Rutledge, Edward

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Rutledge, Edward (1749-1800): American lawyer and politician.

Edward Rutledge was one of South Carolina’s key Revolutionary era leaders. Born on November 23 in Charleston, into an aristocratic family, Rutledge had the opportunity to study law and the classics at home. During his education at Middle Temple in London, Rutledge engaged in an independent learning style where he studied the law. After completion, he gained admission to the English and South Carolina Bars.

Returning to Charleston in the fall of 1772, Rutledge involved himself in the inner circles of law and politics. In order to tend to his new law practice, he turned down an election to the Commons House of Assembly. Rutledge earned colony-wide recognition when he represented a case involving a dispute between the Commons House and the Council. The case involved a publisher with the South Carolina Gazette and its reports on the dispute. Rutledge filed for a writ of habeas corpus, leading to the release of the journalist.

As debates erupted over British imposed taxation in 1774, the colonial legislature met in Charleston to discuss trade. Many South Carolinians supported a measure to cease trade with Great Britain, but Rutledge wanted to postpone the vote to allow the Continental Congress to decide. The South Carolina General Assembly selected Edward Rutledge as a delegate to the Congress in 1774. As the move towards independence began to grow in 1775 and 1776, Rutledge continued to advocate for compromise. When the vote of independence from Great Britain finally came in 1776, Rutledge affirmed separation from the Crown. At age 26, he was the youngest signatory of the Declaration of Independence. The Revolutionary War brought hardship for Edward Rutledge. Before the Siege of Charleston in 1780, Rutledge served as a captain in the local militia. During the British occupation of Charleston, Rutledge and his family were taken as prisoners. While his family was allowed to stay in the city, they had to agree to restricting circumstances provided by the British. Residency in the city would soon end when Rutledge was accused of leading an uprising against the military occupation. The British removed Rutledge and his family to St. Augustine, Florida, where he was held until a prisoner exchange took place in 1781.

With the war near its demise, Rutledge moved back to Charleston, where he resumed his duties as a key leader in local and state government. Though not a part of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Edward Rutledge used his influence to help the cause of ratification in South Carolina. Specifically, Rutledge helped influence agrarian elites along the state’s coastal areas. Rutledge went on to serve in the South Carolina Senate. In the year 1798, Rutledge was elected governor of the State of South Carolina. On January 23, 1800 while still serving as governor, Rutledge died in his native Charleston.

Further Reading:

Richard Brent Clow, Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, 1794-1800: Unproclaimed Statesman, Ph.D. diss., University of Georgia, 1976.

James Haw, John & Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, 1997.

Jonathan Brooks DeVore/ Scott Buchanan

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