South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948

By David Duncan Wallace | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XXVI
GENERAL CONDITIONS ON THE EVE OF THE REVOLUTION, 1769-1775

South Carolina Aids John Wilkes. --South Carolina became deeply involved in the Wilkes dispute, which stirred the British Empire during the decade preceding the American Revolution--a dispute involving the personal liberty of the subject against the King and Parliament, and in America the degree to which a colonial government should be allowed to manage its own affairs without interference by the central authority. The issue arose as follows: on April 23, 1763, Wilkes attacked in No. 45 of his newspaper, The North Briton, the speech from the throne. George III determined to punish him for criminal libel. He was arrested on an illegal general warrant not containing his name, and during the next ten years was subjected to protracted violation of his lawful rights in the government's attempt to crush anyone who dared so boldly to oppose the King. Despite his low character, Wilkes thus stood as the individual who must be upheld in order to preserve the liberty of the press, protection against unlawful arrest and general warrants, and the right of the people to elect to Parliament any man not legally disqualified.

This was why William Pitt, though despising Wilkes's character, defended his cause, London made him lord mayor, and friends of "the Society for the Support of the Bill of Rights" in England and America contributed £17,000 sterling to free Wilkes from his debts and enable him to carry on his fight. Franklin surmised that, had Wilkes had a good character and George III a bad one, the politician might have pushed the monarch from the throne, so intense was the excitement which raged through ten years over the personal and public rights centering in his contest with the Crown. Those who supported Wilkes believed in the right of the press to criticize the King's speech (which was merely the ministry's declaration of policy), in the right of the people to choose whom they would as their representative, and in the illegality of general search warrants. This dissolute man thus became the symbol of constitutional government and personal liberty. To support Wilkes was therefore considered by the South Carolinians as part of their resistance to arbitrary rule by the same Parliament that had imposed unconstitutional taxes on America. "Bill of Rights Societies"

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