Today In Charleston History: June 3

1812-War of 1812

John C. Calhoun introduced a bill in Congress supporting war against Great Britain. As chairmen of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Calhoun wrote, “The honor of a nation is its life. Deliberately to abandon it, is to commit an act of political suicide.” Calhoun was described as “the young Hercules who carried the war on his shoulders.” 

1850-Road to Secession.

One hundred seventy-six delegates from Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee, met at McKendree Methodist Church in Nashville for nine days to consider a possible course of action if the United States Congress decided to ban slavery in the new territories being added to the country as a result of Westward Expansion and the Mexican-American War. 

Rhett2-246x300

Robert Barnwell Rhett

With the death of John C. Calhoun in March 1850, radical secessionists, called “fire-eaters” including Robert Barnwell Rhett, Maxcy Gregg, James H. Adams, David F. Jamison, and Daniel Wallace, demanded that South Carolina secede, regardless of the course adopted by other slaveholding states. Cooperationists, meanwhile, professed their willingness to secede but argued that separate secession would leave South Carolina isolated and impotent. The fire-eaters were extreme advocates of southern rights. They walked out on the Nashville convention in 1850.

Most of this was in response to the Wilmot Proviso, a congressional proposal to ban slavery in the territory gained in the Mexican War, and the so-called Compromise of 1850, a series of measures maneuvered through Congress in an attempt to pacify both northern and southern interests. South Carolina secessionists brought their state to the brink of disunion but were disappointed by the growing acceptance of the Compromise of 1850 across the South. Procompromise Whigs and Democrats successfully played on party loyalty to wean southern states away from the notion of a southern party committed solely to the defense of slavery—a goal to which much of South Carolina was committed.

The convention adjourned without taking any action against the Union, and the issue of secession was temporarily tabled.

1864Bombardment of Charleston.

Gus Smythe, a member of the Confederate Signal Corps in Charleston, wrote to his sister, Sarah Anne, about the Union shelling from his perch in St. Michael’s Church steeple:

They are now using a very heavy gun, & the roar of the shells as they fly on their path of destruction is really awful. One struck quite close to the Steeple this morning just as I left, in Broad Street, between King and Meeting … Strange that these shells never give me a moments thought now. I hear them coming & they all seem a matter of course, & I pay no attention to them at all.

Gus Smythe

Gus Smythe

Today In Charleston History: December 21

1800 – Birth.

Robert Barnwell Smith (Rhett) was born. 

Rhett2-246x300After entering public life Robert Smith changed his last name for that of his prominent colonial ancestor Colonel William Rhett.  He studied law and became a member of the South Carolina legislature in 1826 and also served as South Carolina attorney general (1832), U.S. representative (1837–1849), and U.S. senator (1850–1852). He was pro-Southern extremist he split (1844) and one of the leading fire-eaters at the Nashville Convention of 1850, which failed to endorse his aim of secession for the whole South.

One of the original “Fire-Eaters” Rhett was was dubbed the ‘Father of Secession’ and called the ‘Lone Star of Disunion’ by his enemies in the Whig Party. In her famous diary, Mary Chesnut called Rhett “the greatest of seceders.”  During the War Rhett continued to express his radical views  through editorials in the Charleston Mercury newspaper, edited by his son. After the other Southern secession in 1861, Rhett was considered one of the leading candidates for President of the Confederate States. bit In the end, he was viewed as too radical for the position and the more conservative Jefferson Davis was selected as chief executive. 

Robert-Barnwell-Rhetts-grave-300x225Rhett was critical of the Confederate Government for many reasons, including government intervention in the economy. He had previously envisioned a Confederacy that also included the Caribbean and even Brazil, but the Confederate States didn’t live up to Rhett’s dream and criticized Jefferson Davis’ adminstration as strongly as he had once criticized Washington, DC. After the War Rhett refused to apply for a Federal pardon. He died of cancer in 1876 and is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston.

1842

The Citadel, a military college, was founded in response to the Denmark Vesey rebellion. Charleston City Council established a “municipal force of 150 men … for an arsenal, or a ‘Citadel’ to protect the preserve the public property and safety.”

1891  – Jenkins Orphanage  

Daniel Jenkins preached a sermon at the New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church titled “The Harvest is Great by the Laborers Are Few.” It was an appeal to the congregation to “to help these and other unfortunate children.” The congregation was just a poor as Jenkins. The donated money did not last long; it paid for some food and clothing and the rental of a small shack at 660 King Street.