Lesson Plan: Overview

Secession: A Southern Perspective

Grade Level: 8th

Speech of Benjamin F. Perry at the Democratic National Convention in 1860.  Click here to go directly to the primary source!

Academic Standards


Standard 8-3: The Student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Civil War- its causes and effects and the major events that occurred during that time.

8-3.4 Compare the attitudes of the unionists, cooperationists, and secessionists in South Carolina and summarize the reasons that the members of the South Carolina secession convention in 1860 voted unanimously to secede from the Union, including concerns about states' rights and fears about abolition.
  8-3.6 Compare the effects of the Civil War on daily life in South Carolina, including the experiences of plantation owners, women, Confederate and Union soldiers, African Americans and children.

Historical Background Notes

The idea of secession is not new in the United States.  The right to secede at will was based upon the fact that each state was sovereign, becoming so by a successful revolt against England.  The treaty of 1783 recognized free, sovereign and independent states.  This sovereignty was also recognized in the Articles of Confederation and under the Constitution.  New states claimed all the rights of the old ones, having been admitted on equal standing.

Assertions of the right and necessity of secession were frequent from the beginning of America’s history.  New Englanders were constantly warning that national action unblessed by their approval would bring their withdrawal, (Roger, internet article).  One such threat of disunion was given if opposition to Hamilton’s plan was made by the Southern states over the Assumption Bill (Ellis 2001, 77, 80; Roger, internet article).  The acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase caused another series of threats by New Englanders in 1803 and again in 1811 on account of the proposed admission of Louisiana as a state.  The first serious discussion of secession from the United States was in 1814, at the Hartford Convention.  The then-five New England states met at Hartford, Connecticut to discuss the Massachusetts State Legislature’s proposal that New England secede from the Union, but the discussion did not result in action (Wikipedia, internet article).

As early as 1790, the idea of secession was also present in the South. These warnings were in response to talk of ending slavery (Ellis 2001, 105).  The Nullification Crisis of 1832 brought about another series of threats from the southern states.  This came in response to a national tariff which increased the prices that southern agriculturist paid for manufactured goods and threatened to undermine their foreign markets by inciting counter-protection that would hurt the economy of the staple-producing and exporting South. The nullification crises revealed that South Carolina would not tolerate any federal action that seemed contrary to their interest or raised doubts about the institution of slavery.  The nullifier’s philosophy implied the right of secession as well as the right to declare laws of Congress null and void (Divine 1982, 329, 331).  

By 1860, secession came to be generally accepted by the South as the only means of preserving its institutions from the interference of the North.  Those in favor of secession argued that the federal government was a union of states; as part of that union, the states had trusted that their rights would be respected.  Interfering with slavery went against the rights of the Southern states and was, therefore, unconstitutional.  Southern secessionists believed that the Declaration of Independence gave people the right to change their government when it no longer served them.

On the 20th of December 1860 at approximately 1:15 p.m., South Carolina passed unanimously the first Ordinance of Secession. Once they passed the ordinance, two other documents were written: Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union and The Address of the People of South Carolina.  “The first could be considered roughly equivalent to the ‘Declaration of Independence for South Carolina; and rested its case squarely on the threats of slavery.  The second document was a restatement of South Carolina’s view on the destruction of the Constitution by the North and the dangers facing the South as a minority section, and it concluded with the invitation to form ‘a Confederacy of Slaveholding States’.” (Edgar 1998, 355)

Southern diarist, Mary Boykin Chesnut presents one explanation for the separation; she writes in her diary, “we are divorced, North and South, because we have hated each other so.” She understood that once secession occurred, there was no turning back. She would support the southern cause and document events, ideas, and emotions throughout the Confederacy.  She began her Journal while she was in Alabama with her husband, James Chesnut, Jr., who was at Montgomery, helping found the new Confederate government.  Her first entry, dated February 18, 1861, deals with activities during the three months following Lincoln’s election and her husband’s immediate resignation from the United States Senate on Nov. 10, 1861.  She continued her writings throughout the Civil War, giving us her interpretation of events unfolding around her.  (Woodward 1981, 25)

Not all South Carolinians favored secession.  James Louis Petigru, a lawyer, politician, and ardent unionist (Ellis 1998, 415) saw the secession as ‘an awful foreboding of what is to come when the passions of the mob are let loose”.  His beloved South Carolina, he sighed, was “to small to be an (independent) republic and to large to be an insane asylum." (Petigru)  He was advanced in years by the time of the 1860 secession to take an active part in the political controversies; however, he strongly opposed disunion.  This was much more evident in his disapproval over the 1830-32 nullification difficulties, where he vigorously and eloquently opposed the doctrine of state veto.  He became a leader in the Union party, standing almost alone among his peers in his own state.

Benjamin F. Perry, also a politician, opposed the war as well.  In a speech at the National Democratic Convention at Charleston in 1860, Perry states, “that for thirty years I had tried to save the Union and that now the state was going to the devil and I was going with her. I wept like a child at her madness and folly and predicted that secession would prove the death knell of slavery”.  His union sentiments excluded him from office during the war. However, after the war he was appointed provisionary governor of the state and afterwards (elected senator) by those who had previously opposed him (Perry).

What did these ‘prominent individuals’ have in common?  They loved their state of South Carolina and did all they could to see it prosper.  However, they also had differing ideas of what role the federal government played in their own state.  To some, state rights were more important than the Union; others believed that working with the federal government was more advantageous.  Each individual had his own perspective or point of view when documenting the events happening around him.  This is what this lesson plan will deal with, ‘the bias of the individuals recording what was taking place around them and their feelings as these events unfolded’.

What is an ‘annotated citation’?  An annotated citation is a summary of the source’s main ideas.  The summaries can be full and well-developed or sketchy and very brief, but it should capture the most important idea.  The summaries can consist of one or two quoted sentences from the source — alerting the reader to the accuracy, quality, and relevance of that source. The idea is to show that the students have read and understood the source and that they thought enough about it to be able to pick out information and ideas that connect with what they want to say about the topic.

What is bias?  A bias is a prejudice in a general or specific sense, usually in the sense for having a predilection to one particular point of view or ideology. One is said to be biased if one is influenced by one's biases. A bias could, for example, lead one to accept or not accept the truth of a claim, not because of the strength of the claim itself, but because it does or does not correspond to one's own preconceived ideas.

For example, having an Americentric point of view (that is, the point of view of an American, in particular one from the US) is a bias, as is having a particular point of view of any other country.


  Primary Sources
  Carson, James Petigru, ed. Life, Letters, and Speeches of James Louis Petigru. Washington, D. C.: W. H. Lowdermilk & Co., 1920, pg. 290, 362, & 372.
  Constitutional Convention (1860-1862).  Ordinance of Secession, 1860.  Constitutional and Organic Papers.  S 131053.   South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.
  Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina.  Constitutional Convention (1860-1862).  S 131055.  South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.
  Perry, B.F., personal letter, September 1866. B.F. Perry Papers. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.
  Perry, Benjamin F., as quoted in Edgar, Walter. South Carolina, A History. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998,  324, 341.
  Speech, Dec. 1860. William King Easley Papers. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.
  Speech of B.F. Perry of South Carolina in the National Democratic Convention at Charleston, SC, 1860. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.
  Woodward, C. Vann, ed. Mary Chesnut's Civil War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981, pages 25, 84, 410, 789, & 814.
Secondary Sources
  Edgar, Walter. South Carolina, A The History. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.
  Ellis, J. Joseph. Founding Brothers, The Revolutionary Generation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2001.
  Divine, Robert A., T. H. Breen, George Fredrickson, and R. Hall Williams. The American Story. New York: Longman, 2002.
  Klos, Stanley L., ed. "James Lewis Petigru." Virtual American Biographies. 2000. Available at www.famousamericans.net/jameslewispetigru. Accessed 2004.
  Wikipedia. "Secession." Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secession.
  LCD projector

Lesson Plans

This lesson is divided into two days. It is designed for 45 minute class periods.

Teacher Reflections

The two lessons that I chose to create for the institute involve the time period when South Carolina decides to secede from the Union.   I think the hardest thing about the lessons was, not putting the day’s activity together as much as it was writing the historical background and collecting the primary sources that I was going to use.  In writing the background history, I wanted to accurately record the idea of secession that was in the minds of, not only the southern states but the New England states as well. Secession was not an idea distinctly found in the South and not just existing during the antebellum years, but it was a concept familiar within the states from its conception. After presenting the idea of secession, the next thing I wanted to do was give an explanation of why South Carolina felt the need to secede. And, then to show that not all Carolinians wanted to separate from the Union.  There were men like James Louis Petigru who did not support secession at all and tried to keep his state a part of the Union throughout his political career.  He did have a lot of influence during the Tariffs of 1832 that kept South Carolina in the Union, but was too old in 1860 to really make a difference in the decision to secede. In South Carolina there were also men like Benjamin Perry and James Orr who did not favor secession but were willing to support the state's decision. And, then there were those individuals like diarist, Mary Boykin Chesnut, who strongly favored secession.  My goal in writing the lessons was for two reasons.  The first was to explain to the students why most (it appears) southerners felt betrayed by the north and the election of Abraham Lincoln. The second reason was to show that the state was not in total agreement about secession.

I have learned a lot from the institute and will continue to develop lesson plans based on the format taken from it.  I believe that primary sources should be used whenever possible and that each cultural institution that we visited should be used to its fullest measure.  I would like to attend one of the institutes that will cover early American history, since this is the time period that dominates the first part of the school year. 

Student Assessments

Lesson 1: Informal assessment: discussion, participation in activities.

Lesson 1: Rubric for annotation

1 pt. for time period

1 pt. for important relation to South Carolina Seceding

1 pt. for a reason South Carolina chose to secede

1 pt. for 4 sentences

1 pt. for clear flow of ideas

Total: 5 points

Lesson 2: Questions completed in response to the excerpts of Mary Boykin Chesnut, James L. Petigru, Benjamin F. Perry, and William King Easley.

Lesson 2: Student short summaries supporting the individual's personal sentiments on secession will be evaluated through his defense of the historical figure’s viewpoint, including a clear argument and supporting material from the primary source.

Examples of Students Work

No examples available for this lesson plan.


Kim Breen
Northside Middle School, South Carolina