Original material for Southern history has been so scarce at the centres where American historiographers have worked, that the general writers have had to substitute conjecture for understanding in many cases when attempting to interpret Southern developments. The Federalists of the South have suffered particularly from misrepresentation and neglect. Their Democratic-Republican contemporaries of course abused them; the American public at large in the following generation was scandalized by the course of the New England Federalists, and placed a stigma upon all who bore or had borne the name of Federalists anywhere; no historical monographs have made the pertinent data available; and the standard historians, with the exception of Henry Adams, who has indicated a sound interpretation in the form of conjecture but who has given no data, have failed to handle the theme with any approach to adequacy. The South Carolina group appears to have been typical of the whole Southern wing of the Federalists; and because of the greater fullness of the extant documents and the more apparent unity of the theme, the present essay will treat of the origin, character and early career of the party in the state where it was most prominent, rather than in the Southern region at large.
South Carolina has always been in large degree a community apart from the rest-of the United States. The long isolation of the colony upon an exposed frontier, and the centralization of commercial, social and political life by reason of the great importance of the city of Charleston, had given the commonwealth a remarkable sentiment of compactness and self-reliance. In the whole period from the Revolution to the Civil War the tendency of public opinion generally prevailing was to regard the membership of their state in the Federal Union as merely providing a more or less intimate alliance of the states, as mutual convenience might require. The stress of somewhat abnormal conditions, however, led many prominent men in the state to favor strong powers for the federal government throughout the period from 1786 to the time of the “ second war for American independence ”, in 1812-1815.
In the internal politics of South Carolina, an aristocracy composed of the planters and the leading Charleston merchants was generally in control of the state government, but was in chronic dread of defeat at the ballot-boxes. In the opposition there was a body of clerks, artisans and other white laborers in Charleston, much inclined at times to assert democratic doctrine, and there was a large population of farmers in the distant uplands, non-slaveholding in the eighteenth century, disposed to co-operate with the submerged Charleston democracy on occasion, but rendered partly helpless by a lack of leaders and organization. The control by the planters, furthermore, was safeguarded by a constitutional gerrymander which gave their districts (the lowlands) a more than proportionate representation in the legislature; and this advantage was jealously guarded by the planters, who feared unsympathetic administration, if no worse, by the democracy. The planters were large producers on a capitalistic basis, analogous to factory owners of more recent times, and often they operated on credit. They were generally disposed to be conservative in business, anxious to keep their credit good and to maintain friendly relations with the commercial powers. In addition, these men, who were residents among and rulers of a dense negro population, could not afford to accept and propagate such socially disturbing ideas as the doctrine of the inherent freedom and equality of men. The danger of fomenting servile discontent was too great.
In most of its problems except where the negroes were concerned the South Carolina ruling class found its interests to be harmonious with those of the Northern sea-board; and the problems of negroes and slavery furnished no overt issues in that period which could not be speedily patched up. The more obvious problems before the whole country were such as to promote little antagonism between North and South. All states and sections had similar tasks of rehabilitation after the war, similar needs of establishing an effective central government, similar difficulties of finance and commerce, similar danger from the French agitation in the Genet period, similar problems in general of maintaining a suitable equilibrium between social compactness and personal liberty and between national unity and local self-government. In nearly all the questions of the period the issues lay between classes of people differentiated by temperament, occupation and property-holding, rather than between sections antagonized by the pressure of conflicting geographical conditions and needs. The temperament of the South in general was more impulsive than that of the North, and therefore its views were likely to be the more democratic in that period of democratic agitation; but there were many reasons why the dominant class in a state like South Carolina should keep firm hold upon its emotions. The traditions of the South, too, laid greater stress upon individualism and local autonomy; but the special needs of the period counteracted this tendency also among a large element who wanted most a stable regime and leaned toward constructive policy. As in many other cases in American history, the first phase in South Carolina party development in the Federalist period was the rise of local factions differing over local issues. Each of these provided itself with more or less definite party machinery, and attracted to its membership the persons of appropriate economic interests, social affiliations and personal points of view. Finally each of the local parties sought alliance with parties in other states in the Union, with a view to exerting influence upon the common federal government.
A beginning of the Federalist frame of mind may be seen as early as the movement of revolt from Great Britain. This movement in South Carolina was controlled by the aristocracy, and had little concern with the doctrine of natural rights. It was merely a demand for home-rule, with few appeals to theory of any sort. It was, furthermore, a movement for home-rule in Anglo-America as a whole, and not for the independence of the separate commonwealth of South Carolina. As an illustration of this, Christopher Gadsden, whose work of leadership in South Carolina corresponds to that of Samuel Adams in Massachusetts, wrote as early as 1765, “ There ought to be no New England men, no New Yorkers, etc., known on the Continent, but all of us Americans.” Gadsden, furthermore, was so conspicuously artistocratic in his general attitude that he was charged by a leading Democrat in 1783 with having originated “nabobism” in Charleston. As might be expected accordingly, the experience of this commonwealth during the whole revolutionary period failed to emphasize either democratic theory or state-rights doctrine as much as did the agitations in numerous other states.
The divergence of parties upon local issues began during the war, if not before. The stress of the war times was extremely severe. The capture of Savannah in 1778 and of Charleston at the beginning of 1780 enabled the British forces to overrun the whole countryside and lay waste large tracts as far distant as the middle of the Piedmont region. Some of the inhabitants opposed the invaders by enlisting in the Continental army, and some by serving in partisan bands under Marion, Pickens and Sumter. Others came out openly as loyalists, giving aid to the British. Finally, a number of well-to-do citizens of the Charleston district, after experiencing for some months the distresses of invasive war, discouraged at the gloomy local prospects, and believing now that the country was grasping at the shadow of liberty and losing the substance of prosperity and happiness, ceased their more or less active assistance to the “patriot” cause, accepted protection from General Cornwallis, and assumed neutral status. In January, 1782, the state legislature in its session at Jacksonborough, while the British still held Charleston, passed acts confiscating the property of loyalists and amercing a number of citizens listed as having accepted British protection and having deserted the American cause. This led to much subsequent controversy.
At the close of the war, the country lay devastated, the fieldgangs and equipment of plantations were depleted, markets impaired, and the British bounty lost which had sustained the indigo industry. Worse than all this, the body politic was torn by factional spirit, and the leaders of opinion, though somewhat dazed by the magnitude and complexity of the problems to be handled, began clamoring in support of a great diversity of policies.
The first issue was upon the treatment of loyalists and other obnoxious persons. Most of the substantial citizens favored such toleration for these as the British treaty required; but a group of radicals undertook, without the formality of law, to administer discipline to selected persons, and to drive them from the state. It was doubtful for a twelvemonth whether mob law or statute law would prevail. Judge Aedanus Burke in his charge to the grand jury at Charleston, June 9, 1783, expressed fears that the people, rendered boisterous by the war times, might turn against one another in factions. Four men, said he, had been killed in Charleston since the British army departed, and numerous others in the country. He deplored the retaliatory spirit, tending to beget feuds and factions, and he urged the grand jury to take steps to crush all violence. In spite of this, a number of men gathered on the evening of July 10, whether as a mob or as an organized company, and “pumped” four or five persons whom they thought obnoxious to the state. Next day a number of men of official status, principally members of the legislature, waited upon the governor and asked him to safeguard the good name of the city and state by suppressing this spirit of violence. The governor at once issued a proclamation denouncing the disorder, declaring that future breaches of the peace would be punished, and appealing to the judges, peace officers and all good citizens to aid in discouraging conduct of such alarming tendency.
Order was restored by this measure; but the spirit of persecution still lived, to break out again in the following year. Meanwhile the men who most strongly cherished this hostility organized themselves as a force to be reckoned with. The prime mover in this appears to have been Alexander Gillon, a Charleston merchant who had been commissioned as commodore by the state of South Carolina in 1780 and sent abroad to obtain and operate a navy for the state. His achievement then was to hire a frigate from the Duke of Luxemburg, to equip it with a French crew, and send it out, after months of delay, to prey upon the British merchant marine. This frigate was soon captured by the British navy, and its cost added a very large item to South Carolina’s Revolutionary debt. Gillon saw no maritime service, but remained a titular commodore. His principal colleague in the leadership of the Charleston radicals was Dr. James Fallon. Their followers appear to have been mostly of the city’s unpropertied class.
There was at this time a club in Charleston named the Smoking Society, of a convivial character, or as said by its critics, bacchanalian. Gillon and Fallon had themselves made president and secretary respectively of this club, changed its name to the “Marine Anti-Britannic Society” and devoted it to the championship of radical causes in politics. An indication of the strength of the faction which he headed lies in Gillon’s election by the Privy Council to the lieutenant-governorship of the state, August 22, 1783, just a month after the “pumping” episode. This action by the Council may have been due to its having a majority of radicals among its members, or perhaps as probably to the desire of the conservatives to pacify the radicals by placing their leader in a position of dignity but of harmlessness in the administration. That Fallon also was zealously active is shown by a letter in the Georgia Gazette, October 16, 1783, written by a Georgian signing himself “Mentor” and apologizing for his interference by saying, “I cannot be happy when a sister state is fomented by intestine broils ”. The writer warned the people of Charleston against Fallon as a demagogue and against the anarchy which mob action would bring: “The common people of Charleston, though liable to be misled, are still open to conviction. . . . Tell them”, he urged upon the leading men of the city, “ that the advantages resulting from the preservation of government are Freedom, Unanimity, Commerce, and National Reputation; point out to them that the damnable evils which eternally spring from the anarchy they have aimed at are Suspicion, Dissension, Poverty, Disgrace, and Dissolution”.
One of the Charleston papers printed in September a memorial of citizens of Northumberland County, Virginia, urging conservatism in public policy, liberal treatment towards foreigners, the refraining by public officers from the abuse of their powers, and the general toning up of political morality and manners. Aside from this, little argument for conservatism appeared in the Charleston press during the autumn of 1783. The radicals were more active, but the quarrel died down in winter, to flare up again in the spring. Ralph Izard wrote Thomas Jefferson from his plantation near Charleston, April 27, 1784: “Would to God I could say that tranquility was perfectly restored in this State. Dissensions and factions still exist, and like the Hydra, when one head is destroyed, another arises.”
At this time the dissension was in full blast again; and the issue was more clear-cut than before. Each faction had acquired one of the daily newspapers as its organ. In the early spring the Marine Anti-Britannic Society adopted resolutions, described by its opponents as ridiculous and pompous jargon, and requested each of the gazettes of the city to publish them. Mrs. Timothy, who owned the Gazette of the State of South Carolina, gave them due publication; but John Miller, publisher of the South Carolina Gazette and General Advertiser, who was also state printer, “in terms very preemptory and disrespectful, refused to give any place in his gazette to the society’s resolutions, evidencing thereby, as well as by some former acts of his toward the said Society, that his Press is not thoroughly uninfluenced and free”. The society therefore resolved unanimously to boycott Miller’s journal as regarded both subscriptions and advertisements.
The Anti-Britannics now resorted to an attempt at terrorism. About the middle of April they posted handbills in Charleston listing eleven persons, either loyalists or recent immigrants, and giving them notice to quit the state within ten days. About the same time they or their allies did violence to the person of a Mr. Rees in the interior of the state; and Mrs. Timothy’s paper published reports, apparently false, of similar lynch-law punishments inflicted upon other persons. In denouncing these proceedings, a citizen writing under the anonym “Another Patriot”, in the South Carolina Gazette and General Advertiser, April 28, expressed the hope that persons about to sail from Charleston for Europe would not take the handbills too seriously nor spread lurid reports of them abroad, to add to the damage done the state by the reports of the “ pumping match ” of the previous year. He assured them that an association of the good citizens was being formed, resolutely determined to uphold the magistracy and to put it out of the power of malcontents to disturb the peace of the city.
The city council resolved on April 30 that in order to secure the suppression of any riots which might occur, the bell of St. Michael’s church should be rung in case of turbulence, whereupon the intendant and wardens should at once repair to the state-house; and it commanded that all magistrates and constables, with their emblems of office, and all regular and peaceable citizens should rally likewise at the state-house and “invigorate the arm of Government”. This riot ordinance seems to have turned the tide against the Anti-Britannics. The writer “Another Patriot” declared in Miller’s paper of May 11, that most of those who had been followers of Gillon and Fallon had joined the society in the belief, fostered by its officers, that it would advantage them in their trades; but that these had at length seen through the cheat, and that at a recent meeting only thirty-nine members could be assembled out of the six hundred of which the society’s hand-bills had boasted. This exposure was shortly followed by ridicule. A citizen calling himself “A Steady and Open Republican”, in a long article denouncing Fallon, turned upon the society:
Carolina, that has not twenty of her natives at sea, immediately to set up an Anti-Britannic Marine Society! Laughable indeed! If intended to raise a Navy, that is expressly contrary to the Confederation, and I confess the very thought of such a thing gives me the gripes, before we recover from the endless expences and embarrassments of the wretched bargain made for us only in the bare hire of one single Frigate.
Several anonymous radicals replied, and a running controversy was kept up in the gazettes from May to September. There was apparently for some years no further attempt at mob action; the radicals turned their attention instead to getting control of the government through polling majorities in the elections. Of this and the outcome, John Lloyd wrote from Charleston, December 7, 1784, to his nephew, T. B. Smith:
The malecontented party having by several publications endeavoured to influence the electors throughout the State to make choice of men to represent them in the General Assembly, from the lower class: the gentlemen of property, to preserve their necessary consequence in the community and in order to prevent anarchy and confusion, have almost unanimously exerted themselves in opposition to them, and it is with particular pleasure I inform you they have pretty generally carried their point, especially in this city, so that we shall have exceedingly good representation, and by that means support the honor and credit of the country.
Antagonism to the aristocracy, however, was strong, particularly in the upland districts, where the cotton industry did not yet exist and a small-farming regime prevailed. Izard wrote to Jefferson, June 10, 1785: “ Our governments tend too much to Democracy. A handicraftsman thinks an apprenticeship necessary to make him acquainted with his business. But our back countrymen are of opinion that a politician may be born such, as well as a poet.”
The governor gave notice on March 17, 1785, that all persons who had been exiled from sister states and had taken refuge in South Carolina must leave the state within one month from the date of this notice; and that all persons who had been banished from South Carolina and had returned thither under the provisions of the British treaty, might remain in the state for three months longer than the treaty stipulated, but must depart immediately at the end of that period. This action by the executive put an end to the anti-loyalist agitation; but the parties already in process of evolution continued to develop and to oppose one another upon successive new issues.
The prevalence of acute hard times, reaching extreme severity in 1785 and 1786, turned public attention sharply to questions of industry, commerce and finance. A narrative of economic developments in the state following the close of the British war was related by Judge Henry Pendleton in his charges to the grand juries of Georgetown, Cheraws and Camden Districts, in the autumn of 1786, in part as follows :
No sooner had we recovered and restored the country to peace and order than a rage for running into debt became epidemical; instead of resorting to patient industry, and by slow and cautious advances, recovering to the state that opulence and vigor which the devastations of a long and calamitous war had destroyed, individuals were for getting rich by a coup de main, a good bargain—a happy speculation was almost every man’s object and pursuit. Instead of a rigid economy, which the distress of the times so strongly excited, what a load of debt was in a short time contracted in the purchase of British superfluities, and of lands and slaves for which no price was too high, if credit for the purchase was to be obtained; these fatal effects too were accelerated by the very indulgence and lenity which afforded the happiest opportunity to those in debt to surmount all their difficulties—I mean the act for prescribing the payment of old debts by instalments of one, two and three years; had this act totally abolished all old debts, men could not with more avidity have run on contracting new ones. How small a pittance of the produce of the years 1783, 4 and 5, altho’ amounting to upwards of 400,000 1. sterling a year, on an average, hath been applied toward lessening old burdens? Hence it was that men not compelled by law to part with the produce of these years, for the payment of their debts, employed it to gain a further credit in new purchases to several times the amount, and thereby forced an exportation of it to foreign parts, at a price which the markets of consumption would not bear—what then was the consequence?—the merchants were driven to the exportation of gold and silver, which so rapidly followed, and with it fled the vital spirit of the government: —a diminution of the value of the capital, as well as the annual produce of estates, in consequence of the fallen price,—the loss of public credit, and the most alarming deficiencies in the revenue, and in the collection of the taxes; the recovery of new debts, as well as old in effect suspended, while the numerous bankruptcies which have happened in Europe, amongst the merchants trading to America, the reproach of which is cast upon us, have proclaimed to all the trading nations to guard against our laws and policy, and even against our moral principles.
The governor’s message to the general assembly on September 26, 1785, called attention to the calamitous state of affairs existing: money scarce, men unable to pay their debts, and citizens liable to fall prey to aliens. The House at once appointed a committee of fifteen members on the state of the republic. In the open debate which this large committee held on September 28, several remedies for the shortage of money were proposed: one by Ralph Izard on behalf of conservatives, that the importation of negro slaves be prohibited for three years and the community thereby saved from the constant drain of capital which it was suffering; others by radical representatives for the more obvious but more short-sighted recourse to stay-laws and paper money. The assembly at this session adopted the proposal of paper money, and authorized its issue to the amount of 100,000 (pounds), to be loaned to citizens, on security, for five years at seven per cent.
Next spring, the depression had grown even more severe. Many Charleston merchants had gone out of business and the rent of shops had fallen one-third. Commodore Gillon, a member for Charleston, proposed in February, 1786, a stay-law, granting debtors three years in which to meet obligations, and exempting them from sheriffs’ sales meanwhile. After long debate this bill passed the House, but it was apparently defeated in the Senate. In December Gillon stood for re-election, and was returned as twenty-eighth in the list of thirty representatives from the Charleston parishes. In February, 1787, Gillon reintroduced his bill for a stay-law, and gave warning that if it were not enacted, something more radical might be expected. Dr. Ramsay, in opposition, denied the right of the legislature to interfere in private contracts, and said that the experiments which South Carolina had already made in stay-laws had shown that they promoted irresponsibility and did no substantial good. He declined to believe that the people would become tumultuous if the bill should fail to pass. Mr. John Julius Pringle Speaker of the House, advocated the bill, stating that the voice of the people was so strenuous in its favor that it would not be sound policy to reject it. The bill passed the committee of the whole house by a large majority, and was enacted. Other debates on phases of the same question occurred in 1788, which further widened the rift between conservatives and radicals.
The industrial depression continued for several years longer, until in the middle nineties the development of the cotton industry, beginning with the introduction of the sea-island variety in 1786 in Georgia and two or three years later in South Carolina, and hastened and immensely enlarged in its possibilities by Whitney’s invention of the short-staple gin, in 1793, brought a renewal of general prosperity. To illustrate the situation of numerous planters during the hard times, a letter is extant from Joseph Bee to a creditor, October 19, 1789:
It has been my misfortune, among several hundreds to have been sued and even to have had Judgements obtained against me, in consequence of which I find the sheriff has a very valuable plantation of mine to be sold, which I at sundry times endeavoured to do, both at Public and Private Sale in order to satisfy my Creditors, but all my endeavour proved fruitless, therefore it would be needless for me in such a case to ask a Friend the favour, as I might naturally expect a Denial, therefore I would just leave the matter to yourself to act in whatever way you think proper, tho at the same time I could most heartily wish that I could command money in order to close the matter, as it gives me pain to be dunned at any time. . . .
Bee finally announced in the public prints, June, 1784, that having been reduced to poverty through the sale of his real estate by the sheriff for a thirteenth part of what he might formerly have had for it at private sale, he was now prepared to go to jail to convince his creditors—after which he hoped to be left in some peace of mind.
The assembly in 1791 provided for the gradual calling in of the loans made to the citizens under the act of 1785 and for the retirement of the paper money. But in the following years measures occasionally prevailed for delaying the redemption; and there was almost constantly a dread among the conservatives that the radicals might again get the upper hand and, if unchecked by state or federal constitutions, do great mischief to the commonwealth.
Local concerns, however, were overshadowed after 1787 by problems directly connected with federal relations and policy, while in some cases, such as those of paper money, tariff and public debt, the former local problems were quickly handed over to the central government. It was quite natural under the circumstances, that the political factions which had grown into existence while the state government was managing nearly all of the public business should continue in life, and, after a brief period of transition and partial reorganization, should transfer the general application of their points of view and predilections to the affairs of the federal government.
The need of more efficient central control in the United States had been felt by the Carolina planters immediately upon the ending of the British war. An expression of this, for example, was a pamphlet attributed with probable justice to Christopher Gadsden.
The author of this expressed gratification at the successful close of the American revolt, and urged the advisibility of preserving peace. To this end he thought firm government necessary, and especially sound policy in finance. Congress, he said, must be trusted with the power of securing supplies for the expenses of the Confederation and the power of contracting debts, and “this power must not be capable of being defeated by the opposition of any minority in the States”; everything depends upon the preservation of a firm political union, “and such a union cannot be preserved without giving all possible weight and energy to the authority of that delegation which constitutes the Union”. In conclusion, to drive home his contention, he pictured the consequences to be expected if the policy were not adopted. He lamented the rise of clashing interests, and foreboded that in the absence of any strong central control these would break the union, and in that event the whole work of the Revolution would miscarry, the movement for liberty in all future efforts would be discouraged, and the present epoch would but open a new scene of human degeneracy and wretchedness.
In 1784 the Charleston newspapers from time to time advocated strengthening the Union, on general principles, and in 1785 they regretted New York’s veto of the plan to empower Congress to levy import duties. Concrete local developments promoted nationalism especially among the planters. To improve their method of rice culture they were abandoning the earlier system of irrigating their fields from reservoirs of rain-water, and were clearing and embanking great tracts of river swamps which could be flooded and drained at will through the rise and fall of the tide. For this work they needed large supplies of capital on loan and they were embarrassed by its dearth. The financial crisis of 1785 forced the planters, and the merchants also, to face the situation squarely and to realize that the achievement of political independence by the United States had not made South Carolina financially self-sufficient. It made them see that economically their commonwealth was still in a colonial condition, in need of steady backing by some strong financial power. England was no longer available; but they saw that the Northern commercial states could be made a substitute. At the same time it was seen that a political alliance with the Northern conservative interests would partly safeguard the Carolina conservatives from injury in case the radicals should locally get into control. On the whole in this period the conservatives of the Charleston district appear to have dreaded the rule of their local opponents as the worst of threatening evils, and to have welcomed the restriction of the state’s functions in large part because it would reduce the scope of the possible damage to be wrought by the radicals in their midst in case they should capture the state machinery. For a number of years, therefore, most of the leading planters on the coast, and many of the merchants, not only favored the remodelling of the central government as accomplished in 17871789, but favored also the exercise of broad powers by Congress under the Constitution.
In the years 1786-1788, even the radicals of the Charleston district largely approved the strengthening of the Union, partly perhaps because they saw that commerce depended upon efficient government, and partly because some of their leaders, notably the brilliant young Charles Pinckney, had ambition for careers in national affairs. The South Carolina delegates in the Federal Convention, all of whom were from the Charleston vicinity, all favored the new Constitution; nearly all of the lowland members of the state legislature in 1788 voted for the call of a state convention with power to ratify it; and in that convention the delegation from Charleston voted solidly aye upon the motion to ratify. For the time, therefore, at least upon the question of federal relations, the Charleston factions were largely at peace. Commodore Gillon, for example, in the debate in the House of Representatives found himself an ally of C. C. Pinckney and David Ramsay.
The opposition to the federal plan of 1787 came from the distant interior of the state, but as its chief spokesman found one of the aristocratic conservatives of the coast, in the person of Rawlins Lowndes. The uplanders had had experience within the state of living under a government which, by reason of their having a minority in the legislature, they could not control; and they dreaded a similar arrangement in the federal system. Lowndes, also, was impressed with the prospective danger that a coalition of northern interests might use the federal machinery for the oppression of South Carolina with her peculiar needs; and he pleaded with his fellow’ slaveholding planters to adopt his view, but without success.
Lowndes was not even elected to the state convention. In his absence Patrick Dollard from the interior was the sole spokesman of the opposition to the ordinance. He said:
My constituents are highly alarmed at the large and rapid strides which this new government has taken towards despotism. They say it is big with political mischiefs and pregnant with a greater variety of impending woes to the good people of the Southern States, especially South Carolina, than all the plagues supposed to issue from the box of Pandora. They say it is particularly calculated for the meridian of despotic aristocracy; that it evidently tends to promote the ambitious views of a few able and designing men, and enslave the rest.
The coast delegates were solidly deaf to this declaration, as they had been to Lowndes’s arguments, though some of them, patricians and plebeians, were destined after a short experience under the new government to reverse their position and champion the doctrines which they now rejected.
The scene of chief interest in the political history of South Carolina now shifts to the federal Congress—to the debates upon the initial policies of the government, and their influence upon the sentiment of the members and the public. The senators from South Carolina during the first sessions were Ralph Izard and Pierce Butler, who accorded in their policies for a year or two, but then drifted apart. Butler was impetuous in disposition, and likely to denounce all persons, the administration included, who opposed his views. Izard was somewhat more magisterial in temperament. Butler had acted with the conservatives in 1783-1784, and had supported the new federal Constitution in 1787-1788. But a brief experience in Congress brought the beginning of a thorough change in his attitude. On August 11, 1789, he wrote from New York to James Iredell of North Carolina, who had been a close friend:
I find locality and partiality reign as much in our Supreme Legislature as they could in a county court or State Legislature. … I came here full of hopes that the greatest liberality would be exercised; that the consideration of the whole, and the general good would take place of every object; but here I find men scrambling for partial advantages, State interests, and in short a train of those narrow, impolitic measures that must after a while shake the Union to its very foundation. … I confess I wish you [t. e., the state of North Carolina] to come into the confederacy as the only chance the Southern interest has to preserve a balance of power.
William Maclay, the caustic senator from Pennsylvania, observes in his Journal that Butler was himself the personification of sectionalism, bent upon the selfsame narrow policy for local advantage which he censured so flamingly in others. The development of Butler’s general attitude, it may be remarked, was closely paralleled in the case of all the leading Georgia politicians of the period, while Izard’s policies were those of almost the whole group of South Carolina conservatives.
After Butler through denouncing the tariff and tonnage bills had drifted into the opposition, Izard’s chief working associate in Congress was his son-in-law William Smith, a representative from South Carolina for nearly a decade in the Lower House. These two, aided vigorously after 1794 by Robert Goodloe Harper, were apparently the chief agents in holding the South Carolina conservatives firmly to the nationalistic policies and to the Federalist party alignment.
The chief issue in the First Congress promoting the doctrine of broad construction on the part of the South Carolinians was that of the assumption of state debts. South Carolina, together with Massachusetts and Connecticut, was laboring under a heavy debt incurred during the war and still undischarged. The desire to have this assumed by the central government was a federalizing influence in the state. William Smith, furthermore, bought up a quantity of state notes, and passed the word around among his Charleston friends that there was probably money to be made by all who would enter the speculation. This of course increased the enthusiasm with which “ assumption ” was locally favored.
There was little discussion in the state, it seems, over the first two presidential elections. George Washington was the obvious choice for the presidency, and South Carolina gave him her eight electoral votes in each case. At the first election she gave her remaining eight votes to John Rutledge, a citizen of her own whom she was delighted to honor; and in 1792 her electors cast seven votes for Adams and one for Burr. George Clinton, the regular Republican vice-presidential candidate at the time, was little known in the state; and the Republican party had not yet acquired firm organization.
In 1792 affairs in France reached a crisis in their course which caused the Revolutionary government there to declare war against all the neighboring monarchs of Europe and to proclaim a worldwide crusade to establish its doctrines of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. This propaganda was promptly extended to the United States, and Citizen Genet, its chief emissary, began his work in the city of Charleston in April, 1793. Some of the local radicals, as we have seen, had already been disposed to be hostile toward Great Britain, and to adopt populistic policies in domestic affairs. The French agitation now greatly strengthened these tendencies. The enthusiasm for France and Democracy was for a time very great. Two societies, the “Republican” and the “ French Patriotic”, were promptly formed at Charleston, and like the many similar organizations at the time in the other cities and towns of the United States, drank multitudinous toasts with great acclaim to liberty and equal rights and to the perpetual friendship of France and America. Many of the young men particularly were captivated by the enthusiasm; and the military and naval commissions offered by Genet were eagerly accepted by adventurous characters among the citizens.
But there were those who welcomed neither Genet nor the ideas which he represented; and the ardor even of many of the enthusiasts was soon chilled by President Washington’s disapproval of Genet’s deeds. In some cases, that of Robert Goodloe Harper for example, the reaction was so strong as to carry young men all the way from rampant democracy to fast conservatism and steady membership in the Federalist party. By the end of 1793 the people of South Carolina were in well-defined Francophile and Francophobe factions. The conservatives had control of the South Carolina house of representatives. On December 2, 1793, that house resolved, unanimously, that a committee be appointed with full powers to send for persons and papers and ascertain the truth of a report that an armed force was levying in the state by persons under foreign authority. On December 3, Robert Anderson, chairman of this committee, directed Colonel Wade Hampton to summon William Tate, Stephen Drayton, John Hambleton, Jacob R. Brown, Robert Tate and Richard Speake, to appear before the committee at once, using compulsion, if necessary, to bring them, and to search for papers relating to their recited purpose. In accordance with orders Hampton seized Stephen Drayton and carried him 130 miles to make appearance at Columbia. Drayton then employed Alexander Moultrie as attorney to sue the members of the committee for $6000 damages. The house resolved that members were not suable for actions taken in the house, and it summoned both Drayton and Moultrie to appear and receive reprimand for violating the rights of the house. These men refused to appear, and Moultrie in protest against the proceedings published a pamphlet giving the whole narrative from his point of view.
Another contretemps is related in a public letter addressed by M. Carey to his brother vrais sans culottes, and published in the South Carolina Gazette, July 26, 1794. Upon the arrival of the vessel of the Republic L’Amie de la Liberte at Charleston after a cruise in neighboring waters, her officers and crew learned that Colonel Jacob Read had called them in open court a lawless band of pirates. Carey then accosted Read at the door of the State House and demanded his reason for such accusation. Read replied that he did not consider himself bound to answer for his language in court to unknown and insignificant characters. Carey then called Read a liar and a scoundrel and gave him his address; but next day Read filed a complaint against him and Carey was bound over to keep the peace. Read now took offense at the Gazette for publishing Carey’s letter and challenged one of its editors, Timothy, to a duel; but the affray was prevented by an officer of the law.
In Charleston and the plantation districts the coolness toward democratic theory and the reaction against it were promoted by the news from the French West Indies. In Hayti particularly, the application of the doctrine of inherent liberty and equality to the negro population had led to an overwhelming revolt of the blacks under Toussaint L’Ouverture, and had brought great disaster to the whites. Haytian refugees flocked into Charleston, as well as into New Orleans, Norfolk, Philadelphia and New York, furnishing whether audibly or silently an argument for firm government. A view which prevailed throughout the decade was expressed by Nathaniel Russell, writing from Charleston, June 6, 1794, to Ralph Izard at Philadelphia:
We are to have a meeting of the citizens on the nth inst when I hope some effective measure will be adopted to prevent any evil consequences from that diabolical decree of the national convention which emancipates all the slaves in the french colonies, a circumstance the most alarming that could happen to this country.
Another consideration against thoroughgoing democracy in the state was that it would lead to a redistribution of representation in the legislature in such a way that the up-country would acquire control of both houses and be able to enact legislation of any sort it desired, regardless of the opposition of the plantation interests which at this time and for a few years longer were still confined to the coast. The Jeffersonian movement, however, combining the principles of individual rights and state rights, welcomed from the beginning by the Charleston radicals, and vigorously organized by Charles Pinckney with Pierce Butler, Thomas Sumter and Wade Hampton as his colleagues, had strength enough even in the lowlands to keep the Federalists in fear of losing all their Congressional representation at each recurring election.
The theme which furnished the most active partizan discussions in 1794-1795 was of course the Jay Treaty. William Smith addressed his constituents in a pamphlet in the spring of 1794 to vindicate his conduct in Congress from the slander of his opponents. He repelled the charge of advocating the cause of Great Britain or vindicating her piratical conduct, but he said that on the other hand he had been no more friendly toward France, for the French government had been no more friendly toward us. He said that he leaned toward Great Britain in the matter of commercial relations for the reason that friendly connection with British trade was vastly the more important to the United States and especially to South Carolina. Smith mentioned the news of the Jay Treaty in a postscript to his pamphlet, but gave it no full discussion. The popular debate in South Carolina upon the treaty was reviewed in part by Harper in a letter to his constituents in 1796. The Charleston City Gazette, July 14, 1795, had declared the treaty “ degrading to the National honor, dangerous to the political existence and destructive to the agricultural, commercial and shipping interests of the people of the United States”. Chief Justice Rutledge in a speech printed in the City Gazette of July 17 had described the treaty as “prostituting the dearest rights of freemen and laying them at the feet of royalty ”. Charles Pinckney in a speech at Charleston had accused Jay of corruption by the British court and of having bartered away the western territory. Harper pointed out the intemperance of these censures, and proceeded in quiet and solid argument to defend the ratification of the treaty.
Up to this time the two parties had not reached full organization and had not decisively divided all the South Carolina voters between them. For example, Henry W. De Saussure and John Rutledge, jr., both talented popular young men and active in state politics, were not attached to either party. Rutledge, in fact, was elected to Congress by the people of Orangeburg and Beaufort districts in 1796 as an uncommitted candidate, and he did not cast his lot with the Federalists until some weeks after he had taken his seat.
In the presidential campaign of 1796 the issue was known to be extremely doubtful, and each side strained every resource for victory. In South Carolina the Federalists had been made uneasy by losses in recent Congressional and assembly elections. To improve the prospects in the state and possibly in neighboring states as well, the party in the nation at large adopted Major Thomas Pinckney as its vice-presidential candidate. Pinckney belonged to an old and prominent rice-planting family, had served with credit in the war, had been governor of the state, and had recently won distinction and praise in the whole country as the negotiator of a very popular treaty with Spain. He was in a word an honored member of a much honored conservative group of “ revolutionary warriors and statesmen He was not an outright party man, but his general point of view was harmonious with that of the Federalists. Alexander Hamilton, in fact, tried to secure his election over Adams’s head. With Pinckney on the ticket the party managers in South Carolina, Izard, Smith and Harper, hoped to get at least a few of the electoral votes of the state for Adams; and Smith urged Izard to visit the legislature and work to this end.
The local supporters of Adams feared mainly the influence of Edward Rutledge, and the outcome justified their fear. Rutledge was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and had seen some military service; but after the war for many years he would accept no public appointment, except a seat in the state legislature which he held from 1782 to 1798. He rendered frequent unofficial service as peace-maker in preventing duels and in other private and public matters. In a word he was another highly esteemed member of the Revolutionary group, and was the Nestor of the legislature. He was the intimate friend of Thomas Pinckney, but was probably a little more democratic in his point of view. For example, he had framed the act which in 1791 had abolished primogeniture in South Carolina.21 Rutledge preferred Jefferson to Adams in 1796, and probably had hopes, like Hamilton, of bringing in Pinckney over both of them. The legislature and the electors willingly adopted the Pinckney-Jefferson plan, and the votes of South Carolina were cast eight for Pinckney and eight for Jefferson. A number of New England Federalist electors, on the other hand, “scratched” Pinckney and reduced his total vote below that of either Adams or Jefferson. The votes cast by South Carolina would have given Jefferson the presidency had not North Carolina and Virginia each given a single unexpected vote to Adams.
In 1797 Ralph Izard, already in retirement from the Senate, was made permanently an invalid by paralysis, and William Smith, probably unable to control his district longer, withdrew from Congress and took the mission to Portugal. The Federalist management in the state passed entirely to Robert Goodloe Harper, who differed greatly from the local Federalist type both in origin and in residence though not in policy. He was a native of Virginia who after graduating at Princeton had gone to Charleston to study law and seek a career. Admitted to the bar in 1786, he removed to the up-country where lawyers were few and opportunities many. He rapidly gained reputation as a lawyer, pamphleteer and politician, changed his politics from Democratic to Federalist as we have seen, in 1794-1795, and was from 1795 to 1801 by far the most alert, vigorous and effective spokesman and leader of the Federalists in the Lower South. De Saussure and Rutledge were later recruits, who wrought sturdily for the party in the later nineties.
General William A. Washington, John Ewing Calhoun and Dr. David Ramsay were active at times as Federalist leaders of secondary importance, and Gabriel Manigault, though always preferring plantation life to public office for himself, served steadily as a guiding party administrator at home while Smith and Harper were on the firing line in Congress. The brothers Charles Cotes worth and Thomas Pinckney were dignitaries within and ornaments to, rather than working members of, the local Federalist party. Christopher Gadsden, another prominent veteran, while sympathizing with his aristocratic associates, refused to countenance party action. He published a pamphlet in 1797 decrying the spirit of faction, objecting to the pledging of presidential electors in advance, and prophesying results from the rivalry of Jefferson and Adams similar to the violence between Caesar and Pompey of old.
All of the Federalist leaders were members of the old planter families in the lowlands, except Flarper who himself was recognized as of good Virginia stock. The Republicans, whether leaders or rank and file, were less homogeneous and, partly in consequence, were harder to keep in solid organization. The Charleston democracy, the poor-whites of the pine-flats and the sturdy yeomanry of the Piedmont furnished the chief components of the party’s mass; but these classes were without the oratorical gift in which the gentry revelled and without experience in large affairs. They elected to Congress a few men of their own class, the veteran Thomas Sumter, for example, but they secured aggressive leaders only through the enlistment of some of the planters in the Republican cause.
The career of Pierce Butler in this connection we have already noted. Another example is Wade Hampton, in many respects a younger prototype of Butler, a man of impetuous temper and highly individualistic inclinations, submitting to no party restraints. He usually opposed the Federalists, partly because he was a man of the new Piedmont planters and not of the old lowland gentry, and partly because of his wish to confine all government within narrow bounds.
The chief organizer and manager of the Republican machinery was Charles Pinckney, cousin to the two Revolutionary veterans. He was a man with ability for constructive statesmanship, as was shown very early in his career by his excellent work in the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. He was, however, a plunger in business affairs, and a spoilsman in party politics; and according to tradition in Charleston he was dishonest in the conduct of trust estates committed to his charge. He launched into Republican leadership partly from a dislike of Adams, but more largely, it may be conjectured, from a desire for a conspicuous career. In 1795 the South Carolina Republicans were a leaderless party and Charles Pinckney was a talented politician without a following and with no principles in particular. He embraced the opportunity, was elected governor and senator, and in 1800 swung his state to Jefferson and deposed his enemy, Adams, from the presidency.
The course of foreign affairs in 1796, 1797 and 1798 gave the Federalists a decisive tactical advantage. Harper utilized the opportunity, according to his custom, and in August, 1798, addressed a pamphlet to his constituents. In it he described the offensive behavior of the French Republic toward the United States and told of the steps in progress for defending America against a French invasion, which he declared would probably be undertaken unless bold military preparations in this country should discourage it.
Sentiment in Charleston had already grown so apprehensive of French attack upon the port that measures suitable to an emergency were being taken. At a mass meeting assembled in St. Michael’s Church on May 5 to express public endorsement of Adams’s foreign policy, a proposal was made and welcomed for a voluntary private subscription to supplement the funds to be provided by the federal government for the protection of Charleston. The money thus raised, amounting to about $100,000, was used to build a frigate at Charleston in 1798-1799, which was christened the John Adams. Foreigners were maltreated in some localities; Henry W. De Saussure denounced the arrogance of France in the Fourth of July address at St. Philip’s Church, Charleston; and Justice Bay took occasion in November upon his circuit in the counties of the upper Piedmont to deliver political charges to the grand juries, praising Adams, appealing for support to the administration and denouncing the recalcitrant few in South Carolina who had persisted in their partizan antagonism.
But the Federalists had already prepared the way for their own downfall. The Alien and Sedition Acts of June and July, 1798, were an abuse of power which few Carolinians except Harper could defend. A sign of the reaction was the election of Charles Pinckney to the United States Senate in December, 1798. The pendulum of foreign relations, furthermore, swung to the Republican side. Charles Pinckney printed with good effect a series of well-written remonstrances against the overbearing policy of Great Britain. Aside from these movements there was a lull in the local debate until the middle of the year 1800. Then, from June to November, the gazettes teemed with controversial articles, most of which were of Republican tone.
The issues presented in the general campaign were little different from those of 1796. The Federalist programme, in fact, was in several features identical. The party stood upon its record and not upon the promise of new policies. It again nominated a South Carolinian, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney in this case, to run with Adams; and Hamilton again tried to secure the election of Adams’s companion candidate instead of Adams himself.
What has been said of Thomas Pinckney, a few pages above, applies with slight change of detail to his brother Charles Cotesworth. Their previous careers had been closely parallel; they were similarly devoid of records as party men but similarly distinguished for integrity, public spirit and high social standing; and they were similarly passive when they themselves were candidates. There is contemporary evidence that Charles Cotesworth Pinckney repelled as unjust to Adams a proposal from men in control of the situation that a compromise between the two parties be adopted on the same plan as that which had been acted upon in 1796, and that the vote of South Carolina be given eight for Pinckney and eight for Jefferson.
The Federalists of the state allowed the election to go largely by default. Ralph Izard and William Smith were no longer in the arena, Thomas and C. C. Pinckney refrained from any electioneering; and worst of all, Robert Goodloe Harper had notified his constituents in a letter of May 15 that he would not run for Congress again and would not return for further residence in South Carolina. The local Federalists were leaderless—a new thing in their experience—handicapped by the record of the Alien and Sedition Acts, and generally powerless. The result of the contest hinged upon the work of one man, Charles Pinckney, whose exertions in Jefferson’s and Burr’s behalf were as marked as the inertness of the Adams and Pinckney men.
Charles Pinckney wrote a full account of his labors in the emergency in letters to Jefferson, which have been published in this journal. The choice of electors was to be made, as usual in the state, by the legislature elected shortly before the presidential contest. Charleston sent in 1800, as usual, a majority of Federalists to the assembly (11 to 4), but the whole membership of the two houses on joint ballot promised to be very evenly divided. Charles Pinckney, instead of going to Washington for the opening of Congress, went to Columbia to manage the election of electors. By contesting the election of numerous members, and other jockeying, and by persuading such members as could be persuaded, he succeeded in swinging the majority. The assembly chose Republican electors by votes ranging from 82 to 87 as against 63 to 69 for the Federalist candidates. Pinckney then promptly wrote Jefferson requesting him not to “make any arrangements for this state” before consulting himself. The allusion was of course to the distribution of patronage.
Harper on the day after Jefferson’s inauguration wrote as a farewell to his late constituents a eulogy of the constructive work performed by the Federalist party. It was a splendid appreciation and fit to serve, as it did, as an obituary address. The gentry were of course shocked by the triumph of Jefferson, and could adjust themselves to it only by retirement in injured dignity to private life. The Jeffersonian regime soon upset the whole adjustment of parties and their constitutional maxims. To the Republicans of 1801 the historical Republican doctrines were little more interesting than the last year’s almanacs. The Northern wing of the Federalist party soon borrowed the arguments of strict construction in order to oppose the Louisiana Purchase, the embargo and the War of 1812; but the Carolina Federalists saw no occasion to follow this example. They accordingly did little but maintain their party machinery, in more or less isolation from parties outside the state. At the beginning of 1803 the Charleston Courier was established as a Federalist organ, denouncing in its editorials the French doctrines of the rights of man, etc., and praising conservatism and stability in government. The editor soon began to complain of apathy in his party: “Sure some spell . . . hangs over the federalists. … If not for their own sakes, will they not for the salvation of their country rouse from the censurable sloth and fight the democrats ?” The Federalists locally would not arouse, for they had no issue for which to fight. The Jeffersonians had adopted the Federalist policies, and the South Carolina Federalists were drawn more and more into harmony with them and out of sympathy with the filibustering New Englanders. The older generation continued to cling passively to the name of Federalist. The Charleston Courier toned down and ceased to be a party organ. The sons of the gentry, William Lowndes, for example, drifted inevitably into the Republican party, which was now no longer Democratic in the old doctrinaire sense, but was the one party of action. As a sign of the times even among the older group, William Smith, having returned from Portugal, went over to the Republicans and in 1810 tried to secure a nomination to Congress. By force of the embargo and the British war, which they supported, the South Carolina Federalists gradually ceased to contend that they had a reason for separate existence, and they were gradually merged among the Republicans, who as a party accepted leaders largely from the gentry of the former Federalist families.
The Federalist party in the state was practically dead by 1812. The old Federalist policies, however, championed as they were by the new generation of leaders in spite of their repudiation of the party name and alignment, continued to control the state until about 1827. But the times again were changing, and men’s opinions with them. Calhoun, Cheves, Lowndes and McDuffie had supported the national banks, Federal internal improvements and the protective tariff in the years of emergency at the close of the War of 1812, and had rejoiced in the opportunity of promoting the welfare of the manufacturing and wool-growing regions, so long as it did not obviously threaten injury to the people of their own state. But when the protected Northern and Western interests fattened and grew strong and used their strength to force through Congress bills for the further heightening of duties, and when it came to appear that the plantation states were entering a severe depression partly because of their previous generosity, the dominating sentiment among the people and the leaders in South Carolina reacted sharply against the so-called American system and against the constitutional theory which supported it. The Carolina statesmen, finding that the genie which they had loosed from his jar was threatening them and their people with oppression, resorted to the mystic (yet severely logical) formula of nullification in the hope of conjuring him back under control. Andrew Jackson’s coercive proclamation, together with the Congressional force bills, established a decisive majority in the state in a position of resentment and reaction. The public appreciation of the impending crisis over negro slavery in the following period operated to make this attitude permanent. The Federalist policies were now not appreciably less dead in the state than was the old Federalist party organization.
This essay was originally published in two parts in the American Historical Review in 1906 and 1909.