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Page 1

John Rutledge

1739-1800


   Unquestionalbly the great character of South Carolina during the Revolution was John Rutledge, who was for a time invested with dictatorial powers. He possessed all the qualities which constitute the man born to win and command--an eloquence of astonishing power, and a daring and decision of will which always placed him before his fellow-countrymen.
   He was born in South Carolina in 1739. In 1761 he commenced the practice of law, and soon became eminent in his profession. He was sent a delegate to the first Continental Congress which met at New York in 1765; and "the members of the distant provinces were surprised at the eloquence of the young member from Carolina." At the commencement of the Revolution he was by successive elections a member of Congress till the year 1776, when he was elected president and commander-in-chief of South Carolina, in conformity to a constitution established by the people in that year. In this office he rendered important service to his country. General Lee, who commanded the continental troops, pronounced Sullivan's Island to be a "slaughter-pen," and either gave orders, or was disposed to give them, for its evacuation. The troops which Carolina had raised before Congress had declared independence, remained subject to the authority of the State, and at this early period were not under the command of the officers of Congress. To prevent the evacuation of thc fort on Sullivan's Island, President Rutledge, shortly before the commencement of the action on the 28th of June, 1776, wrote the following laconic note to General Moultrie, who had the command on the island: " General Lee wishes you to evacuate the fort. You will not do it without an order from me. I would sooner cut off my hand than write one. JOHN RUTLEDGE." In 1778 he resigned the office of president; but at the next election he was reinstated in the executive authority of the State, under a new constitution, with the name of governor, substituted in the place of president. In 1784 he was elected a judge of the court of chancery in South Carolina. In 1787 he assisted in framing a national constitution; and as soon as it was in operation, he was designated by President Washington as first associate judge of the supreme court of the United States. In 1791 he was elected chief-justice of South Carolina. He was afterward appointed chief-justice of thc United States. "Thus for more than thirty years, with few short intervals, he served his country in one or other of the departments of government; and in all with fidelity and ability."
   Mr. Rutledge died on the 23d of July, 1800. He was one of the greatest men whom this country has produced. To his government during the war in South Carolina, is to be attributed in a great degree the successful termination to which it was brought. He possessed a quick penetration, and soon perceived the superior merit of Greene, Sumpter, Marion, and Pickens, whose operations he seconded with great energy and skill. Although invested with dictatorial powers, he never gave occasion. for complaint, and retained the confidence of the patriots to the end.

Source: Marshall, James V. The United States Manual of Biography and History. Philadelphia: James B. Smith & Co., 1856. Pages 183-184. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)


 
 

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Last modified January 1, 2004