On this day in 1749, Edward Rutledge, one of South Carolina’s representatives to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, is born in Charleston.
Contrary to the majority of his Congressional colleagues, Rutledge advocated patience with regard to declaring independence. In a letter to John Jay, one of New York’s representatives who was similarly disinclined to rush a declaration, Rutledge worried whether moderates like himself and Jay could “effectually oppose” a resolution for independence. Jay had urgent business in New York and therefore was not able to be present for the debates.
Rutledge was the son of a physician who had emigrated from Ireland. Edward’s elder brother John studied law at London’s Middle Temple before returning to set up a lucrative practice in Charleston. Edward followed suit and studied first at Oxford University before being admitted to the English bar at the Middle Temple. He too returned to Charleston, where he married and began a family in a house across the street from his brother’s. As revolutionary politics roiled the colonies, first John, then Edward served as South Carolina’s representative to the Continental Congress. Neither Rutledge brother was eager to sever ties with Great Britain, but it fell to Edward to sign the Declaration of Independence to create the appearance of unanimity and strengthen the Patriots’ stand. At age 26, Edward Rutledge was the youngest American to literally risk his neck by signing the document.