(1844). On July 31, 1844, under a large oak tree (the “Secession Oak”) in Bluffton, South Carolina, the first organized political movement with the express goal of South Carolina’s independent secession from the Union was born. The “Bluffton Movement,” as it became known, was a call to secession if the South was not guaranteed its rights to slavery, a lower tariff, and states’ rights.
Aggrieved by the Tariff of 1842 and the refusal of Congress to annex Texas, St. Luke’s Parish planters formed a committee and called for a meeting of individuals and their local congressman, Robert Barnwell Rhett, to speak about these issues that had plagued the South since the 1820s. Invitations were sent to nearby parishes, prominent men, and area newspapers (including those in Charleston and Savannah). At this dinner and others to follow, Rhett, a longtime nullifier and disunionist, attempted to rally support for a state convention. He hoped such a convention would nullify the Tariff of 1842 or urge South Carolina’s immediate secession from the Union. These measures were considered by most, both within and outside of the state, as being extremely radical.
St. Luke’s Parish planters (dubbed the “Bluffton Boys”) took the lead in agitating for “nullification or secession” throughout the state, drawing additional support from such prominent political figures as James Henry Hammond, William Gilmore Simms, and George McDuffie. Their political ideology began the radical separatist policy that would eventually bring Rhett into national prominence as the chief spokesman for southern secession. In the short term, however, the movement’s extreme platform lost momentum quickly. The movement attracted few followers outside of the Beaufort region, due in large measure to John C. Calhoun’s opposition to the movement and its goals. Other Blufftonites were appeased by a compromise tariff passed by Congress in 1846 and the annexation of Texas as a slave state. The ideological descendants of the Bluffton Movement, however, would reappear in the secession crisis of the early 1850s and in the eventual withdrawal of South Carolina from the Union in December 1860.
Boucher, Chauncey. “The Annexation of Texas and the Bluffton Movement in South Carolina.” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 6 (June 1919): 3–33.
Faust, Drew Gilpin. James Henry Hammond and the Old South: A Design for Mastery. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982.
Rowland, Lawrence S., Alexander Moore, and George C. Rogers. The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina. Vol. 1, 1514–1861. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.