Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

A Rule of Law: Elite Political Authority and the Coming of the Revolution in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1763-1776

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

A Rule of Law: Elite Political Authority and the Coming of the Revolution in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1763-1776

Article excerpt

A Rule of Law: Elite Political Authority and the Coming of the Revolution in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1763-1776. By Aaron J. Palmer. Early American History Series. (Leiden, Netherlands, and Boston: Koninklijke Brill, 2014. Pp. [x], 318. $149.00, ISBN 978-90-04-27234-7.)

Aaron J. Palmer's A Rule of Law: Elite Political Authority and the Coming of the Revolution in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1763-1776 reinforces some common themes about the region. For example, Palmer explains how South Carolina's plantation society mirrored that of the West Indies, especially Barbados. Many of South Carolina's original white settlers came from the West Indies, as did the Africans whom they enslaved. Palmer also adds that political power in South Carolina was concentrated in the hands of a planter-merchant elite, another conclusion that is neither revelatory nor unusual. However, elite control was stronger in South Carolina than in the West Indies. The colony was certainly distinctive on the North American continent in this regard. There were "no autonomous town meetings, county courts, municipal councils, slave patrols, slave courts, or county sheriffs" (p. 7). More often than not, members of the elite held the office of justice of the peace, the most important law enforcement position in the colony. Courts frequently convened in upper-class mansions.

Palmer considers recent scholarship, especially that of Lorri Glover, Jonathan Mercantini, and Emma Hart, and suggests how and why his work differs from theirs. Palmer contends that the full extent of the elite's ruling consensus can only be understood when the details of local and provincial governance are viewed up close. He has done a commendable job of showing how the elite controlled daily government activities and was able to constrain the power of the royal governor. This leads Palmer to his main point: that the Revolutionary crisis involved "more than a clash of governing systems," as may have been the case in other colonies (p. 11). Instead, upper-class South Carolinians were concerned with their ability to maintain their own hegemony. …

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