A point about our history

Santee offered a nice, quick review of S.C. history back on this post:

Santee says:

South Carolina always has been an interesting place. The Lords Proprietors decided we were too much of a pain in the neck to keep, for good reasons; they dumped us back on the English government. The colonial government was run by a handful of families for their own benefit. They were charming people — large planters and slave traders, pretenders to English aristocracy, living up to and beyond their considerable means by taking advantage of everyone else in sight regardless of race, creed or color. The back country didn’t get into the Revolution until late because they knew the government in Charleston was worse for them than the one in London. Eventually a similar handful of families pushed secession, to hang on to their slaves. After Reconstruction we were unique among southern states in not electing new younger politicians with a vision for the future. SC brought back those old men longing for their lost rice and cotton plantations. The state’s leaders (especially Pitchfork Ben) thought it wise to create a state government that could not fully function other than through a good old boy network, just in case an African-American might be elected Governor. They might not be sure to control who was elected, but they were sure to control the old boy network. The consequences of this history are still with us in mistrust of government, in mistrust of others, in lack of shared purpose, and in general government malfunction. Personally, I’m tired of it, but I see no end in sight.

But I had to quibble on one point, and since I went to the trouble of typing it, I thought I’d offer it here in a separate post:

Brad Warthen says:

Nice review of our history, Santee, but I will offer one amendment. We tend to blame our current form of government on Pitchfork Ben, on account of the constitution of 1895 coming along during his watch. He was a terror, and makes a convenient villain. My journalistic forebears started The State to fight his machine, and one of the newspaper’s founders was shot down by a Tillman (who got away with it).

My own ancestors despised what he represented, even though he lived next door to my great-grandparents in Kensington, Md., when he was in the Senate. (My great-grandfather was an attorney from SC who had gone to Washington to represent the Treasury and later was one of the men who started the General Accounting Office.) I wrote a column once referring to my grandmother’s memory of having sat on Tillman’s lap as a little girl, which appalled her parents, although she didn’t understand why at the time.Anyway, as neat as it is to blame it all on him, the form of government enshrined in the 1895 constitution merely reproduced what we had had since the time of the Lords Proprietors. John Locke devised a system for Lord Anthony Ashley-Cooper that placed diffused power in the hands of the landed, slaveholding gentry. This was maintained through colonial times to make sure the King’s governor had no real power, and the system continued up through 1865.
Keeping power scattered through the Legislature and away from the governor elected by all the people has always been the South Carolina way. This once served our oligarchy fairly well; it doesn’t serve any of us well any more.

3 thoughts on “A point about our history

  1. kbfenner

    Hear, hear, Santee!

    I am a South Carolina native who is ready for us to move ahead. I am so sad when I see us shoot ourselves in the collective foot over and over again.

  2. Santee

    You’re right of course, Brad. The constitution under Tilman didn’t break new ground in South Carolina’s history of bad governance. It was just a lost opportunity to change things for the better. Unfortunately those opportunities are exceedingly rare. There are many people who have a substantial vested interest in keeping it the way it is, the legislators and others who benefit from the way things have always been done in South Carolina.


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