South Carolina: The Land Democracy Forgot

While researching my post on migration and the Civil War, I came across a curious twist in American history: out of all the states in the union prior to 1860, one, South Carolina, never let its citizens vote for president. The popular vote did not come to South Carolina until after the Civil War, when democracy was imposed.

In America’s first election, (George Washington, 1789,) the country hadn’t really worked out how this whole “elections” thing worked. Three states didn’t even participate in the election; six states had no popular vote but let the legislature choose electors instead; three states held a popular vote for electors; and one state–Delaware–totally meant to let people vote, but forgot to get ballots.

Everything worked out, though, and Washington received 100% of the electoral votes.

By the election of 1800, 6 states had something resembling popular votes, and 10 did not.

In 1812, the country was evenly divided: 9 by popular vote, 9 by legislature.

In 1824, 18 states had popular votes and only 6 still used the legislature.

In 1828, only two states–South Carolina and Delaware–still had no popular vote, and by 1832, South Carolina was the only one left.

The citizens of South Carolina were not allowed to vote for president until the election of 1868, after the Civil War and the passage of various legislation related to reconstruction, black citizenship, and popular voting.

Strom Thurmond’s incredible 48 straight years as Senator from South Carolina makes me wonder, though, if democracy ever truly took hold in this final hold-out.

6 thoughts on “South Carolina: The Land Democracy Forgot

  1. I’m not sure why you see this as a curious twist in history. The United States of America was quite deliberately designed as a federal Republic, not a Democracy. State governments were to be the primary governments. The Federal government was to be a secondary government of limited powers delegated by the States to the Federal government in the Constitution. All powers not delegated to the Federal government were reserved to the States, or to the People, as clarified in the 10th Amendment.

    The absence of a popular vote for President was, and is, perfectly consistent with the concepts of federalism embodied in the Constitution. It was, and is, perfectly consistent with a federal Republic to have state legislatures vote for their state’s electors. Senators were elected also elected by state legislatures until a wave of populism drove the passage and ratification of the 17th amendment in 1913.

    In the big picture, as the scope and power of the Federal government grew over time citizens demanded a greater voice in choosing their representatives to the Federal government, resulting in a slow creep away from the structure of a Republic and toward a Democracy.


  2. South Carolina also has the richest culture of any state I’ve visited (excepting maybe Hawaii). Charleston is the finest city in the Union by a wide margin.


    • Yes, the connection between democracy and civilization is tenuous at best. For all that I may disagree with him about Neocameralism, Moldbug was dead right about this…


  3. South Carolina is about evenly divided between two very different races. If blacks block-vote for one party, whites must settle their differences in the primary and block-vote for the other party. Whites cannot afford to lose a single election, lest their state become another Detroit or Zimbabwe.

    You can’t have democracy without a demos — in a multi-tribal society, people vote to plunder other tribes for the benefit of their own. You can prevent the wholesale looting of your state’s productive assets by enfranchising only the men who already own those assets, which is exactly what SC did prior to 1865.


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