March 26

This Day in History

American Revolution

Mar 26, 1776:

South Carolina approves new constitution

The Provincial Congress of South Carolina approves a new constitution and government on this day in 1776. The legislature renames itself the General Assembly of South Carolina and elects John Rutledge as president, Henry Laurens as vice president and William Henry Drayton as chief justice.

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 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.

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 spent the last years of his life in retirement on his plantation, where he lived until his death in 1792.

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