On July 31, 1844, under the sheltering boughs of a massive live oak tree in Bluffton, the Bluffton Movement for secession took root.
Ultimately, this lead to South Carolina to become the first state to secede from the Union.
An audience of approximately 500 assembled under the oak tree to listen to congressman Robert Barnwell Rhett. Rhett spoke about the problems facing the South and about South Carolina’s need to secede.
The impetus for the movement occurred due to the passing in Congress of the Tariff of 1842. This protectionist tariff enraged southern planters. The tariff raised the amount of dutiable goods as well as the rate of taxation on all goods, and it resulted in a sharp decrease in international trade. That was beneficial to northern industrialists, who no longer had to worry about competition from overseas, but greatly hurt southern planters, who relied on international markets for their products. The inequity of the tariff, in direct contrast to the Compromise of 1833, which lowered the protectionist tariffs for the South, caused massive opposition.
Slavery, federal taxes and state’s rights served as the focus of this landmark meeting in Bluffton.
Ultimately, the Bluffton Movement served as a major turning point in Southern history. It provided the momentum for the Palmetto State’s secession in 1860. Other Southern states followed.
At the time of the gathering under the Secession Oak, Bluffton served as a high-profile headquarters for the Confederates. Bluffton was attacked by Union forces who bombarded and burned the town in June of 1863.