South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948

By David Duncan Wallace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXX
INDEPENDENCE AND A NEW CONSTITUTION, 1776-1778

THE BATTLE of Fort Moultrie was followed by the fiasco of the American campaign toward Florida. It was at this period that the South Carolina regulars were turned over to the Continental service, and that Gadsden and Moultrie were elected, on September 16, 1776, Continental brigadiers.

Declaration of Independence. --While the guns were booming at Fort Moultrie, Congress was discussing the question of independence. To this they were being driven, not from choice, but by the belief in its necessity as the only means of preserving liberty. Even John Adams recorded that "there was never a moment during the Revolution when I would not have given everything I possessed for a restoration of the state of things before the conflict began, provided we could have had a sufficient security for its continuance." The reluctance thus expressed by Adams was even more powerfully felt by South Carolinians. Henry Laurens, e.g., wrote in February, 1776, "One more year will enable us to be independent. Ah! that word cuts me deep--has caused tears to trickle down my checks," as a dutiful son "thrust by the hand of violence out of his father's house," whose children must be called by some new name. Though he never wavered in his "duty to posterity" after independence was declared, he wrote, while a prisoner in the Tower of London, of the Declaration of Independence, "I wept that day as I had done for the melancholy catastrophe which caused me to put on black clothes --the death of a son, and felt much more pain."

The Declaration was formally adopted July 4, signed by the President and Secretary, and on August 2 signed by the then existing membership, including some who had not even been members on July 4. The young South Carolina delegates, without waiting for authorization, all voted for independence. Edward Rutledge was twenty-six; Thomas Heyward, Jr., twenty-four days under thirty; Thomas Lynch, Jr., thirty-two days under twenty-seven; and Arthur Middleton, thirty-four years of age. News of the Declaration reached Charles Town on August 5, at the psychological moment. The spilling of blood at Fort Moultrie had prepared South Carolina's mind for the separation it had formerly abhorred. Though there remained many secretly dissatisfied, the words

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