Monday, May 23, 2016

Constitution Series Part 32: Signatures (South Carolina)

All four of the South Carolina delegates ended up signing the Constitution, and each one was active and influential in not only the debates but in the country afterward.

John Rutledge was a lifelong lawyer, who reportedly even "played lawyer" with his siblings when he was young. After getting his education, he immediately launched a successful and in-demand practice in Charleston. His prominence led to politics, where he represented South Carolina first as a member of the First and Second Continental Congress, then as President of South Carolina, and then (after South Carolina revised its constitution) as Governor of South Carolina. His governorship lasted basically through the Revolutionary War.

He came into conflict with General Charles Lee over whether Fort Sullivan, a hastily-built fort built to defend Charleston, was in fact defensible. Rutledge, as commander-in-chief of South Carolina's militia, refused to abandon the fort, which stood against the British forces and saved Charleston early in the war, keeping the city out of British hands for four years.

At the Constitutional Convention, Rutledge fought for and got his way on many issues important to him, including having a single executive and preventing the Supreme Court from giving "advisory rulings." He also fought hard against limiting voting rights to land-owners, concerned that such a measure would only create resentment between the "haves" and "have-nots," generating discord. Ironically, he also fought against abolishing slavery, which I would consider the ultimate have/have-not situation, and which definitely led to discord down the line.

After the convention, Rutledge was appointed to the original Supreme Court briefly, though he resigned before hearing any cases. He was later appointed to the Supreme Court again, this time as the Chief Justice to replace John Jay. However, shortly after appointment Rutledge spoke out vocally against the popular Jay Treaty, and the senate declined his confirmation, making him the first Presidential appointee to not be confirmed by the senate. Devastated, Rutledge removed himself from public life and apparently he attempted to commit suicide. He failed, though, and didn't die until the year 1800, a popular year for Founding Fathers to die, it seems.

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was from an aristocratic family of planters, and he studied law before the Revolutionary War. In the war he enlisted as an officer, and rose through the ranks. He defended Charleston during both major attacks on the city, and was taken prisoner when the city surrendered to the British. As a POW, Pinckney exhibited bravado, mustering the other prisoners' spirits and keeping them loyal.

After the war, he was promoted to Major General of the South Carolina militia. At the Constitutional Convention, Pinckney was one of the leading voices, fighting for a strong national government and the rights of slavers. He got his way on slavery, but he was opposed to paying senators (who he thought should be independently wealthy) and electing representatives through popular elections.

Afterward, Pinckney was appointed Ambassador to France, which (due to some scheming by the fascinating historical figure, Talleyrand, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs) led eventually to the Quasi-War, which Pinckney oversaw as a Major General. Later, Pinckney ran for President several times as a Federalist: once alongside John Adams in 1800, then as the primary Federalist candidate in 1804 and 1808. He lost every time, and eventually he returned to private practice in South Carolina. He died in 1825, at the age of 72.
Charles Pinckney is a cousin of Charles Cotesworth Pinkney, and likewise from that same big, influential, slave-owning family of planters. This Pinckney also fought in the war, but only for about a year before he got captured when the British took Charleston. He was very young when he entered politics, before the age of 20.

At the Constitutional Convention, Pinckney was very influential, proposing many clauses that made it to the final version of the Constitution. One of his most curious additions was the clause that prevented the government from performing any sort of religious test for government officials (Article VI, Clause 3), which was strange since South Carolina had exactly that sort of test written into its constitution at the time. The extent and degree of influence Pinckney had on the Constitution is a matter of some debate, however, and other framers (especially Madison) disputed his relevance. However, it's undisputed that he spoke often and was influential, if not the "most influential" person there as he later claimed.

Afterward, Pinckney married Mary Eleanor Laurens, sister to the late Colonel John Laurens. Riding high on his apparent influence at the Constitutional Convention, Pinckney wielded exceptional political power for the rest of his life, serving as Governor of South Carolina several different times, as a U.S. Senator, and as the Ambassador to Spain. He fought for the rights of slaveowners his whole life. He died in 1824 at the age of 66. Many influential governors of South Carolina can trace their lineage back to this Charles Pinckney.

Pierce Butler was an Irish aristocrat and served as an officer in the British Army until he moved to South Carolina to live with his wealthy wife, Mary Middleton. As a former Redcoat, his services were valuable during the Revolutionary War, and he served in the Continental Army. Likewise as a former Redcoat, he was a high priority target for the British forces, and he managed to evade capture while helping to organize resistance in the occupied South through the end of the war. He basically spent his fortune supplying and assisting the Continental Army.

At the Constitutional Convention, he was a vocal attendee, supporting both the Madison/Wilson cause as well as advocating for southern slaveholders. He proposed the clause that required states to return any escaped slaves they find back to their original owners (Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3). Later, Butler served in the U.S. Senate, first as a Federalist, then as a Democratic-Republican, and eventually as an independent, as he eventually found himself disagreeing with the self-interests inherent in each party. By removing himself from the establishment parties, he soon found himself removed from politics altogether.

Butler offered sanctuary to Aaron Burr for a time after Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and both Burr and Butler's political careers ended at about the same time. Unlike Burr, though, after leaving politics Butler managed to build and run massive plantations, which eventually made him one of the richest men in the country when he died in 1822 at the age of 77.
Continue to Part 33: Signatures (Georgia, New Hampshire)

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