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

By George C. Rogers | Go to book overview
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B Y THE SUMMER of 1797, William Smith could afford to retire from politics. He had been elected five successive times to represent Charleston District and had served eight full years in the House. He had successfully led the Federalist forces in a long fight for the rapprochement with Great Britain, which would endure for a decade. In South Carolina, he had helped to draw out of the backcountry a Federalist figure of the stature of Robert Goodloe Harper, who was quite capable of leading the South Carolina delegation and taking Smith's place among the party chieftains. In Charleston, the Rutledges and the Pinckneys had been drawn back into the party. Had not John Rutledge, junior, even in his initial term in Congress, exhibited the correct view of public policy? In the light of these successes, Smith decided to withdraw from the forum, relinquish his seat to Thomas Pinckney, and accept a diplomatic post.1

As early as May 30, 1795, Smith had written "in confidence" to Oliver Wolcott, the new secretary of the treasury, asking him to intimate to the President -- "in the most delicate manner" -- that he was ready to accept a post in the diplomatic service. His reason was personal yet garnished with a zeal for public service: "Having it now in my power to go abroad with more convenience than at a future period, I am desirous of making one more visit to Europe before my final establishment at home; in that case it would be my wish to visit it invested with some public trust that I might thereby enjoy every advantage of acquiring information and rendering myself useful to my country on my return." Smith was eager to be one of the commissioners provided for in the Jay Treaty. He knew through Hamilton that Washington had been considering him for other appointments and therefore would not have felt that he was remiss in suggesting this. His knowledge of French, as well as of a little Spanish and Italian, plus his longtime interest in diplomatic studies, were in his favor.2

William Smith to Thomas Pinckney, July 18, 1797, Dreer Collection, PHS.
William Smith to Oliver Wolcott, May 30, 1795. Hamilton had recommended Smith as a foreign agent for the treasury. Alexander Hamilton to Oliver Wolcott, April 10, 1795, Wolcott Papers, CHS.


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