Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Monday, October 15, 2012

John Rutledge

                    John Rutledge was an American statesman and served his country in numerous ways.  He served as the first Governor of South Carolina after the colonists declared independence.   As a delegate at the Constitutional Convention, he served as chairman of a committee that wrote most of what became the final version of the United States Constitution and then signed the finished product.  He was appointed to be an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court and became the second Chief Justice of the Court from July to December 1795.  He was the older brother of Edward Rutledge who signed the Declaration of Independence.

                    John Rutledge was born into a large family on September 17, 1739, in Charleston, South Carolina.  John Rutledge (Sr.) (1713-1750) was a Scots-Irish immigrant and physician; Sarah Hext Rutledge was of English descent and was born in South Carolina on September 18, 1724.  There were six younger children in the family:  Andrew (1740-1772), Thomas (1741-1783), Sarah (1742-1819), Hugh (1745-1811), Mary (1747-1832), and Edward (1749-1800).   John received his early education from his father; after the death of his father, he received the remainder of his primary education from an Anglican priest.

                    As a child John was interested in law and often "played lawyer" with his siblings.  At age 17 John began studying law under the direction of James Parsons.  John sailed to England two years later to continue his law studies at Middle Temple in London.  As part of his studies, he won several cases in English courts.

                    Rutledge returned to Charleston where he began his legal career and emerged as one of the most prominent lawyers in Charleston almost immediately.  He was a successful lawyer when he married Elizabeth Grimke (born 1742) on May 1, 1763.  John and Elizabeth became parents of ten children:  Martha Henrietta (1764-1816), Sarah (born and died 1765), John (1766-1819), Edward James (1767-1811), Frederick Wilkes (1769-1821), William Spencer (1771-1821), Charles Wilson (1773-1821), Thomas (born 1774 and died young), Elizabeth (1776-1842), and States Whitcomb (1783-1829).  John was very devoted to Elizabeth, and her death on July 6, 1792, caused some health problems that affected him in his later years.

                    Rutledge began his public service in mid-1765 when he was "an important figure in the Stamp Act Congress."  A resolution came out of the Congress that stated that it was "the undoubted right of Englishmen, that no taxes be imposed on them but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives".  Rutledge was chairman of the committee assigned to write a petition to the House of Lords in an attempt to persuade them to reject the Stamp Act; the attempt was unsuccessful.

                    When Rutledge and other delegates returned to South Carolina from the Congress, "they found the state in turmoil.  The people had destroyed all of the revenue stamps" they could find and then "broke into suspected Loyalists' houses to search for stamps."  As a result, every legal process located in the state stopped until early May 1766 when the news came that the Stamp Act had been repealed. 

                    Rutledge went back to his private life and law practice and did not involve himself in politics again except for serving in the colonial legislature.  He became fairly wealthy as his law practice expanded.

                    John Rutledge and his brother Edward Rutledge both attended the First Continental Congress in 1774.  The notes of the Congress do not differentiate between the brothers but simply wrote the name as "Rutledge."  "The most important contribution made by `Rutledge' to the Congress was during the debate of how to appropriate votes in Congress.  Some wanted it to be determined by the population of the colonies.  Others wanted to give each colony one vote.  `Rutledge' observed that as the Congress had no legal authority to force the colonies to accept its decisions, it would make the most sense to give each colony one vote.  The other delegates ultimately agreed to this proposal."

                    Rutledge served in the Second Continental Congress until 1776 when he was elected President of South Carolina under a constitution written on March 26, 1776.  As President, he immediately organized the new government and prepared for British attacks.
When Rutledge learned in June 1776 that a British naval force was moving toward Charleston, he ordered the construction of Fort Sullivan (now Fort Moultrie) on Sullivan's Island in Charleston Harbor.  The fort was only half completed when the British forces arrived.  A few days earlier, General Charles Lee of the Continental Army arrived with reinforcements from North Carolina and told Rutledge to evacuate the fort because it was indefensible.  Rutledge wrote a note to Colonel William Moultrie, commander of the fort:  "General Lee […] wishes you to evacuate the fort.  You will not, without [an] order from me.  I would sooner cut off my hand than write one."

                    When the British attacked the fort on June 28, 1776, they expected the fort to fall quickly.  The fort's walls withstood the attack because they were made out of soft palmetto palm trees and the British cannonballs sank into the logs without any damage.  In fact, some of the balls bounced off the spongy logs and bounced back, hitting the very British ships that had fired them and causing the British attack to fail.  As a result of this battle, South Carolina adopted the nickname of the Palmetto State and its first flag was developed by William Moultrie using the Palmetto Tree and the half moon of the defending soldiers' belts.

                    Rutledge continued as President of South Carolina until 1778 when the South Carolina legislature proposed a new constitution.  Rutledge thought the new constitution moved the state too close to a "direct democracy," which he considered to be just a step away from total anarchy.  He resigned his position when the legislature overrode his veto.

                    The British decided to attack the South again just a few months after Rutledge resigned.  British Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Campbell landed in Georgia with 3,000 men and quickly took control of the entire state.

                    Rutledge was elected in 1779 to head the South Carolina government once again under a revision of the new constitution.  He sent troops under the direction of General Benjamin Lincoln into Georgia to harass the British.  When General Jacques Prevost, the new British commander, learned what Rutledge was doing, he took 2500 British troops and headed for Charleston.  Rutledge hurried back to Charleston and worked quickly to build defenses, but the British vastly outnumbered the Americans.

                    Rutledge asked Prevost for surrender terms, and Prevost made an offer; however, the council of war did not like the terms and asked if the British would accept a declaration of South Carolina's neutrality in the Revolution.  William Moultrie, now a general, thought the Americans had enough troops to at least equal the British force, and the council of war forbade Rutledge from surrendering.  Prevost replied to the offer that he would have to take some of the Americans prisoner in order to reduce the American military force.  The Americans replied that they would never simply stand by and be taken prisoner but would fight it out.  By the next morning, the British forces had disappeared.  Prevost had intercepted a letter from General Lincoln to Moultrie indicating he was bringing reinforcements, and Prevost decided that he could not hold out against a reinforced American force.

                    Sir Henry Clinton attacked South Carolina in early 1780, and the people in Charleston panicked.  The legislature adjourned, giving Rutledge power to do anything necessary other than executing people without a trial.  Rutledge tried to raise the militia, but he had little success due to a smallpox epidemic in the city.

                    Sir Henry attacked Charleston in May 1780 with about 9000 troops.  General Lincoln had fewer than 2500 soldiers, and Charleston surrendered on May 10.  Rutledge however was not captured because he had been urged to leave the city; he remained Governor of the unconquered part of South Carolina.  The people of Charleston were hoping for relief when Americans heavily defeated the British at Cowpens, South Carolina, on January 17, 1781, but their hope was short lived when their army was forced to retreat.  General Nathanael Greene retook central South Carolina in mid-June 1781 and drove the British back to Charleston.  The Americans remained outside Charleston until the British left on December 14, 1782. 

                    Rutledge's term of office ended earlier in the year, and term limits barred him from serving again.  He was elected to the Continental Congress a few weeks later and served there until 1783.  He was appointed to the South Carolina Court of Chancery in 1784 and continued to serve there until 1791.  Meanwhile, he was appointed as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention where he attended every session and served on five committees.  He was chairman of the Committee of Detail, the committee that wrote the first draft of the constitution - most of which would remain in the final version.  An interesting bit of knowledge is that he signed the Constitution on his 48th birthday.

                    Rutledge took an active part in the discussions.  He recommended that the head of the new government be a single person rather than several people because one person would be more likely to make a good choice.  He played a major part in denying the Supreme Court the right to give advisory opinions because he believed strongly that judges should resolve legal conflicts and should hand down an opinion only when ruling on an actual case. 

                    During the discussions about appropriation bills, Rutledge argued that the Senate, because of its lengthier terms of office, should be the source of funding bills.  He reasoned that there was no danger of the Senate ruling the country because the House of Representatives had to consent to any new laws.

                    Rutledge opposed, stronger than any other motion, the proposal that only landowners should have the right to vote.  He argued that a rule like this would divide the people into "haves" and "have nots" and create an undying resentment against landowners.  Benjamin Franklin agreed with Rutledge, saying that such a law would suppress the ambitions of the common people. 

                    When debating the slavery issue, Rutledge sided with the slave-owners; he was a Southerner who owned several slaves.  He said that the Southern states would never agree to the Constitution if it forbade slavery. 

                    President George Washington nominated Rutledge in the summer of 1789 to be an associate justice of the newly established United States Supreme Court; he was confirmed by the US Senate on September 25, 1789, and commissioned on the same day.  He resigned from the office on March 4, 1791, without having the opportunity to decide a single case, to become the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas and Sessions.

                    U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay was elected as Governor of New York and resigned from the Court on June 28, 1795.  President Washington selected Rutledge to succeed Jay as the Court's chief justice.  The Senate was not in session at the time, and Rutledge's recess appointment took immediate effect.  He was commissioned on June 30, 1795, as the second Chief Justice of the United States.

                    On July 16, 1795, Rutledge gave a speech denouncing the Jay Treaty with Great Britain.  This speech cost him support of many people in the Washington Administration and in the Senate where the treaty was ratified by a two-thirds majority.  His reputation was in tatters by the time he was formally nominated to the Court on December 10, 1795, and the Senate rejected his appointment on December 15, 1795 by a vote of 14-10.  This was the first time that the Senate had rejected a presidential recess appointment, and it remains the only time that it has rejected a recess appointment of an individual to the Supreme Court.

                    There were rumors of mental illness and alcohol abuse, and his words and actions in response to the Jay Treaty were used as evidence of his continued mental decline.  He resigned from the Court on December 28, 1795, mentally ruined and attempted suicide soon afterwards.  He returned to Charleston, South Carolina, and withdrew from public life.  He died at age 60, but his death date is a question as the same article gave two death dates for him (June 21, 1800, and July 23, 1800).  He was interred at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Charleston.  One of his houses, said to have been built in 1763 and definitely sold in 1790, was renovated in 1989 and opened to the public as the John Rutledge House Inn.

No comments:

Post a Comment