South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948

By David Duncan Wallace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXV
STABILIZING THE GOVERNMENT, 1783-1790

Hardships and Unpopularity of the Army. --The people of South Carolina resumed control of a State suffering from the prostration and passions of a long and bitter civil war. When protection by the army was less needed, its taking of food and clothes by force and paying with certificates of Federal indebtedness inflamed the hatred toward the military that had been growing ever since the approach of peace. A crisis was reached when, on January 10, 1783, Greene was informed that the State would no longer permit impressment of supplies. Forced to endorse for contractors as the only solution, Greene lost a considerable portion of the fortune that southern legislatures had bestowed for his services. Greene's warning that the hungry army might become dangerous was perverted and made to appear a threat that he would make himself dictator. The quarrel bore directly on the proposed amendment allowing Congress to collect 5 per cent import duties. South Carolina rescinded her ratification as Virginia had done. Rhode Island and Georgia had refused to ratify. The amendment was dead, and congressional bankruptcy confirmed.

Stay Laws, Debt-Scaling, Tender Laws. --In 1782 South Carolina repealed the legal-tender character of the Continental and of her own millions of paper money. Nothing was done to correct injustice in debts already paid, but for the equitable settlement of those still unpaid the law of 1783 enacted a scale of depreciation.

Speculators bought confiscated estates or lands, sold under distress, that failed to resell at the expected profit or to produce the revenues necessary for final payment. The distress of debtors led the legislature, itself largely composed of sufferers, to work the government for the benefit of their class. Planters and merchants, debtors and creditors, were arrayed as hostile classes, and the conflict was the sharper as many of the merchants were outsiders. The act of 1784 forbade suit for old debts before 1786, at which time a fourth (later diminished to a fifth) could be sued for annually.

Stay laws and paper money, adopted to relieve distress, were seized upon as means for fraud or quick speculative wealth. Speculation or other means of attaining wealth by coup de main possessed almost every

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