On December 20, 1860, a South Carolina convention issued an ordinance of secession, and on Christmas Eve of that same year, the people and the legislature of South Carolina adopted the resolution, approving the Palmetto State’s separation from the union.
In that document, South Carolina pointed to the “frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the federal government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the states” as justification for its departure. Then, citing the Declaration of Independence (as do many of the secession petitions filed recently on the White House’s “We, the People” web page), the document declares, “Whenever any ‘form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government.’”
The declaration then goes on to rehearse the history of the formation of the union in 1787, arguing that South Carolina retained her sovereign right of self-defense should the federal government ever violate the compact entered into in Philadelphia in 1787. It argued:
In 1787, Deputies were appointed by the States to revise the Articles of Confederation, and on 17th September, 1787, these Deputies recommended for the adoption of the States, the Articles of Union, known as the Constitution of the United States.
The parties to whom this Constitution was submitted, were the several sovereign States; they were to agree or disagree, and when nine of them agreed the compact was to take effect among those concurring; and the General Government, as the common agent, was then invested with their authority.
If only nine of the thirteen States had concurred, the other four would have remained as they then were — separate, sovereign States, independent of any of the provisions of the Constitution. In fact, two of the States did not accede to the Constitution until long after it had gone into operation among the other eleven; and during that interval, they each exercised the functions of an independent nation.
By this Constitution, certain duties were imposed upon the several States, and the exercise of certain of their powers was restrained, which necessarily implied their continued existence as sovereign States. But to remove all doubt, an amendment was added, which declared that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people. On the 23d May, 1788, South Carolina, by a Convention of her People, passed an Ordinance assenting to this Constitution, and afterwards altered her own Constitution, to conform herself to the obligations she had undertaken.
Thus was established, by compact between the States, a Government with definite objects and powers, limited to the express words of the grant. This limitation left the whole remaining mass of power subject to the clause reserving it to the States or to the people, and rendered unnecessary any specification of reserved rights.
Constitutionally speaking, secession is an allowable response to federal overreaching. There is, however, a simpler, less drastic remedy. Nullification.
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