Evolution of a Federalist: William Loughton Smith of Charleston (1758-1812)

By George C. Rogers | Go to book overview

IV
BENJAMIN SMITH, MODERATE PATRIOT

T HE STRUCTURE OF SOCIETY in South Carolina, although far from being rigidly fixed, was hierarchical. At the top were the governor and other royal officials who found their principal local support among the Carolina members of the royal Council. Next came the merchants, planters, and lawyers, largely native-born, who spoke through the Commons House of Assembly. The voice of the mechanics, just beginning to be audible, came out of the taverns and from under the Liberty Tree. Last, and virtually unheard, were the farmers in the backcountry, Indians on the frontier, and slaves in the fields.

The Revolution in South Carolina is the story of the separation of a Carolina society from a British society. The patriot leaders of the merchant, planter, and lawyer class drove out the royal placemen (most of whom by the eve of the Revolution were Britishborn) and seized power for themselves. They skillfully managed to pull their society away from England without letting power slip through their hands to mechanics, farmers, Indians, or slaves. No Robespierre, no Toussaint L˒Ouverture, no Lenin appeared! Yet the patriot leaders were themselves split into moderate and radical wings. The moderate men, mainly merchants like Benjamin Smith, desired self-rule, not in the interest of all men, but in their own self-interest. If self-rule could have been secured within the empire, they would have had no desire for revolution. The radicals-men like Christopher Gadsden-believed more sincerely in the right of all men to rule themselves. They were therefore willing to reach down and invite the aid of the mechanics: to risk all in revolution. Whether a patriot leader was a moderate or a radical depended upon his personal commitment, his view of human nature. The pessimist, who had little faith in the mass of men, was a moderate. The optimist, who believed that the majority was always right, was a radical.

The royal governors of South Carolina, from James Glen, who arrived in 1743, to Lord William Campbell, who fled Charles Town in September 1775, were placemen sent out from England. Glen, William Henry Lyttelton, Thomas Boone, Lord Charles Montagu, and Lord William Campbell were not an unusually able group nor

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