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Most Prominent Politicians (VIII): South Carolina


Oh South Carolina, have you ever elected decent politicians?

I will try to counter one clear criticism of this list. I know that there are a few state-level people who played major roles in the road to secession. I haven’t always included them, simply because I don’t have the time to go into that level of depth. Call me a failure if you will.

The top 10:

1. John C. Calhoun–the architect of secession. Only man to serve as Vice-President for two presidents of different political parties. Secretary of State under Tyler. One of the most evil men in American history.

2. Strom Thurmond–leader of the Dixiecrats in 1948. Arch-segregationist led the white southern charge from the Democrats to the Republicans when it became clear that the Democrats were willing to accept African-Americans as part of their coalition. Long-time senator and another of the most evil men in American history.

3. Ben Tillman–Originally a leading Populist, Tillman quickly turned to race-baiting white supremacy of the most virulent form to advance his political career. Governor of South Carolina from 1890-94 and then senator from 1894-1918. Censured by the Senate in 1902 for physically assaulting the other senator from South Carolina.

4. James Byrnes–Leading Democrat of the early and mid-20th century. Senator, governor, Supreme Court justice, and, most famously, Secretary of State from 1945-47. One of the most powerful men in American foreign policy for much of his career. Considered himself a moderate on racial issues, but still actively supported segregation while governor in the 1950s.

5. Robert Barnwell Rhett–only a senator from 1850-52, but one of the most important people in South Carolina political history because of his leadership for secession. A fireeater of the worst kind, Rhett actually resigned his Senate seat in 1852 because a South Carolina secessionist statement was not worded strongly enough for his tastes. To the right of John C. Calhoun on secession, he actively supported South Carolina secession in 1860, but found himself marginalized within the Confederate government, leading him to resign from the Confederate Congress and become an active critic of Jefferson Davis.

6. Wade Hampton–Confederate general and Redemption politician. Redemption was a term white Southerners used for those who “redeemed” them from the supposed tyranny of northern occupation and black politicians. Used massive violence and voter fraud to win the 1876 governor’s election. Later a senator.

7. John Rutledge–Revolutionary leader, first governor of South Carolina after the Declaration of Independence, 2nd Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

8. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney–2 time Federalist presidential nominee (1804 and 1808).

9. Ernest Hollings–senator from South Carolina from 1966-2005. Although a man of limited achievements in the Senate, he remained a popular figure, running for the Democratic nomination in 1984. He even endorsed Jesse Jackson for the presidency in 1988.

10. Preston Brooks. It’s not that Preston Brooks had any real achievements as a politician. He served in Congress from 1853-57. But he became a hero to the South and helped spur on the nation’s collapse by walking into the Senate chamber in 1856 and beating abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts to within an inch of his life with his cane. People from around the South sent Brooks new canes to replace his broken one (he used a cane after being shot in the hip during a duel in the 1840s). Didn’t do him much good though, because Brooks died from the croup in 1857. All around great guy…

Next: New Hampshire

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