The End Will, Of Course, Be Secession Or Revolution

Saturday, November 17, 1860

The demonstrations and flag waving continued in Charleston. It was reported by telegraph to Northern newspapers that the “flags were increasing bravely.” The paper continued, “In fact, so rapidly have representations of the Palmetto and ‘Lone Stars’ made their appearance on our thoroughfares, that we have been unable to keep up with them.”

Even so, new flags were spotted at the Mercury building (blue with a star for each southern state and read: Southern Confederacy), the railroad depot (a palmetto flag – three guns were fired in honor of it), the fire company (three large stars with “Semper Parati” [Always Prepared] written upon it) and the theater.

The latter was “made out of the finest fabric. It is composed of three stripes, blue, white and red.–The blue and red ground each bears a star. –On the white stands a Palmetto, resting on two bales of cotton. Above the tree is a large brilliant star, which represents South Carolina. Underneath the tree is the following apothegm, Dieuet Nos Droits [God and Our Rights].”

Also, another Liberty pole made an appearance. This one was in front of the Charleston Hotel. The palmetto flag was raised upon it. “The pole was made of Carolina pine, one hundred feet high, and surmounted by the cap of liberty. Cables were stretched across the streets to prevent the passage of vehicles. There was a dense crowd, extending over two squares on Meeting street.”1

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Though there were militias of Minute Men forming all across the South, governors calling for secession and United States senators resigning, things may not have been so organized in Washington DC.

The Philadelphia Press reported:

Mr. Buchanan and his Cabinet seem to fold their hands and agree that there is nothing to prevent a revolutionary secession. There is a general submission to the scandalous idea that a State may peacefully secede from the Union. The question now arrises whether this acquiescence grows out of a desire to avoid responsibility, or to looste it upon the incoming Administration. Attourney General Black is much depressed, and the President throws up his hands in despair. He would like to deny the right of a State to secede, for this is his belief, but he hesitates to do so on account of his long and intimate connection with the Southern politicians. The end will, of course, be secession or revolution.

That may well have been true. President Buchanan set Attorney General Jeremiah Sullivan Black to the task of figuring out if this secession business was legal and constitutional. He asked him five questions:

1. In case of a conflict between the authorities of any State and those of the United States, can there be any doubt that the laws of the Federal Government, if constitutionally passed, are supreme ?
2. What is the extent of my official power to collect the duties on imports at a port where the revenue laws are resisted by a force which drives the collector from the custom house ?
3. What right have I to defend the public property (for instance, a fort, arsenal and navy yard), in case it should be assaulted ?
4. What are the legal means at my disposal for executing those laws of the United States which are usually administered through the courts and their officers?
5. Can a military force be used for any purpose whatever under the Acts of 1795 and 1807, within the limits of a State where there are no judges, marshal or other civil officers ?2

He would get his answers in a few short days.



  1. All reported from the Richmond Daily Dispatch, November 19, 1860. []
  2. From The Life of James Buchanan: Fifteenth President of the United States, Volume 2 by George Ticknor Curtis, Harper & Brothers, 1883. []
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The End Will, Of Course, Be Secession Or Revolution by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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