Saturday, March 26, 2011

Today In History: May 26, 1776: South Carolina Declares Its Independence.

The Provincial Congress of South Carolina approved a new constitution and government on this day in 1776. The legislature renamed itself the General Assembly of South Carolina and elected John Rutledge as president, Henry Laurens as vice president and William Henry Drayton as chief justice.
John Rutledge
South Carolina took this action towards independence from Great Britain four months before the Continental Congress declared independence and five months before South Carolina learned of the declaration. Rutledge possessed quasi-dictatorial powers as president and commander in chief of the new state. In 1778, he resigned the post in protest over proposed changes to the state constitution. Rawlins Lowndes took over the presidency and instituted the changes Rutledge found objectionable. The executive power changed from a presidency to a governorship and veto power was taken away from the executive. The Senate became a popularly elected body, and the Church of England no longer held status as the state church. However, after the changes had been made, Rutledge was elected governor in 1779, a post he held until 1782.
William Henry Drayton
William Henry Drayton drafted the 1778 constitution that was opposed by Rutledge. The ardent Whig died while serving Congress in Philadelphia on September 3, 1779, at age 37. Rutledge lost much of his personal wealth during the British siege of Charleston, but survived to see the new century dawn before his death in 1800.
Laurens marker @ The Tower of London
Henry Laurens only served as vice president of South Carolina until June 1777. He was elected to the Continental Congress in January of that year and became the president of Congress under the Articles of Confederation on November 1, 1777, a position he held until December 9, 1778. Beginning in 1780, Laurens served 15 months of imprisonment in the Tower of London after being taken captive on a Congressional mission to Holland. He was the first American to be imprisoned in the Tower.
Tower of London
He spent the last years of his life in retirement on his plantation, where he lived until his death in 1792.

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