First Wednesdays: Secession

The actions of the Lincoln administration in April 1861, which called for troops after Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter and the establishment of a blockade of Southern ports, solidified North Carolinian’s opinions for secession.  North Carolina newspapers that had been pro-Unionist became Secessionist.  Governor John W. Ellis took immediate action by ordering the seizure of federal Forts Caswell, Johnston and Macon, the federal arsenal at Fayetteville and the federal mint in Charlotte.  He also authorized the seizure of any federal vessels in North Carolina waters.  Ellis called for military volunteers and promised the Confederate Secretary of War as many as ten thousand volunteers.  On April 17, only two days after President Lincoln’s call for troops, Ellis convened a special session of the General Assembly for May 1, 1861.

The General Assembly acted rapidly.  They did not offer a provision for a popular referendum, but set an unrestricted convention to decide the secession question.  The Assembly then set the state on a sound military footing by making appropriations to supply and organize a fighting army.  Convention delegates were elected on May 13.

On May 20, 1861 the convention assembled with 120 delegates.  Although representing a mix of political backgrounds, they were singular in the pursuit of secession.  While all agreed that secession was the goal, they disagreed on how to secede.  For the final declaration of secession there were two theories: the right of revolution and the right of secession.  The convention unanimously adopted the resolution based on the right of secession understanding that the right of revolution denied the right of secession.  Within an hour of adopting the secession resolution the convention ratified the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States of America.

Based on History of North Carolina by Hugh T. Lefler

North Carolina Secession Ordinance, May 20, 1861

You can purchase a copy of the Secession Ordinance at Historical Publications.

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