Inaugural Address of Governor Pickens

Transcription of Primary Source

Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:

You have called me to preside as Chief Magistrate of South Carolina at a critical juncture in our public affairs. I deeply feel the responsibilities of the position I am about to assume. For seventy-three years this State has been connected by a Federal compact with co-states under a bond of Union, for great national objects common to all. In recent years there has been a powerful party organized upon principles of ambition and fanaticism, whose undisguised purpose is to divest the Federal Government from external, and turn its power upon the internal interests and domestic institutions of these States. They have thus combined a party exclusively in the Northern States, whose avowed objects, not only endanger the peace, but the very existence of near one-half the States of this Confederacy. And in the recent election for President and Vice-President of these States, they have carried the election upon principles that make it no longer safe for us to rely upon the powers of the Federal Government or the guarantees of the Federal compact. This is the great overt act of the people of in the Northern States at the ballot box, in the exercise of their sovereign power at the polls, from which there is no higher appeal recognized under our system of government in its ordinary and habitual operations. They thus propose to inaugurate a Chief Magistrate at the head of the Army and Navy with vast powers, not to preside over the common interests and destinies of all the States alike, but upon issues of malignant hostility and uncompromising war to be urged upon the rights, the interests and the peace of half the States of this Union.

In the Southern States there are two entirely distinct and separate races, and one has been held in subjection to the other by peaceful inheritance from worthy and patriotic ancestors, and all who know the races, well know that it is the only form of government that can preserve both and administer the blessings of civilization with order and in harmony. Any thing tending to change or weaken this government and the subordination between the races not only endangers the peace, but the very existence of our society itself. We have for years warned the Northern people of the dangers they were producing by their wanton and lawless course. We have often appealed to our sister States of the South to act with us in concert upon some firm and moderate system by which we might be able to save the Federal Constitution, and yet feel safe under the general compact of union; but we could obtain no fair hearing from the North, nor could we see any concerted plan, proposed by any of our co-States of the South, calculated to make us feel safe and secure.

Under all these circumstances, we now have no alternative left but to interpose our sovereign power as an independent State, to protect the rights and ancient privileges of the people of South Carolina. This State was one of the original parties to the Federal compact of union. We agreed to it, as a State, under peculiar circumstances; when we were surrounded with great external pressure, for purposes of national protection and to advance the interests and general welfare of all the States equally and Alike; and when it ceased to do this, it is no longer a perpetual union. It would be an absurdity to suppose it was a perpetual union for our ruin. The Constitution is a compact between co-States and not with the Federal Government.

On questions vital, and involving the peace and safety of the parties to the compact, from the very nature of the instrument each State must judge of the mode and measure of protection necessary for her peace and the preservation of her local and domestic institutions, South Carolina will therefore decide for herself, and will, as she has a right to do, assume her original powers of government as an Independent State, and as such, will negotiate with other powers, such treaties, leagues or covenants, as she may deem proper.  I think I am not assuming too much when I say that our interests will lead her to open her ports free to the tonnage and trade of all nations, reserving to herself the right to discriminate only against those who may be our public enemies. She has fine harbors, accessible to foreign commerce, and she is in the centre of those extensive agricultural productions, that enter so largely into the foreign trade and commerce of the world; and from the basis of those comforts in food and clothing so essential to the artizans and mechanic laborers in higher latitudes, and which are so essential to the prosperity and success of manufacturing capital in the North and in Europe.

I therefore may safely say it is for the benefit of all who may be interested in commerce, in manufactories, and in the comforts of artizans and mechanic labor everywhere, to make such speedy and peaceful arrangements with us as may advance the interests and happiness of all concerned.  There is one thing certain, and I think it due to the country to say so in advance, that South Carolina is resolved to assert her separate independence; and, as she acceded separately to the compact of union, so she will, most assuredly, secede separately and alone, be the consequences what they may. And I think it right to say, with no unkind feelings whatever, that, on this point, there can be no compromise, let it be offered from where it may. The issues are too grave and too momentous to admit of any counsel that looks to anything but direct and straightforward independence.

In the present emergency, the firmest and most decided measures are the safest and wisest.  To our sister States, who are identified with us in interest and in feeling, we will cordially and kindly look for co-operation and for a future union, but it must be after we have asserted and resumed our original and inalienable rights and powers of sovereignty and independence. We can then form a government with them, having a common interest with peoples of homogeneous feelings, united together by all the ties that can bind States in one common destiny. From the position we may occupy towards the Northern States, as well as from our own internal structure of society, the government may, from necessity, become strongly military in its organization.

When we look back upon the inheritance that we, as a State, have had in the common glories and triumphant power of this wonderful confederacy, no language can express the feelings of the human heart, as we turn from the contemplation and sternly look to the great future that opens before us. It is our sincere desire to separate from the States of the North in peace, and leave them to develope their own civilization to their own sense of duty and of interest. But if, under the guide of ambition and fanaticism, they decide otherwise, then be it so. We are prepared for any event, and, in humble reliance upon that Providence who presides over the destinies of men and nations, we will endeavor to do our duty faithfully, bravely, and honestly. I am now ready to take the oath of office and swear undivided allegiance to South Carolina.

Curator Notes

Probable Date: 
December 21, 1860
Place of Publication: 
Washington, DC
American Antiquarian Society
Catalog Code: