May 23, 1788 – South Carolina Joins the Union As the 8th State

On this day in history, South Carolina ratified the U.S. Constitution, becoming the eighth state to enter the American Union. The original colony, named Carolina after King Charles I, had been divided in 1710 into South Carolina and North Carolina.

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Slave owners had more control over the state government of South Carolina than of any other state, and in 1820, the legislature ended personal manumissions, requiring all slaveholders to gain individual permission from the legislature before freeing even family members.

Also in the 1820s, South Carolinian John C. Calhoun developed the theory of nullification, by which a state could reject any federal law it considered to be a violation of its rights.

Still, it wasn’t enough. South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860, the first of the Southern states to do so. Basically, South Carolina was incensed over the threat to the institution of slavery, according to its Declaration of Secession:

…the non-slaveholding States … have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of Slavery; they have permitted the open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”

You can read the entire Declaration by South Carolina here.

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After the end of the Civil War and the brief period of Reconstruction in which the North tried to enforce black rights, South Carolina once again renewed the effort to strip blacks of their freedom. The federal Civil Rights laws of the 1960s finally but only theoretically ended segregation and protected the voting rights of African Americans. South Carolina is among the group of states attempting to take advantage of the Supreme Court decision striking down the Voting Rights Act.

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Among the famous citizens hailing from South Carolina, one of the best known political figures is Strom Thurmond, who, in 1954, became the first US senator elected by write-in vote. Thurmond famously opposed civil rights for African Americans, stating in 1948:

… all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement.”

In opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957, he conducted the longest filibuster ever by a lone senator, at 24 hours and 18 minutes in length, nonstop. In the 1960s, he opposed the civil rights legislation of 1964 and 1965 to end segregation and enforce the constitutional rights of African-American citizens, including suffrage.

Six months after Thurmond died in 2003, his mixed-race, grown daughter Essie Mae Washington-Williams revealed that he was her father.

Sen. Strom Thurmond, Republican from South Carolina

Sen. Strom Thurmond, Republican from South Carolina

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