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

By George C. Rogers | Go to book overview

XIV
THE FIRST SOLID SOUTH CAROLINA

W HEN WILLIAM SMITH left the United States in 1797, the Federalist party was approaching the zenith of its power; when he returned in 1803, it had reached its nadir. It is difficult to explain its rapid decline in the nation, but it is even more difficult to explain its demise in South Carolina in view of the fact that the Rutledge-Pinckney faction had in this period quite definitely returned to the fold. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney upon his return from France had picked up his new commission as major general, and with Washington and Hamilton he had worked to transform the American army into a fighting machine, one that would be absolutely loyal to the government and to the Federalist party.1 General Pinckney's firm decision, after his second repulse by the French, was to support the arch-Federalists in their war program. This decision was known and respected by his friends in South Carolina.

In the fall of 1798, South Carolina returned five Federalists and one Republican to Congress, a feat that neither William Smith nor even Robert Goodloe Harper had ever considered to be within the realm of possibility. Harper had sent the joyous news to Smith, and Smith had passed on to Rufus King the good tidings that Thomas Pinckney had been returned from Charleston, John Rutledge, junior, had defeated Major Pierce Butler, and Harper had beaten William Butler, "a general of the militia from the backcountry." Smith ventured the opinion that Benjamin Huger, a nephew of Daniel Huger, who had defeated Lemuel Benton in the Georgetown District, would be "right." William Smith of Pinckney District had been succeeded by Abraham Nott, "a young lawyer from N. England of good principles." Thomas Sumter was the only Republican returned.2

Even more pleasing was the news that Edward Rutledge had been elected governor of the state in December 1798 to succeed

____________________
1
He was commissioned July 19, 1798. J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton, "Charles Cotesworth Pinckney," DAB.
2
William Smith to Rufus King, January 22, 1799, William Loughton Smith Papers, HEHL. DeSaussure considered Pinckney, Rutledge, Harper, and Huger as "decidedly federal." Nott was "a good man and attached to the government; not however I believe so decidedly as the other gentlemen -- But he is not to be led by a party formed to destroy the government." Henry William DeSaussure to Timothy Pickering, November 10, 1798, Pickering Papers, MHS.

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