840s. The oak, which is located in Old Town Bluffton on what was John Verdier’s plantation, served as a meeting place for local activists. It was under this tree where Robert Rhett gave his speech demanding that action be taken against the tariff and where many were inspired to contribute to what would become the Confederate cause. It was here that the seed for secession was planted (Rowland, 1996). Throughout the war, the Secession Oak was an emblem for the soldiers and leaders of the Lowcountry.

“The Bluffton Movement” began as a political stance against the Federal Government, opposing the Tariff Bill of 1842. This bill significantly raised the average tariff rates and impacted the trading economy along the coast. Lowcountry plantation owners became agitated with tariff laws and disputes over states’ rights. On July 31st, 1844, a group of local planters, including Squire William Pope, George Edward, James Kirk, and Heyward Hamilton, organized a dinner party to welcome home their representative in Congress and to discuss their growing conflicts with the Federal Government. Planters, led by Edmund Rhett, also came from Beaufort (Rowland, 1996). The event had been planned by a committee that included Pope and Kirk, along with Benjamin Scott, George Stoney, William Wigg, Thomas Drayton, and Burrell Wiggins (Cantrell, 1988).

Despite the previous days’ rain, about 500 people attended, including US Congressman Robert Rhett. That evening, Rhett spoke fervently about the need to protect the state’s “sovereignty” and introduced some of his more radical ideas. The implication of his speech was, “either nullification...or secession” (Bluffton Historical Preservation Society, 1983, p. 9). No imported food was served at the dinner in an effort to protest the high tariffs. During the meeting, men wore badges of palmetto leaves to signify their resistance (Davis, 2001). That night, Rhett toasted the idea of an 1845 state convention by drawing a parallel to the American Revolution saying “May it be as useful as the Convention of 1776” (Davis, 2001, pg 200).

Eventually the ideas of Rhett and other “fire-eaters” began to take off. This group of men, called the Bluffton Boys, were known for their more extreme views and their willingness to secede or even go to war. When this group was founded, they received much criticism. However, as the situation in Washington deteriorated and the debate over the annexation of Texas as a slave state continued, the ideas of the Bluffton Boys gained acceptance. The death of John C. Calhoun in 1850 also allowed the ideas of the Bluffton Boys to spread. Without the opposition of Calhoun’s more conservative views, the radical views of Rhett and other fire-eaters thrived and eventually influenced the secession of South Carolina. (Fulgham, 2012)

Those present at the Secession Oak dinner were joined by other supporters of the Bluffton Movement, including John McQueen, William Colcock, Whitemarsh Seabrook, and James Hammond (Fulgham, 2012). The Bluffton Boys played significant roles in South Carolina’s politics and the road to secession, serving as governors and congressmen. Edmund Rhett, Robert’s brother, served as mayor of Beaufort and, along with Colcock, was a director of the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. This railroad was essential to Confederate troops as it provided transportation of supplies and reinforcement troops (Fulgham, 2012). Many of the men at the Secession Oak meeting eventually lost their homes in the burning of Bluffton, including Pope, Drayton, and Wiggins (Bluffton Historic Preservation Society, 1983, map).

Thomas Drayton was an influential Bluffton Boy who went on to play an active role in the war. Drayton owned a plantation on Hilton Head and a summer home in Bluffton and served as president of the Charleston and Savannah Railroad during its construction. During the war, Drayton became a Brigadier General and was a commander during the Battle of Port Royal. Drayton’s brother Percival also had a role in the war, but as a Union ship Commander. Percival was in charge of the USS Pocahontas and fired on Thomas’s troops stationed at Fort Walker on Hilton Head (Wise, 2015).

Robert Rhett was an essential figure in the Bluffton Movement and influenced the war in South Carolina. He became a politician and was elected attorney general for South Carolina. He was later elected to the 25th Congress in 1836 by a margin of 133 votes and went on to serve six terms. Fellow Bluffton Boy Governor Seabrook backed him in his successful bid as US Senator in 1850 after the death of his nemesis, John C. Calhoun (Davis, 2001). While in Washington, Rhett advocated for states’ rights and strongly opposed the tariffs, which harmed the business of many of his Lowcountry constituents. He resigned from his duties in Congress in 1852 and returned to the Lowcountry. Rhett was a delegate for the South Carolina Secession Convention in 1860, as well as a delegate to the Confederate Provisional Congress. The fire-eater said South Carolina could be a “light upon a hill” and a beacon for lovers of the constitution and the rights of the people (Davis, 2001, pg 200). Rhett was also influential through his newspaper The Charleston Mercury, of which his son Robert Rhett, Jr. was the editor.

While many would assume the Civil War was based on the desire to continue slavery, this is not necessarily the case. To many in the Lowcountry, the war represented a movement against oppressive laws and tariffs and a fight to maintain states’ rights. Although Rhett’s ideas were seen as premature, they inspired many young fire-eaters and were instrumental in South Carolina’s path to secession. As Janice Hunter Cantrell noted, “History tends to show that ‘The Bluffton Movement’ did not subside but was a strong catalyst among the forces which brought about the secession of South Carolina on December 20, 1860” (Cantrell, 1988, pg 12). The Secession Oak witnessed the birth of the Bluffton Movement and the rise of influential leaders of South Carolina.

Bibliography
Bluffton Historical Preservation Society, Inc. “The Bluffton Movement and the Secession Oak.” A Short History of the Early Days of Bluffton, South Carolina. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina: Bluffton Historical Preservation Society, Inc. 1983.

Cantrell, Janice Hunter. “The Bluffton Movement.” No. II: A Longer Short History of Bluffton, South Carolina and its Environs. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina: Bluffton Historical Preservation Society, Inc. 1988.

Davis, William C. Rhett: The Turbulent Life and Times of a Fire-eater. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. 2001.

Fulgham, Jeff. The Bluffton Expedition: The Burning of Bluffton, South Carolina, During the Civil War. 2012.

Rowland, Lawrence S., Alexander Moore, and George C. Rogers, Jr. The History of Beaufort South Carolina, Volume 1, 1514-1861. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. 1996.

Wise, Stephen R. and Lawrence S. Rowland. Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861- 1893: The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Volume 2. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. 2015.
 

jimswift

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Follow-up about the tree.....
Read more at: https://www.islandpacket.com/news/local/article249209400.html#storylink=cpy


A historic Bluffton oak tree, where the early seeds of South Carolina’s secession movement took root, has fallen.

Earlier this month, the oak, weathered by age, collapsed during a heavy storm —


Billy Watterson, the owner of Bluffton’s new Burnt Church Distillery, secured one of the oak tree’s large branches after its collapse. In exchange for the branch, Watterson donated $10,000 to the Bluffton Historic Foundation.

Watterson plans to build a large table for the distillery’s main hall using the wood from the branch. The table will be named “The Witness,” carved with historical iconography and “used as a voice for the Black men and women in the community,” he said.

The irony of taking a tree known for its Confederate and secessionist past and using it to recognize Black history is not lost on Watterson. “We know about the Secession Oak, and we know the history of the ‘fire-breathers’ that led to the [Bluffton] Movement,” he said.

“We’re aware of those things, but we never got to hear the other side of that.” Watterson said he was struck by the fact that on National Freedom Day, Feb. 1, a day that celebrates the outlaw of slavery in America, a tree “with so many negative connotations” collapsed.

“That tree has fallen, and what it stood for is no more,” he said. Watterson said he hopes to change the narrative of the tree and use it to “speak the truth.”
 

edsl48

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The Democrats now seemingly want to destroy all remenants and momnuments of the Confederacy. Interestingly though it was their party that was basically the makup of the Confederacy. Perhaps one might think that the Democrats are somehow ashamed of their past and in divide and conquor strategy now blame white people for the problem yet the problem was them.
 

Unca Walt

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That’s very telling.
Doggone right, muj.

I would bet a Krugerrand that I could stop 100 people on the street and ask them if they knew why Georgia seceeded. Not one would know that the North was strangling the agricultural South with crooked, dishonest IMPERIAL DECREES <-- just like the fuckin' Yankees today with their "mandates-to-make-more-money".
 

ZZZZZ

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One of the Founding Fathers' greatest oversights was not including a provision in the constitution for a state to peacefully leave the union. Or to kick any state out, too.
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Casey Jones

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Doggone right, muj.

I would bet a Krugerrand that I could stop 100 people on the street and ask them if they knew why Georgia seceeded. Not one would know that the North was strangling the agricultural South with crooked, dishonest IMPERIAL DECREES <-- just like the fuckin' Yankees today with their "mandates-to-make-more-money".
Never bet against the ignorance and stupidity of the average voter.
 

Casey Jones

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One of the Founding Fathers' greatest oversights was not including a provision in the constitution for a state to peacefully leave the union. Or to kick any state out, too.
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Yes, but that doesn't mean we have to wait for our Great White Fathers in CON-gress to give it to us.

Knaves, slaves and chattel, ask permisson for their liberties. A free MAN, with a stick, sickle or shotgun...DEMANDS.
 

ZZZZZ

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Yes, but that doesn't mean we have to wait for our Great White Fathers in CON-gress to give it to us.

Knaves, slaves and chattel, ask permisson for their liberties. A free MAN, with a stick, sickle or shotgun...DEMANDS.

I agree. I was just pointing out that it was an oversight.

New Hampshire seems likely to be the first. (Too damned cold for me, though summer and fall are awesome. :D )

Rindge state representative wants New Hampshire to secede

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.
 

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One of the Founding Fathers' greatest oversights was not including a provision in the constitution for a state to peacefully leave the union. Or to kick any state out, too.
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Most of them thought that the 10th Amendment covered it. But then they also thought, or at least hoped, that the central government would be constrained by the Constitution's text. They were wrong.
 

Casey Jones

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Most of them thought that the 10th Amendment covered it. But then they also thought, or at least hoped, that the central government would be constrained by the Constitution's text. They were wrong.
Remember, though, Franklin's comments at the close of the Constitutional Convention:

Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.

And here we are.

It was more than a "course of years" - it was nearly 250, right in line with the lifespan of other great powers.

Well, the People have become so corrupted, that they want and demand despotism.