The Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union was a legal proclamation issued on December 24, 1860, by the government of South Carolina, explaining its reasons for seceding from the United States. The actual ordinance of secession had been issued on December 20. The declaration was written by Christopher Memminger.
The opening portion of the declaration outlines the historical background of South Carolina and offers a legal justification for its secession. It asserts that the right of states to secede is implicit in the Constitution and this right was explicitly reaffirmed by South Carolina in 1852. The declaration states that the agreement between South Carolina and the United States is subject to the law of compact, which creates obligations on both parties and which revokes the agreement if either party fails to uphold its obligations.
The next section asserts that the government of the United States and of states within that government had failed to uphold their obligations to South Carolina. The specific issue stated was the refusal of some states to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and other laws protecting slavery and the refusal of the federal government to compel them to uphold these laws.
The next section states that while these problems have existed for twenty five years, the situation had recently become unacceptable due to the election of a President (this was Abraham Lincoln although he is not mentioned by name) who was planning to outlaw slavery.
The final section concludes with a statement that South Carolina had therefore seceded from the United States.
While later claims have been made that the decision to secede was prompted by other issues such as tariffs, these issues were not mentioned in the declaration. States rights were mentioned, but in contradictory ways. The declaration asserts that the United States Constitution gives the states sovereign rights that are not given to the federal government. But it also protests the federal government's failure to overrule states which passed laws locally restricting slavery. The declaration argues that the Constitution explicitly requires states to deliver "person(s) held in service or labor" back to their state of origin, so state sovereignty is superseded on this issue.
The declaration was one of three documents to be officially issued by the South Carolina Secession Convention. The first was the Ordinance of Secession of South Carolina itself. The third was The Address of the people of South Carolina, assembled in Convention, to the people of the Slaveholding States of the United States, written by Robert Barnwell Rhett, which called on other slave holding states to secede and join in forming a new nation.