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South Carolina Reclaims Judicial and Legislative Power from the Federal Government
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Shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s election as president in November 1860, secessionists in South Carolina demanded a convention to remove the state from the United States. South Carolina’s secession convention assembled in Columbia on December 17, 1860, but fearing an outbreak of smallpox there, they reassembled in Charleston from December 18 to January 5, 1861. On December 20, they passed a secession ordinance.

[SECESSION]. SOUTH CAROLINA COMMITTEE ON THE CONSTITUTION. Printed Document, “An Ordinance Concerning Judicial Powers” and “An Ordinance Concerning powers lately vested in the Congress of the United States,” Charleston, South Carolina, [ca. December 26, 1860]. 3 pp., 8¼ x 13¾ in.

Inventory #24671.02       Price: $1,500


That the judicial power heretofore delegated by this State, so as to form a part of the judicial power of the United States, having reverted to this State, shall be exercised by such courts as the General Assembly shall direct.[1]

That all powers, which by this State, were heretofore delegated to the Congress of the United States, shall be vested in the General Assembly: Except that during the existence of this Convention, the power of the General Assembly shall not extend, without the directions of this Convention, to either of these subjects, to wit: duties and imposts, the post office, the declaration of war, treaties, confederacy with other states, and[2]

Historical Background

A thirteen-member Committee on the Constitution of the State considered a variety of issues related to severing the state from the federal union. After deliberation, Chairman David L. Wardlaw (1799-1873) reported these proposed ordinances on December 26. The convention debated and passed versions of them on December 31.

These ordinances in effect only until the formation of the Confederacy with its own constitution and laws. South Carolina ratified the Confederate Constitution on April 3, 1861, and repealed or amended ordinances that conflicted with it the following day. The Convention specifically repealed these two ordinances “so far as they are inconsistent with the Constitution of the Confederate States of America.”[3]


Fire damage to center fold, with text loss on page 1 and page 3.


A shorter version of “An Ordinance Concerning Judicial Powers” is listed as Item 3783 in T. Michael Parrish and Robert M. Willingham Jr.’s Confederate Imprints: A Bibliography of Southern Publications from Secession to Surrender (1984).

[1] This excerpt is the entire text of the ordinance as eventually passed, but the proposed ordinance offered here goes on for twenty-one more lines, bestowing substantial admiralty and maritime jurisdiction on the City Court of Charleston and adopting laws for defining and punishing crimes against the U.S. as applicable to South Carolina.

[2] This printed text ends in mid-sentence with “and”; the ordinance as passed ended “Citizenship and Treason.”

[3] Ordinances and Constitution of the State of South Carolina, with the Constitution of the Provisional Government and of the Confederate States of America (Charleston, SC: Evans & Cogswell, 1861), 28.

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