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William Henry Drayton


South Carolina had a very distinguished delegation in the Congress that framed the Articles of Confederation. Among the members, William Henry Drayton had a very high reputation. He was born in South Carolina, in 1742.
   He spent his youth and acquired his education in England. Soon after he came to manhood, lie returned to Carolina, and there with inferior opportunities, but superior industry, prosecuted his studies. In it he acquired the greater part of that knowledge for which he was afterward distinguished. He first began to write for the public about the year 1769. Under the signature of "Freeman" he stated several legal and constitutional objections to an association, or rather the mode of enforcing an association, for suspending the importation of British manufactures, which was then generally signed by the inhabitants. This involved him in a political controversy, in which he was opposed by Christopher Gadsden and John Mackenzie. In the year 1774 he wrote a pamphlet under the signature of "Freeman," which was addressed to the American Congress. In this he stated the grievances of America, and drew up a bill of American rights. This was well received. It substantially chalked out the line of conduct adopted by Congress then in session. He was elected a member of the provincial Congress, which sat in January, 1775; and in the course of that year was advanced to the presidency thereof. In the latter character he issued on the 9th of November, 1775, the first order that was given in South Carolina for firing on the British. The order was addressed to Colonel William Moultrie, and directed him "by every military operation to endeavour to oppose the passage of any British naval armament that may attempt to pass Fort Johnson." This was before Congress had decided on independence, and, in the then situation of Carolina, was a bold, decisive measure.
   Before the Revolution, Mr. Drayton was one of the king's counselors, and one of his assistant judges for the province. The first of these offices the resigned, and from the last he was dismissed by the officers of his Britannic majesty. On the formation of a popular constitution, he was reinstated in the corresponding offices of the State, and in the last advanced to the rank of chief-justice. He published his charge to the grand jury in April, 1776, which breathes all the spirit and energy of a mind which knows the value of freedom, and is determined to support it.
   The following is an extract from the charge :

   "In short, I think it my duty to declare, in the awful seat of justice, and before Almighty God, that in my opinion, the Americans can have no safety but by the Divine favour, their own virtue, and their being so prudent as not to leave it in the power of the British rulers to injure them. Indeed the ruinous and deadly injuries received on our side; and the jealousies entertained, and which, in the nature of things, must daily increase against us on the other; demonstrate to a mind, in the least given to reflection upon the rise and fall of empires, that true reconcilement never can exist between Great Britain and America, the latter being in subjection to the former. The Almighty created America to be independent of Britain: let us beware of the impiety of being backward to act as instruments in the Almighty hand, now extended to accomplish his purpose; and by the completion of which alone, America, in the nature of human affairs, can be secure against the craft and insidious designs of her enemies who think her prosperity and power ALREADY BY FAR TOO GREAT. In a word, our piety and political safety are so blended, that to refuse our labours in this Divine work, is to refuse to be a great, a free, a pious, and a happy people!
   "And now having left the important alternative, political happiness or wretchedness under God, in a great degree in your own hands, I pray the Supreme Arbiter of the affairs of men, so to direct your judgment, as that you may act agreeably to what seems to be his will, revealed in his miraculous works in behalf of America, bleeding at the altar of liberty."

   This being anterior to the declaration of independence, was bold language. Several publications appeared from his pen, explaining the injured rights of his country, and encouraging his fellow-citizens to vindicate them. He has also left a manuscript history of the American Revolution in three folio volumes, brought down to the end of the year 1778, which he intended to continue and publish. His country, pleased with his zeal and talents, heaped offices upon him. He was appointed a member of Congress in 1778 and 1779. Soon after he had taken his seat, British commissioners came to America, with the hope of detaching the States from their alliance with France. Drayton took an active and decided part in favor of the measures adopted by his countrymen. His letters, published expressly to controvert the machinations of thc British commissioners, were considered as replete with irresistible arguments, and written in the best style.
   He died in Philadelphia, in 1779, while attending his duty in Congress, in the thirty-seventh year of his age. He was a statesman of great decision and energy, and one of the ablest political writers South Carolina has produced.

Source: Marshall, James V. The United States Manual of Biography and History. Philadelphia: James B. Smith & Co., 1856. Pages 147-149. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)


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Last modified January 2, 2004