South Carolina Takes Back Her Fort

Monday, April 11, 2011
By John C. Whatley
Author of The Typical Georgia Confederate and The Typical South Carolina Confederate

It is a principle of law that you can donate your property for any purpose to the government. Many people donate property for public parks, or for walkways, or for historical memorials. This voluntary donation is in stark contrast to eminent domain, in which the government takes your property for “public interest”.

Along with a voluntary donation comes the right to attach all sorts of conditions to the donation. The granite mass known as Stone Mountain remains property of the State of Georgia “so long as it is used as a Confederate monument”. Once it is no longer used for such purpose, it reverts [goes back] to the Venable family.

There appears to be no time limit to this, since a piece of property donated in the 1400s “so long as it is used as a pub” reverted to the donating family when the City of London condemned the entire neighborhood for “public interest” and discovered that they had to deal with the family for that particular piece of property.

Another condition attached to a donation of property to the government is known legally as a “life estate”. The person donating the property is thus allowed to live on the property for life and at his or her death the property becomes fully vested in [owned by] the government.

Now that you know this, what would you think of an agreement between the State of South Carolina and the Federal Government for the latter to build a fort on South Carolina’s property and retain that property “so long as it is used as a fort”? If the United States abandoned building a fort there, would the property revert to South Carolina?

South Carolina in 1805 (Statutes at Large, Volume V, p. 501) provided as follows in regard to the cessions in Charleston Harbor:

“That, if the United States shall not, within three years from the passing of this act, and notification thereof by the governor of this State to the Executive of the United States, repair the fortifications now existing thereon, or build such other forts or fortifications as may be deemed most expedient by the Executive of the United States on the same, and keep a garrison or garrisons therein, in such case this grant or cession shall be void and of no effect.”

So, South Carolina put a stipulation on its donation of property to the United States, that if the United States did not complete the fort within three years, or garrison what was there, the grant was “void and of no effect”. Not only was Fort Sumter not completed within the three-year period, but it also was not completed by 1861, nor had it ever been garrisoned. The United States was thus in breach of contract, and South Carolina had every right and expectation of the reversion of the Fort Sumter property to the State of South Carolina.

Of course, by this time, the United States had no need of coastal forts. The British during the War of 1812, with its superiority of ships, had landed troops at will on the coast of America, but they were now allies and no seaborn attack was anticipated. So the United States abandoned the coastal fort program, the last to be built being Fort Pulaski defending the Savannah River.

Since the United States also had a great fleet of warships, they felt the navy could defend America whenever needed, so coastal forts were no longer needed. The program was greatly curtailed and most of the forts that had been built had mere caretakers.

Not much is made about this, and the historically illiterate (or most of the dumb masses) think Fort Sumter was owned by the Federal Government when the WBTS began. Amazingly, everyone just assumes this is so. So when South Carolina demanded the surrender by the invading Federals of her fort, the historically illiterate think the later bombardment of Fort Sumter was South Carolina attacking a United States fort. It wasn’t; the fort and the property it sat on had reverted to the State of South Carolina. Major Anderson and his troops were actually invading South Carolina!

In the Confederate Veteran, September 1926, page 325, an interesting comment is made: Paul Graham of Columbia, South Carolina, reminds us that “when Major Anderson transferred his garrison from Fort Moultrie … [he] occupied a piece of property that the United States had not the vestige of a right to occupy, and which was under the ownership, jurisdiction, and sovereignty of the State of South Carolina exclusively.

“In other words, he invaded the State of South Carolina with his troops – unwittingly, it is true, and on orders, but in fact, at any rate. Adverse possession even could not lie here in behalf of the United States, since the United States had not garrisoned it.”

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