Date of Award

12-2008

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

History

Advisor

Anderson, Paul C

Committee Member

Andrew Jr. , Rod

Committee Member

Grubb , Alan

Abstract

This thesis examines the political culture and behavior in South Carolina during the secession crisis and first two years of the Civil War. Historians have analyzed antebellum politics in South Carolina but few recent attempts have been made to trace those issues to the larger narrative of state politics during the Civil War. I argue that serious political divisions existed in the Palmetto State during the sectional crisis over the proper method and procedure of secession. Once secession became a reality South Carolina politicians attempted to bury these differences for the sake of unity, but ultimately the pressures of war caused them to appear once again, thereby jeopardizing the harmony and unity that so many politicians in the state hoped for. Secession itself was an external revolution. Yet, another revolution occurred within the state as the war progressed. This internal revolution took the form of an Executive Council that essentially removed the governor of South Carolina from power. The entire experiment represented a decisive departure from the state's long political tradition and culture.
This study demonstrates that little agreement existed in South Carolina on the nature of the external revolution. The establishment of a southern confederacy was clearly the desired end, but the means to achieve this end differed widely in the state. More fundamentally, little unanimity existed on the nature of the proposed southern nation. South Carolina politicians could not come to an ideological agreement on what this revolution was about. Not only was South Carolina the only state in the Confederacy to seriously debate the merits of the Confederate Constitution, but it was the only state whose secession convention was still in existence two years after leaving the Union.
The result was a lengthy and bitter dispute over the sovereign powers of the convention. Because the actions of the Executive Council were extraordinary, they created an internal revolution within the state. This revolution moved in a direction that nobody quite anticipated. The constitutional functioning of state government was temporarily suspended to meet the exigencies of war. Since the council was a creature of the convention, many came to question the legitimacy of both the council and convention. Eventually the people of South Carolina reacted against them so that the state might return to 'constitutional government.'
Yet, for all the division and disagreement that existed, the Executive Council is not an indication of fleeting morale, willpower, or general disillusionment with the war. Instead, it is an expression of Confederate nationalism. The story of the convention and council indicate that South Carolinians were willing to temporarily sacrifice many of their political and cultural values to achieve independence.

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