Francis W. Pickens and the Politics of Destruction

By John B. Edmunds Jr. | Go to book overview

10. Governor and Council

O n 14 December 1861, at the height of the crisis, D. F. Jamison decided to exercise his option before it expired. On 27 December the third session of the secession convention commenced, under the most demoralizing circumstances. A raging fire had consumed the best parts of Charleston; troops were not volunteering; arms were not to be had; the governor was regarded by many as incompetent. The convention, which still enjoyed public confidence, believed that drastic action was needed to strengthen the executive. On 7 January 1862 it issued an ordinance creating the Second Executive Council, composed of the governor, the lieutenant governor, and three members elected by the convention.1 Although Pickens was the focal point for discontent, he was not entirely at fault. Many of the most able state leaders were at the front, and even had there been the most competent leadership, the results probably would have been little different, given the paucity of resources and the strains on the state government.

The new executive council was an experiment unique in American political history.2 Pickens and a minority of the convention opposed its creation, since this new council (unlike its predecessor) gave the convention and the council decisive control over the governor. The council in effect usurped all powers that had previously been given to the governor. It would have control of military affairs, power to declare martial law, to arrest and detain disloyal and disaffected persons, to impress private property, and to spend public monies.3

The council was comprised of Pickens, Lieutenant Governor W. W. Harllee, ex-United States Senator James Chesnut (the husband of Mary Boykin Chesnut), Isaac Hayne, who had served as state attorney general since 1848, and former Governor William H. Gist.4

Pickens was furious. He had expected some regulation, but not complete emasculation. In a letter to A. G. Magrath he cast doubt on the legitimacy of the council 5 and in no uncertain terms expressed his discontent to the convention: "The ordinance you have just passed, will . . . weaken the Executive as created by the constitution. I understand from the ordinance that no appointment, even the humblest kind, is to be made, except by a deliberate vote of the new council to be created . . . I do not know if all orders to be issued, relating

-167-

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Francis W. Pickens and the Politics of Destruction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xi
  • 1. Young Radical 3
  • 2. a Provocative Course 21
  • 3. a Vile Association 47
  • 4. Harbinger of Doom 71
  • 5. a Litany of Destruction 95
  • 6. an Insolvable Dilemma 112
  • 7. a Mere Office-Seeker 120
  • 8. the Rose of Texas 137
  • 9. a Fire-Eater Down to the Ground 150
  • 10. Governor and Council 167
  • 11- "There Can Lay No Peace for Me" 173
  • Notes 183
  • Bibliography 223
  • Index 241
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