Monday, December 17, 1860
South Carolina’s Secession Convention met in the Baptist Church in Columbia to open arguments for the state to leave the Union. It was a virtual who’s who of South Carolinian aristocracy. Ninety percent of the 159 delegates in attendance were slave owners (with the majority owning twenty or more).1
The day before the convention, rumors of a smallpox epidemic were spreading. The morning of, a heavy fog coated the city, draping it in a fitting gloom. Due to more and more substantiated rumors, members of the legislature were leaving the city along with its residents. It was hoped that the legislature as well as the Secession Convention could be moved to Charleston.
Nevertheless, the Convention began at noon with David Jamison, a judge, being named temporary chairman. Due to the smallpox scare – there were rumors that the pox came to South Carolina in a box of contaminated rags from New York – the Convention adjourned until evening.2
At 7pm, they met again in the Baptist Church to vote upon a President for the Convention. After several votes, temporary chairman Jamison won the seat.
He took the pulpit, imploring God to help them. He reminded the delegates (who hardly needed reminding) that they should be determined “to throw off a Government to which we have been accustomed, and to provide new safeguards for our future security.”
South Carolina’s former Governor, James H. Adams, introduced representatives from Alabama and Mississippi. Both made speeches explaining that they were there on the authority of their own Governors (and thus people).
The first order of business was assigning a committee of 21 to write the actual Orders of Secession. This accomplished, it was proposed that the Convention adjourn for the evening, meeting the next day at 4pm in Charleston due to the smallpox outbreak. This was the first debate of the day. It was argued by some that this action might be seen as timidity by other states. Others refused to leave Columbia until the state had officially left the Union.
Even so, the motion to move the Convention to Charleston was carried. They would meet the next day, 110 miles southeast, in Charleston.3
Newly-elected Governor Francis Pickens was inaugurated in Columbia’s Hall of Representatives. His address left no doubt about his views – he was a secessionist.