Secession Again?

By Paul Gable

An unpopular (in some regions) candidate wins a close election in a sharply divided country to serve as president over the next four years. Sounds like a good reason for secession.


No, 2012, but, once again the secession beat is being heard in South Carolina and thoughts of James L. Petigru come to mind.

Elements in the state are trying to revisit history as new petitions to secede from the Union emerged on the White House website over the weekend following the presidential election.

The White House allows citizens to submit and sign public petitions. If 25,000 signatures are accumulated in one month, a White House spokesman will comment on the issue.

Reportedly, over 9,000 signatures were collected in the first 48 hours of the petitions’ existence. The groups have until December 10, 2012 to collect the total of 25,000 signatures.

Presuming the required number of signatures is collected by the deadline, we will have 1860 all over again. Well, not really, although the Obama administration might be tempted to see South Carolina go.

A petition for secession by Texas has already collected the required number of signatures. Presumably we will hear a statement from the White House in the coming days.

Here’s a chance to reverse a mistake even older, but don’t count on it.

None of this has the gravity of the crisis that engulfed the U.S. after the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860. But, it is ever interesting to see groups who don’t get their own way on the national political scene be quick to bring up the secession issue.

It’s kind of the political equivalent of, ‘if I don’t get my own way, I’ll take my ball and go home.’

Which bring us to the subject of James L. Petigru.

The son of an Abbeville farmer, Petigru graduated from South Carolina College in 1809 and was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1812. He was elected solicitor of Abbeville County in 1816 and S.C. Attorney General in 1822.

However, it is Petigru’s quintessential statement on South Carolina after the December 1860 secession that is most appropriate today. Speaking of the frenzied political atmosphere Petigru said, “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.”

Petigru was a loyal South Carolinian but also a brilliant legal and political mind. While a supporter of neither the leaders of the federal government nor the nascent Republic of South Carolina, Petigru supported the Union because he was farsighted enough to understand the alternative.

So, as the newest petition for secession awaits signatures on the White House website, South Carolina again appears in a state of suspension between republic and asylum.

Where is James L. Petigru when you need him?


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