Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“All matters and things shall center there”: A study of elite political power in South Carolina, 1763-1776
by Palmer, Aaron J., Ph.D., Georgetown University, 2009, 430; 3380443
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation addresses a fundamental question about the nature of political power in South Carolina on the eve of the American Revolution: how did the lowcountry elite wield political power in the colony and to what end? It argues that the ability to control the law, shape legal and governing structures, and determine how the law was enforced were the primary tools that allowed the lowcountry elite to establish the most centralized system of colonial government in North America.

The Commons House of Assembly, which represented only lowcountry parishes until the revolution, seized control of the law, courts, law enforcement, infrastructure, and even the Church of England's vestries through legislation. These government entities existed to protect property, manage society and maintain order. Yet, the lowcountry elite faced many challenges in the late eighteenth century. Slaves and plantations had to be carefully regulated to protect the economy. Growing population and rising poverty in the colonial metropolis led to higher taxes, disorder and threats to personal property. Most of the colony's white population lived in the backcountry, and they resented their exclusion from the political and legal systems. British authority, however, posed the greatest threat to the centralized political system.

By the time of the imperial crisis, the Commons House had effectively built a system that could manage the colony without autonomous local governments. However, British officials remained beyond the assembly's direct control. The colonial legislature used an array of established tactics to bring officials to heel. A long series of battles with British officials merged with the imperial crisis by 1775. The lowcountry elite saw their political system challenged by royal executive authority and Parliamentary legislative power, and they could not win those political battles within the old system. Hence, they resurrected it through a resistance government that produced an independent state government. The new government resembled the old but featured a key difference: British and independent executive authority had disappeared.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Games, Alison
Commitee: Curran, Emmett, Rothman, Adam
School: Georgetown University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 70/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history
Keywords: Elite, Political power, South Carolina
Publication Number: 3380443
ISBN: 978-1-109-51386-8
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