A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thoughts on Sudan on South Carolina Secession Day

It is purely up to the southern Sudanese whether they choose, on January 9, to secede from Sudan in a referendum set up under the Sudan peace agreement. Egyptians are very nervous: right now the Nile waters issue sees a neat balance between Sudan and Egypt on one side, which think the present arrangements for sharing the Nile are fine, and Ethiopia and Uganda, which want to change it. An independent southern Sudan would probably side with the up-River states, though, so the Egyptians are worried, So are many Arab states that worry about the idea of non-Arab regions seceding, under UN auspices, from Arab states. (Others might get ideas.) Add oil to the mix (Sudan's oil is partly in Abyei, and no agreement has been reached over whether Abyei belongs to the north or south) and it's a volatile situation.

We'll be talking more about this as January 9 approaches, but my excuse for posting on it today? Civil War buffs and natives of the Palmetto State will know that 150 years ago today, on December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first southern state to secede from the United States, beginning the inexorable slide into Civil War.

Most white South Carolinians either supported secession or stayed quiet (in the upcountry where there were few slaves, there were Unionists: I had a Georgia mountaineer ancestor who fought for the Union*), but one South Carolinian who didn't was ex-Congressman James L. Petigru, who, when his state seceded, famously said, "South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum."

[*Said ancestor was a Methodist preacher (Northern Methodist no less) so proud of his Union service he later headed one of only two Grand Army of the Republic posts in Georgia. It was the William Tecumseh Sherman post. In Georgia this is known as chutzpah.]

I am not prejudging the choice of the southern Sudanese; that's for them to decide. It's just the date that inspired the reflection.


David Mack said...

Thanks for this, Mike. I am emailing your article to several friends from the former Confederacy, including Henry Precht and John Duke Anthony.

Michael Collins Dunn said...


Fine. Of course while my Georgia ancestor fought for the Union, a Missouri ancestor fought for the Confederacy. I think we just tended to go against the grain.