South Carolina History
South Carolina is one of the 13 original colonies of the United States. Part of the South, its history is marked by an enduring attachment to political independence, whether from overseas or federal control. A cornerstone of mercantilism and the slave trade, South Carolina was the first state to declare its secession; the resulting formation of the Confederate States of America started the American Civil War.
It is surmised that the material remains of tool-making is from early nomadic Native Americans. European exploration and colonization began in 1540, with the visit of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto.
The proprietary colony of Carolina was first settled at Charles Town (modern day Charleston) in 1670, mostly by immigrants from the British colony of Barbados in the Caribbean. There was discontent with the Lords Proprietors from the earliest years of the colony. Colonists overthrew the proprietors after the Yamasee War of 1715-1717. In 1719 the colony was officially made a crown colony, although the Lords Proprietors held their rights until 1729. Differences between the northern and southern parts of Carolina were recognized during proprietary rule. Separate governors were established for each section. The de facto separation of the two colonies was made official when they were admitted as crown colonies in 1729.
South Carolina declared independence from Great Britain and set up its own government on March 15, 1776. It joined the United States by signing the Declaration of Independence. For two years its president was John Rutledge, who became governor. On February 5, 1778, South Carolina became the first state to ratify the first constitution of the U.S., the Articles of Confederation.
With the election of Abraham Lincoln, who vowed to prevent slavery’s expansion in 1860, the state legislature immediately called for a convention to debate the question of secession. On December 24, 1860, the convention decided, with considerable unanimity, to declare South Carolina independent, making it the first state to leave the Union. In February it joined the Confederate States of America. In April the American Civil War began when Confederate forces attacked the American fort at Fort Sumter, in Charleston, 1861.
After the Confederate defeat, South Carolina underwent Reconstruction. The coalition legislature expanded the franchise, created and funded a public school system, and created social welfare institutions. The constitution they passed was kept nearly unaltered for 27 years, and most legislation passed during the Reconstruction years lasted longer than that. African American gains were short-lived. As white planters returned to dominance, they passed Jim Crow laws, especially severe in South Carolina, to create public segregation and control movement of African American laborers. The whites passed laws that effectively disfranchised African Americans by the turn of the century. Although a majority in the state from before the Civil War, African Americans suffered much diminished civil rights until they won restored protection under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 during the administration of President Lyndon Johnson.
From 1877 to 1890 the state was poor. Educational levels were low as public schools were underfunded, especially for African Americans. Most people lived on farms and grew cotton. The more affluent were landowners, who subdivided the land into farms operated by tenant farmers or sharecroppers, along with land operated by the owner using hired labor. Gradually more industry moved into the Piedmont area, with textile factories that turned the raw cotton into yarn and cloth for sale on the national market. The earliest academies in upper south Carolina which were established in 1787 by Dr. Alexander, a bi-vocational physician and pastor.
Politically the state was part of the Solid South. Because African Americans were disenfranchised, despite the fact they paid taxes and supported other citizen obligations, no black officials were elected between 1900 and the late 1960s. Many left during the Great Migration. Whites rigidly enforced segregation in the Jim Crow era, limiting African Americans’ chances for education, representation and free public movement. The Civil Rights laws of the 1960s ended segregation and protected voting rights of African Americans and other minorities.
The cotton regime ended by the 1950s. As factories were built across the state, the great majority of farmers left agriculture. By 2000 the white majority of South Carolina voted solidly Republican in presidential elections, but state and local government elections were contested by the two parties. The population continued to grow, reaching 4 million in 2000, as coast areas became prime locations for tourists and retirees. With a poverty rate of 13.5%, the state was slightly worse than the national average of 11.7%.
The area of South Carolina was inhabited by indigenous peoples for thousands of years before European exploration. archaeological evidence shows tool-making believed to be from a nomadic people. By the time of the first European exploration, twenty-nine tribes or nations of Native Americans lived within the boundaries of what became South Carolina.
By the end of the 16th century, the Spanish and French had left the area of South Carolina after several reconnaissance missions and failed colonization attempts. In 1629, Charles I, King of England, granted his attorney general a charter to everything between latitudes 36 and 31. He called this land the Province of Carlana, which would later be changed to “Carolina” for pronunciation, after the Latin form of his own name.
In 1663, Charles II gave the land to eight nobles, the Lords Proprietors, who ruled the Province of Carolina as a proprietary colony. After the Yamasee War of 1715-1717, the Lords Proprietors came under increasing pressure and were forced to relinquish their charter to the Crown in 1719. The proprietors retained their right to the land until 1719, when the colony was officially split into the provinces of North Carolina and South Carolina, crown colonies.
In April 1670 settlers arrived at Albemarle Point, at the junction of the Ashley River and Cooper River. They founded Charles Town, named in honor of King Charles II. Throughout the Colonial Period, the Carolinas participated in many wars against the Spanish and the Native Americans, including the Yamasee and Cherokee tribes. In its first decades, the colony’s plantations were relatively small and its wealth came from Indian trade, mainly in Indian slaves and deerskins. The slave trade affected tribes throughout the Southeast, and historians estimate that Carolinians exported 24,000-51,000 Indian slaves from 1670-1717, sending them to markets ranging from Boston to the Barbados. Planters financed the purchase of African slaves by their sale of Indians.
A pan-Indian alliance rose up against the settlers in the Yamasee War (1715-1717) and nearly destroyed the colony. After that, the planters turned exclusively to importing African slaves for labor. They used their skills and knowledge of rice culture in the first decades of the 18th century to create rice and indigo plantations as commodity crops. Building dams, irrigation ditches and related infrastructure, enslaved Africans created the equivalent of huge earthworks to regulate water for the rice culture.
The Low Country was settled first, dominated by wealthy men who became owners of large amounts of land on which they created plantations. They first transported white indentured servants as laborers, mostly teenage boys and girls from England who came to work off their passage in hopes of buying their own land. Planters also imported African laborers to the colonies. In the early colonial years, social boundaries were fluid between indentured laborers and slaves, and there was considerable intermarriage. Gradually the terms of enslavement became more rigid and slavery became a racial caste. With a decrease in English settlers as the economy improved in England before the beginning of the 18th century, the planters began to rely chiefly on enslaved Africans for labor.
After the Yamasee War and exposure to European infectious diseases, the backcountry’s Yamasee population was greatly reduced. In contrast to the Tidewater, the backcountry was settled chiefly by Scots-Irish and North British migrants who had quickly moved down from Pennsylvania and Virginia. The immigrants from Ulster, the Scottish lowlands and the north of England (the border counties) comprised the largest group from the British Isles before the Revolution. They came mostly in the 18th century, later than other colonial immigrants. Such “North Britons were a large majority in much of the South Carolina upcountry.” The character of this environment was “well matched to the culture of the British borderlands.” Such immigrants settled in the backcountry throughout the South and relied on subsistence farming. They mostly did not own slaves. Given the differences in background, class, slaveholding, economics and culture, there was longstanding competition between the Low Country and Upcountry that played out in politics.
Coastal planters earned wealth from two major agricultural crops: rice and indigo, both of which relied on cultivation by slave labor. Exports of these crops led South Carolina to become one of the wealthiest colonies prior to the Revolution. Near the beginning of the 18th century, planters began rice culture along the coast, mainly in the Georgetown and Charleston areas. Enslaved Africans brought the rice varieties and cultivation techniques when they were imported from West Africa and Sierra Leone, rice growing regions. The best rice became known as Carolina Gold, both for its color and its ability to produce great fortunes for plantation owners.
In the 1740s, Eliza Lucas Pinckney began indigo culture and processing in coastal South Carolina. An “Indigo Bonanza” followed, with South Carolina production approaching a million pounds in the late 1750s. This growth was stimulated by a British bounty of six pence per pound. In addition, the colonial economy depended on sales of pelts (primarily deerskins), and naval stores and timber. Coastal towns began shipbuilding to support their trade, using the prime timbers of the live oak.
South Carolina’s liberal constitution and early flourishing trade attracted Sephardic Jewish immigrants. They came mostly from London and the Barbados, where they had been involved in the rum and sugar trades. In 1800, Charleston had the largest Jewish population in the United States.
Prior to the American Revolution, the British began taxing American colonies to raise revenue. Residents of South Carolina were outraged by the Townsend Acts that taxed tea, paper, wine, glass, and oil. To protest the Stamp Act, South Carolina sent wealthy rice planter Thomas Lynch, twenty-six-year-old lawyer John Rutledge, and Christopher Gadsden to the Stamp Act Congress, held in 1765 in New York. Other taxes were removed, but tea taxes remained. Soon South Carolinians, like the Boston Tea Party, began to dump tea into the Charleston Harbor, followed by boycotts and protests.
South Carolina declared independence from Great Britain and set up its state government on March 15, 1776. Because of the colony’s longstanding trade with Great Britain, the Low Country cities had numerous Loyalists. Many of the battles fought in South Carolina during the American Revolution were against loyalist Carolinians and the Cherokee tribe allied with the British. This was to British General Henry Clinton’s advantage, as his strategy was to march his troops north from St. Augustine and sandwich George Washington in the North. Clinton alienated Loyalists and enraged Patriots by attacking and nearly annihilating a fleeing army of Patriot soldiers who posed no threat.
White colonists were not the only ones with a desire for freedom. Estimates are that about 25,000 slaves escaped, migrated or died during the disruption of the war, 30 percent of the state’s slave population. About 13,000 joined the British, who had promised them freedom if they fought with them. From 1770 to 1790, the proportion of the state’s population made up of blacks (almost all of whom were enslaved), dropped from 60.5 percent to 43.8 percent.
On October 7, 1780, at Kings Mountain, John Sevier and William Campbell, assaulted the ‘high heel’ of the wooded mountain, the smallest area but highest point, while the other seven groups, led by Colonels Shelby, Williams, Lacey, Cleveland, Hambright, Winston and McDowell attacked the main Loyalist position by surrounding the ‘ball’ base beside the ‘heel’ crest of the mountain. North and South Carolinians and attacked British Major Patrick Ferguson and his body of Loyalists on a hilltop. This was a major victory for the patriots, especially because it was won by militiamen and not trained Continentals. Thomas Jefferson called it “The turn of the tide of success.” It was the first patriot victory since the British had taken Charleston. While tensions mounted between the Crown and the Carolinas, some key southern Pastors became a target of King George: “…this church (Bullock Creek) was noted as one of the “Four Bees” in King George’s bonnet due to its pastor, Rev. Joseph Alexander, preaching open rebellion to the British Crown in June 1780. Bullock Creek Presbyterian Church was a place noted for being a Whig party stronghold. Under a ground swell of such Calvin protestant leadership, South Carolina moved from a back seat to the front in the war against tyranny. Patriots went on to regain control of Charleston and South Carolina with untrained militiamen by trapping Colonel Banastre “No Quarter” Tarleton’s troops along a river.
In 1787, John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and Pierce Butler went to Philadelphia where the Constitutional Convention was being held and constructed what served as a detailed outline for the U.S. Constitution. The federal Constitution was ratified by the state in 1787. The new state constitution was ratified in 1790 without the support of the Upcountry.
Antebellum South Carolina
It was South Carolina alone that attempted to thwart national law during the Nullification Crisis, and South Carolina was the first state to declare its secession in 1860 in response to the election of Abraham Lincoln.
Politics and Slavery
Slave owners had more control over the state government of South Carolina than of any other state, blending aristocratic traditions with democracy. South Carolina’s plantation owners played the role of English aristocrats more than the planters of other states, whereas newer Southern states, such as Alabama and Mississippi, allowed more political equality among whites. Although all white male residents were allowed to vote, property restrictions for office holders were higher in South Carolina than in any other state. South Carolina had the only state legislature where slave owners had the majority of seats. It was the only state where the legislature elected the governor, all judges and state electors. The state’s chief executive was a figurehead who had no authority to veto legislative law.
The majority of the population in South Carolina was black, and overwhelmingly enslaved: by 1860 the population of the state was 703,620, with 57 percent or slightly more than 402,000 classified as enslaved African Americans. Free blacks numbered slightly less than 10,000. Unlike Virginia, where most of the plantations and slaves were concentrated in the eastern part of the state, in South Carolina plantations and slaves were common throughout most of the state. After 1794, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin allowed cotton plantations to grow throughout South Carolina. By 1830, 85 percent of inhabitants of rice plantations along the coast were slaves. When rice planters left the malarial low country for cities such as Charleston, up to 98 percent of the low country residents were slaves. By 1830, two-thirds of South Carolina’s counties had populations with 40 percent or more enslaved; in the two counties with the lowest rates of slavery, 23 percent of the population were slaves.
In 1822, a black freedman named Denmark Vesey and compatriots around Charleston organized a plan for thousands of slaves to liberate themselves through an armed uprising. Vesey’s plan, inspired by the 1791 Haitian Revolution, called for thousands of armed black men to kill their slaveholders, seize the city of Charleston, and then escape from the United States by sailing to Haiti. The plot was discovered when two slaves opposed to the plan leaked word of it to white authorities. Charleston authorities charged 131 men with participating in the conspiracy. In total, the state convicted 67 men and killed 35 of them by hanging, including Denmark Vesey. White fear of slave insurrections after the Vesey conspiracy led to a 9:15 pm curfew for slaves in Charleston, and the establishment of a municipal guard of 150 white men in Charleston, with half the men were stationed in an arsenal called the Citadel.
Plantations in older Southern states such as South Carolina wore out the soil to such an extent that 42 percent of state residents left the state for plantations with newer soil in the lower South. The remaining South Carolina plantations were especially hard hit when world wide cotton markets turned down in 1826-32 and again in 1837-49. Economic hardships caused many South Carolinians to believe that a Forty Bale theory explained their problems.
The white minority in South Carolina felt more threatened than in other parts of the South, and reacted more to the economic Panic of 1819, the Missouri Controversy of 1820, and attempts at emancipation in the form of the Ohio Resolutions of 1824 and the American Colonization Petition of 1827. South Carolina’s first attempt at nullification occurred in 1822, when South Carolina adopted a policy of jailing foreign black sailors at South Carolina ports. This policy violated a treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States, but South Carolina defied a complaint from Britain through American Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and a United States Supreme Court justice’s federal circuit decision condemning the jailings. Foreign blacks from Santo Domingo previously communicated with Vesey’s conspirators, and the South Carolina state Senate declared that the need to prevent insurrections was more important than laws, treaties or constitutions.
South Carolinian George McDuffie popularized the Forty Bale theory to explain South Carolina’s economic woes. According to this theory, tariffs that became progressively higher in 1816, 1824 and 1828 had the same effect as if a thief stole forty bales out of a hundred from every barn. The tariffs applied to imports of things like iron, wool and finished cotton products. The Forty Bale theory was based on faulty math in that Britain could sell finished cotton goods made from Southern raw cotton around the world, not just to the United States. Still, the theory was a popular explanation for economic problems that were caused in large part by overproduction of cotton in the lower South, and less cotton production from South Carolina’s depleted soil. South Carolinians, rightly or wrongly, blamed the tariff for the fact that cotton prices fell from 18 cent a pound to 9 cents a pound over the 1820s. While the effects of the tariff were exaggerated, manufactured imports from Europe were cheaper than American made products without the tariff, and the tariff did reduce British imports of cotton to some extent. These were largely short term problems that existed before United States factories and textile makers could compete with Europe. Also, the tariff replaced a tax system where slave states previously had to pay more in taxes for the increased representation they got in the U.S. House of Representatives under the three-fifths clause.
The Tariff of 1828, which South Carolina agitators called the Tariff of Abominations, set the tariff rate at 50 percent. Although John C. Calhoun previously supported tariffs, he anonymously wrote the South Carolina Exposition and Protest, which was a states’ rights argument for nullifying the tariff. Calhoun’s theory was that the threat of secession would lead to a “concurrent majority” that would possess every white minorities consent, as opposed to a “tyrannical majority” of Northerners controlling the South. Both Calhoun and Robert Barnwell Rhett forsaw that the same arguments could be used to defend slavery when necessary. President Andrew Jackson successfully forced the nullifiers to back down and allowed a gradual reduction of tariff rates. Calhoun and Senator Henry Clay agreed upon the Compromise Tariff of 1833, which would lower rates over 10 years. Calhoun later supported national protection for slavery in the form of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and federal protection of slavery in the territories conquered from Mexico, in contradiction to his previous support for nullification and states rights.
Censorship and slavery
On July 29, 1835, Charleston Postmaster Alfred Huger found abolitionist literature in the mail, and refused to deliver it. Slave owners seized the mail and built a bonfire with it, and other Southern states followed South Carolina’s lead in censoring abolitionist literature. South Carolina’s James Henry Hammond started the gag rule controversy by demanding a ban on petitions for ending slavery from being introduced before Congress in 1835. The 1856 caning of Republican Charles Sumner by the South Carolinian Preston Brooks after Sumner’s Crime Against Kansas speech heightened Northern fears that the alleged aggressions of the slave power threatened republican government for Northern whites.
Secession and war
South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. South Carolina adopted the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union on December 24, 1860. All of the violations of the alleged rights of Southern states mentioned in the document were about slavery. President Buchanan protested but made no military response aside from a failed attempt to resupply Fort Sumter via the ship Star of the West, which was fired upon by South Carolina forces and turned back before it reached the fort.
Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, Fort Monroe in Virginia, and Fort Pickens and the partially built Fort Taylor in Florida were the remaining Union-held forts in the Confederacy (or what would become the Confederacy after Virginia joined), and Lincoln was determined to hold Fort Sumter. Under orders from Confederate President Jefferson Davis, troops controlled by the Confederate government under P. G. T. Beauregard bombarded the fort with artillery on April 12, forcing the fort’s capitulation and beginning the American Civil War. The Union controlled forts Monroe, Pickens and Taylor throughout the war, but secessionists were more extreme in Charleston than elsewhere.
American Civil War
Few white South Carolinians saw emancipation as an option. Whites feared that if blacks, a majority in most parts of the state, were freed, they would try to “Africanize” the whites’ cherished society and culture. This was what they believed had happened after slave revolutions in some areas of the West Indies. South Carolina’s white politicians were divided between devoted Unionists who opposed any sort of secession, and those who believed secession was a state’s right.
John C. Calhoun noted that the dry and barren West could not support a plantation system and would remain slaveless. Calhoun proposed that Congress should not exclude slavery from territories but let each state choose for itself whether it would allow slaves within its borders. After Calhoun’s death in 1850, however, South Carolina was left without a leader great enough in national standing and character to prevent action by those more militant South Carolinian factions who wanted to secede immediately. Andrew Pickens Butler argued against Charleston publisher Robert Barnwell Rhett, who advocated immediate secession and, if necessary, independence. Butler won the battle, but Rhett outlived him.
When people began to believe that Abraham Lincoln would be elected President, states in the Deep South organized conventions to discuss their options. South Carolina was the first state to organize such a convention, meeting in December following the national election. On December 20, 1860, delegates convened in Charleston and voted unanimously to secede from the Union. President James Buchanan declared the secession illegal but did not act to stop it.
Six days later, on the day after Christmas, Major Robert Anderson, commander of the U.S. troops in Charleston, withdrew his men against orders into the island fortress of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. South Carolina militia swarmed over the abandoned mainland batteries and trained their guns on the island. Sumter was the key position to preventing a naval invasion of Charleston, so the Confederacy could not afford to allow federal forces to remain there indefinitely. More important, having a foreign country (the USA) control its largest harbor meant that the Confederacy was not really independent—which was Lincoln’s point.
On February 4, a congress of seven cotton states met in Montgomery, Alabama, and approved a new constitution for the Confederate States of America. Lincoln argued that the United States were “one nation, indivisible,” and denied the Southern states’ right to secede. South Carolina entered the Confederacy on February 8, 1861 thus ending fewer than six weeks of being an independent State of South Carolina. Virginia politician Roger Pryor told Charleston that the only way to get Old Dominion to join the Confederacy was for South Carolina to instigate war with the United States. The obvious place to start was right in the midst of Charleston Harbor.
About 6,000 men were stationed around the rim of the harbor, ready to take on the 60 men in Fort Sumter. At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, after two days of intense negotiations, and with Union ships just outside the harbor, the firing began. The decision was made by President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. Edmund Ruffin is usually credited with being given the honor firing the first shot. Thirty-four hours later, Anderson’s men raised the white flag and were allowed to leave the fort with colors flying and drums beating, saluting the U.S. flag with a 50-gun salute before taking it down. During this salute, one of the guns exploded, killing a young soldier—the only casualty of the bombardment and the first casualty of the war.
Civil War devastates the state
The South was at a disadvantage in number, weaponry, and maritime skills—few southerners were sailors. Federal ships sailed south and blocked off one port after another. As early as November, Union troops occupied the Sea Islands in the Beaufort area, and established an important base for the men and ships who would obstruct the ports at Charleston and Savannah. Many plantation owners had already fled to distant refuges, sometimes taking their slaves with them.
Those African Americans who remained on the Sea Islands became the first “freedmen” of the war. The Sea Islands became a laboratory for education, with Northern missionary teachers finding former enslaved adults as well as children eager for learning, and subsistence farming by African Americans, as they took over land for their own use.
Despite South Carolina’s important role, and the Union’s unsuccessful attempt to take Charleston from 1863 onward, few military engagements occurred within the state’s borders until 1865. Having completed his March to the Sea at Savannah, Sherman took his Army to Columbia, then north into North Carolina. There was little resistance to his advance. Sherman’s 1865 march through the Carolinas resulted in the burning of Columbia and numerous other towns.
Poverty would mark the state for generations to come. There was an agricultural depression, and changes in the labor market disrupted agriculture. Also, proportionally South Carolina lost more of its young white men of fighting age than did any other Southern state. Recorded deaths were 18,666 but fatalities may have reached 21,146. This was 31-35% of the total of white men of ages 18–45 recorded in the 1860 census for South Carolina.
On February 21, 1865, with the Confederate forces finally evacuated from Charleston, the black 55th Massachusetts Regiment marched through the city. At a ceremony at which the U.S. flag was once again raised over Fort Sumter, former fort commander Robert Anderson was joined on the platform by two men: African-American Union hero Robert Smalls and the son of Denmark Vesey.
African Americans had long comprised the majority of the state’s population. They began to play a prominent role in the South Carolina government for the first time during Reconstruction. Despite the anti-Northern fury of prewar and wartime politics, most South Carolinians, including the state’s leading opinion-maker, Wade Hampton III, believed that white citizens would do well to accept President Johnson’s terms for full reentry to the Union. However, the state legislature, in 1865, passed “Black Codes”, angering Northerners, who accused the state of imposing semi-slavery on the Freedmen. The South Carolina Black Codes have been described:
The Black Codes outraged northern opinion and apparently were never put into effect in any state.
After winning the 1866 elections, the Radical Republicans took control of the Reconstruction process. The Army registered all male voters, and elections returned a Republican government composed of a coalition of freedmen, carpetbaggers, and scalawags. The federally mandated new Constitution of 1868 brought democratic reforms. Scalawags supported it, but most whites viewed the Republican government as representative of black interests only and were largely unsupportive. Laws forbidding former Confederates, virtually the entire native white male population, from bearing arms only exacerbated the tensions, especially as rifle-bearing black militia units began drilling in the streets of South Carolina towns.
Adding to the interracial animosity was the sense of many whites’ that their former slaves had betrayed them. Before the war, slaveholders had convinced themselves that that they were treating their slaves well and had earned their slaves’ loyalty. When the Union Army rolled in and slaves deserted by the thousands (though many did not), slaveholders were stunned. The black population scrambled to preserve its new rights while the white population attempted to claw its way back up the social ladder by denying blacks those same rights.
The Ku Klux Klan raids began shortly after the end of the war, a first stage of insurgency. They terrorized and murdered blacks and their sympathizers in an attempt to reestablish white supremacy. In some areas, local leaders squelched the movement after a few years.
The 1876 gubernatorial election
From 1868 on, elections were accompanied by increasing violence from white paramilitary groups such as the Red Shirts. In 1876, tensions were high, especially in Piedmont towns where the numbers of blacks were fewer than whites. There were numerous demonstrations by the Red Shirts—white Democrats determined to win the upcoming elections by any means possible. The Red Shirts turned the tide in South Carolina, convincing whites that this could indeed be the year they regain control and terrorizing blacks to stay away from voting. Because of the violence, Republican Governor Chamberlain requested assistance from Washington to try to keep control. President Ulysses S. Grant sent federal troops to try to preserve order and ensure a fair election.
Using as a model the “Mississippi Plan”, which had redeemed that state in 1874, South Carolina whites used intimidation, violence, persuasion, and control of the blacks. Armed with heavy pistols and rifles, they rode on horseback to every Republican meeting, and demanded a chance to speak. The Red Shirts milled among the crowds. Each selected a black man to watch, privately threatening to shoot him if he raised a disturbance. The Redeemers organized hundreds of rifle clubs. Obeying proclamations to disband, they sometimes reorganized as missionary societies or dancing clubs — with rifles. They set up an ironclad economic boycott against Black activists and scalawags who refused to vote the Democratic ticket. People lost jobs over their political views. They beat down the opposition — but always just within the law. Wade Hampton made more than forty speeches across the state. Some Black Republicans joined his cause; donning the Red Shirts, they paraded with the whites. Most scalawags “crossed Jordan”, as switching to the Democrats was called.
On election day, there was intimidation on all sides, employed by both parties, and the returns were disputed all the way to Washington, where they played a central role in the Compromise of 1877. Both parties claimed victory. For a while, two separate state assemblies did business side by side on the floor of the State House (their Speakers shared the Speaker’s desk, but each had his own gavel), until the Democrats moved to their own building. There the Democrats continued to pass resolutions and conducted the state’s business, just as the Republicans were doing. The Republican State Assembly tossed out results of the tainted election and reelected Chamberlain as governor. A week later, General Wade Hampton III took the oath of office for the Democrats.
Finally, in return for the South’s support of his own convoluted presidential “victory” over Samuel Tilden, President Rutherford B. Hayes withdrew federal troops from Columbia. The Republican government dissolved and Chamberlain headed north, as Wade Hampton and his Redeemers took control.
Conservative rule 1877–1890
The Democrats were led by General Wade Hampton III and other former Confederate veterans who espoused a return to the policies of the antebellum period. Known as the Conservatives, or the Bourbons, they favored a minimalist approach by the government and a conciliatory policy towards blacks while maintaining white supremacy. Also of interest to the Conservatives was the restoration of the University of South Carolina to its prominent prewar status as the leading institution of higher education in the state and the region.
Once in power, the Democrats quickly consolidated their position and sought to unravel the legacy of the Radical Republicans. They pressured Republicans to resign from their positions and within a year both the legislative and judiciary were firmly in the control of the Democrats. They launched investigations into the corruption and frauds committed by eminent Republicans during Reconstruction. All charges were dropped when the Federal government dropped its charges against white participants accused of violence in of the 1876 election campaign.
With their position secure, the Democrats next tackled the state debt. Reconstruction government had established public education and new charitable institutions, together with improving prisons. There was corruption, but it was mostly white Southerners who benefited. Taxes had been exceedingly low before the war because the planter class refused to support public programs like education. The exigencies of the postwar period caused the state debt to climb rapidly. When Republicans came to power in 1868, the debt stood at $5.4 million. By the time Republicans lost control in 1877, state debt had risen to $18.5 million. Many Democrats from the upcountry, led by Martin Gary, pushed for the entire state debt to be canceled, but Gary was opposed by Charleston holders of the bonds. A compromise moderated by Wade Hampton was achieved and by October 1882, the state debt was reduced to $6.5 million.
Other legislative initiatives by the Conservatives benefited its primary supporters, the planters and business class. Taxes across the board were reduced, and funding was cut for public social and educational programs that assisted poor whites and blacks. Oral contracts were made to be legally binding, breach of contract was enforced as a criminal offense, and those in debt to planters could be forced to work off their debt. In addition, the University of South Carolina along with The Citadel were reopened to elite classes and generously supported by the state government.
By the late 1880s, the agrarian movement swept through the state and encouraged subsistence farmers to assert their political rights. They pressured the legislature to establish an agriculture college. Reluctantly the legislature complied by adding an agriculture college to the University of South Carolina in 1887. Ben Tillman inspired the farmers to demand a separate agriculture college isolated from the politics of Columbia. The Conservatives finally gave them one in 1889.
Tillman era and disfranchisement, 1890–1914
In 1890, Ben Tillman set his sights on the gubernatorial contest. The farmers rallied behind his candidacy and Tillman easily defeated the conservative nominee, A.C. Haskell. The conservatives failed to grasp the strength of the farmers’ movement in the state. The planter elite no longer engendered automatic respect for having fought in the Civil War. Not only that, but Tillman’s “humorous and coarse speech appealed to a majority no more delicate than he in matters of taste.”
The Tillman movement succeeded in enacting a number of Tillman’s proposals and pet projects. Among those was the crafting of a new state constitution and a state dispensary system for alcohol. Tillman held a “pathological fear of Negro rule.”
White elites created a new constitution with provisions to deprive blacks and poor whites of voting rights without violating the Fifteenth Amendment. This was chiefly accomplished through provisions related to making voter registration more difficult, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, which adversely affected African Americans and poor whites. After promulgation of the new Constitution of 1895, voting was essentially restricted to whites for more than 60 years.
During Reconstruction, black legislators had been a majority in the lower house of the legislature. The new requirements meant that only about 15,000 of the 140,000 blacks could qualify to register. In practice, many more blacks were prohibited from voting by the subjective voter registration process controlled by white registrars. In addition, the Democratic Party primary was restricted to whites only. By October 1896 there were 50,000 whites registered, but only 5,500 blacks, in a state in which blacks were the majority.
The 1900 census demonstrated the extent of disfranchisement: African Americans comprised more than 58% of the state’s population, with a total of 782,509 citizens essentially without any representation. The political loss affected educated and illiterate men alike. It meant that without their interests represented, blacks were unfairly treated within the state. They were unable to serve on juries; segregated schools and services were underfunded; law enforcement was dominated by whites. African Americans did not recover the ability to exercise suffrage and political rights until the Civil Rights Movement won passage of Federal legislation in 1964 and 1965.
The state Dispensary, described as “Ben Tillman’s Baby”, was never popular in the state, and violence broke out in Darlington over its enforcement. In 1907, the Dispensary Act was repealed. In 1915 the legal sale of alcohol was prohibited by referendum.
Tillman’s influence on the politics of South Carolina began to wane after his move to the U.S. Senate in 1895. The Conservatives recaptured the legislature in 1902. Aristocratic planter Duncan Clinch Heyward won the gubernatorial election. They made no substantial changes and in fact Heyward continued to enforce the Dispensary Act at great difficulty. The state continued its rapid pace of industrialization and this gave rise to a new class of voters, the cotton mill workers.
White sharecroppers and mill workers coalesced behind the candidacy of Tillmanite Cole Blease in the gubernatorial election of 1910. They believed that Blease was making them an important part of the political force of the state. Once in office, however, Blease did not initiate any policies that were beneficial to the mill workers or poor farmers. Instead, his four years in office were highly erratic in behavior. This helped to pave the way for a progressive, Richard I. Manning, to win the governorship in 1914.
Economic booms and busts
In 1886, Atlanta newspaper publisher Henry W. Grady, speaking before a New York audience, proclaimed his vision of a “New South”, a South based on the Northern economic model. By now, the idea had already struck some enterprising South Carolinians that the cotton they were shipping north could also be processed in South Carolina. The idea was not new; in 1854, De Bow’s Commercial Review of the South & West, founded by Charleston-born James Dunwoody Brownson De Bow, had boasted to investors of South Carolina’s potential for manufacturing, citing its three lines of rail roads, inexpensive raw materials, non-freezing rivers, and labor pool.
These advantages persisted after the Civil War. By the end of the 19th century, the textile industry was exploding across South Carolina, particularly in upland areas because of their turbine-turning rivers. It brought relief from the depressed sharecropper economy. For whites, things were looking up. In 1902, the Low Country hosted the Charleston Expedition, drawing visitors from around the world, with the hope of impressing them with the idea that the state was on the rebound. On April 9, President Theodore Roosevelt, whose mother had attended school in Columbia, made an appearance. He spoke to reconciliation of still simmering animosities between the North and the South.
In South Carolina, things continued to improve with the election of progressive Governor Richard Irvine Manning III in 1914. The expansion of brightleaf tobacco around 1900 from North Carolina brought an agricultural boom. This was broken by the Depression, but the tobacco industry recovered and prospered until near the end of the 20th century. Despite its not having paid well since before the Civil War, cotton was still a major crop.
In 1919, the invasion of the boll weevil destroyed the state’s cotton crop, as it did throughout the South. Sharecroppers and laborers had to leave the land. Together with disfranchisement and oppressive segregation, underfunding of public education and limited opportunities, the failure of cotton led thousands of both black and white laborers to vote with their feet and migrate to northern and midwestern industrial cities to seek better jobs, education for their children, and the ability to vote. African Americans made the Great Migration from 1910-1940. A second wave of the Great Migration lasted through 1970. From having been rural laborers, they became urban industrial workers in cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, New Haven and Hartford. South Carolina became a white majority state.
The expansion of military bases during and after World War II, followed by domestic and foreign investment in manufacturing, has helped revitalized the state.
Civil Rights Movement
Compared to hot spots such as Mississippi and Alabama, desegregation went rather smoothly during the 1950s and 1960s in South Carolina. As early as 1948, however, when Strom Thurmond ran for president on the States Rights ticket, South Carolina whites were showing discontent with the Democrats’ post–World War II continuation of the New Deal’s federalization of power.
South Carolina blacks had problems with the Southern version of states rights; by 1940 the implementation of disfranchisement written into the 1895 constitution had the practical effect of still limiting registration of African Americans to 3,000 – only 0.8 percent of those of voting age in the state. African Americans had not been able to elect a representative since the 19th century. By 1960, during the Civil Rights Movement, South Carolina had a population of 2,382,594, of whom nearly 35%, or 829,291 were African Americans, who had been without representation for 60 years.
Non-violent action began in Rock Hill in 1961, when nine black Friendship Junior College students took seats at the whites-only lunch counter at a downtown McCrory’s and refused to leave. When police arrested them, the students were given the choice of paying $200 fines or serving 30 days of hard labor in the York County jail. The Friendship Nine, as they became known, chose the latter, gaining national attention in the American Civil Rights Movement because of their decision to use the “jail, no bail” strategy.
In 1962 federal courts ordered Clemson University to admit African-American Harvey Gantt into its classes. The state and the college’s board of trustees had exhausted legal recourse to prevent it; influential whites ensured that word was widespread that no violence or otherwise unseemly behavior would be tolerated. Gantt’s entrance into the school occurred without incident. The March 16, 1963, Saturday Evening Post praised the state’s handling of the crisis, with an article titled “Desegregation with Dignity: The Inside Story of How South Carolina Kept the Peace”. Twenty years later, Gantt was elected as mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina.
In 1964, Barry Goldwater’s platform galvanized South Carolina’s conservative Democrats and led to major defections of whites into the Republican Party, led by Senator Thurmond. With the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, finally South Carolina blacks could participate in public life and regained the power of suffrage. Since then African Americans have been regularly elected to national, state and local offices.
In 1968 the tragic shooting at Orangeburg shattered the state’s peaceful desegregation. When police overreacted to the violence of students’ protesting a segregated bowling alley, they killed three students and wounded more than 30 others.
In 1970, when South Carolina celebrated its Tricentennial, more than 80% of its residents had been born in the state. Since then, however, Northerners have discovered South Carolina’s golf courses, beaches and mild climate. The state, particularly the coastal areas but increasingly inland as well, has become more popular as a tourist destination and magnet for new arrivals. Even some descendants of black South Carolinians who moved out of the South during the Jim Crow years have moved back. Despite these new arrivals, about 69% of residents are native born.
In the 1970s, South Carolina elected its first Republican governor since Reconstruction. In 1987 and 1991, the state elected and reelected Governor Caroll Campbell, another Republican. Republican David Beasley, a former Democrat who claimed to have undergone a spiritual rebirth that caused him to reconsider his views, ran for governor as a Republican and won. In 1996 Beasley surprised citizens by announcing that he could not justify keeping the Confederate flag flying over the capitol. He said that a “spate of racially motivated violence compelled him to reconsider the politics and symbolism of the Confederate flag, and he concluded it should be moved.” Traditionalists were further shocked when Bob Jones III, of Bob Jones University, announced he held the same view.
Beasley went into the 1998 elections with such an edge in popularity that the top two Democratic candidates did not bother to run. Remarkably, Beasley was defeated by the Democrats’ third stringer, Lancaster State Assemblyman Jim Hodges. Hodges, a former opponent of legalized gambling, attacked Beasley’s opposition to the creation of a state lottery to support education. Hodges painted this as a tax base to improve public education.
Despite Hodges’ unwillingness to join Beasley in his opposition to flying the Confederate flag, the NAACP announced its support for Hodges. (At the same time the NAACP demanded a boycott of conferences in the state over the same issue). Hodges reportedly accepted millions in contributions from the gambling industry, which some estimated spent a total of $10 million in its own campaign to defeat Beasely.
After the election, however, with public opinions steadfastly against video gambling, Hodges asked for a statewide referendum on the issue. He claimed that he would personally join the expected majority in saying “no” on legalized gambling, but vowed not to campaign against it. Critics in both parties suggested that Hodges’ debts to the state’s gambling industry were keeping him from campaigning against legalized gambling. The state constitution does not provide for referendums except for ratification of amendments. State legislators shut down the state’s video casinos soon after Hodges took office.
Upon his election, Hodges announced that he agreed with Beasley’s increasingly popular compromise proposal on the Confederate flag issue. He supported the flag’s transfer to a Confederate monument on the State House’s grounds. Many South Carolinians agreed with this position as the only solution. Further, they admired Hodges’ solution to nuclear waste shipments to the state.
Hodges alienated moderate voters sufficiently so that in 2002, most of the state’s major newspapers supported Mark Sanford to replace him. Hodges was held responsible for the state’s mishandling of the Hurricane Floyd evacuation in 1999. The absence of hurricanes in the 2000 and 2001 seasons did not give citizens a chance to see if Hodges’ post-Floyd revisions would work.
In 2002, South Carolinians were surprised to learn that most of the funds from Hodges’ “South Carolina Education Lottery” were used to pay for college scholarships, rather than to improve rural and inner-city elementary, middle, and high schools. Hodges had criticized the lower schools’ achievements in his campaign for the lottery. Critics included leaders at Hodges’ church, United Methodist. They denounced the lottery as taxing the poor to pay for services for the middle class.
In the lottery’s first year, Hodges’ administration awarded $40 million for “LIFE Scholarships”, granted to any South Carolinian student with a B average, graduation in the top 30% of the student’s high school class, and an 1,100 SAT score. Hodges’ administration awarded $5.8 million for “HOPE Scholarships”, which had lower g.p.a. requirements.
Hodges lost his campaign for reelection in 2002 against Republican conservative Mark Sanford, former U.S. congressman from Sullivan’s Island.