South Carolina gubernatorial election, 1876

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The 1876 South Carolina gubernatorial election was held on November 7, 1876 to select the governor of the state of South Carolina. The election campaign was a referendum on the Radical Republican-led state government and their Reconstruction policies. The result was contested, but the challenger Wade Hampton III took office in April 1877 after President Hayes withdrew federal troops and the incumbent Daniel Henry Chamberlain left the state.

Governor Chamberlain's inability to preserve the peace as riots were breaking out across the state, most notably the Hamburg Massacre, led many black and white voters to support the Democratic ticket in November. The turbulent atmosphere ended before election day, which was peaceful.

Wade Hampton emerged as the Democratic candidate chosen to redeem the state from Republican rule. The election was disputed and a prolonged contest ensued as both parties established separate governments. Chamberlain lost most of his support and was in early 1877 kept in office by Federal troops guarding the state capitol. When President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered the troops to stand down, Chamberlain left the state and Hampton became the 77th governor of South Carolina.


South Carolina entered 1876 having had eight years of Radical Republican rule that had effectively alienated the entire white population of the state. Whites generally thought that the Reconstruction programs set up by the Republicans were used by corrupt politicians and carpetbaggers to their financial benefit. At the same time, many whites were angered by the passage of 13th, 14th, 15th amendments which sought to guarantee rights to former slaves. Former Confederates were not allowed to vote or hold office until the passage of the Amnesty Act in 1872. Now, Southern Democrats were running for office and sought to erode the political power held by Republicans. Many black citizens of the state began to question Republican rule and some former slaves even stated that life was better under slavery.[1]

However, most blacks remained steadfastly loyal to the Republican Party because of the brutality of Southern whites, after the conclusion of the Civil War, who were committed to keeping the social structure as close to its existence prior to the Civil War. Black citizens, however, constituted a sizable majority of the electorate. In addition, the state Democratic Party was completely unorganized and had not contested a state election since 1868 when it was utterly defeated by the Republicans.

The Democratic Party in disarray and also divided on a strategy for contesting the general election. Most Democrats heading into the May convention decided to not oppose the governorship and other state offices because Governor Daniel Henry Chamberlain had implemented many favorable reforms. Known as fusionists, they also felt that any effort spent on state offices would be wasted and better served by trying to acquire a majority in the General Assembly.

The more ardent Democrats called the "Straighout Democrats" gained strength with the General Assembly electing two corrupt men to circuit judgeships, former Governor Franklin J. Moses Jr. and William Whipper. Even though the nominations were blocked by Governor Chamberlain, the straightouts believed that meaningful reform would only happen when Democrats gained power. In their opinion, every race from governor to coroner had to be contested.

Democratic conventions[edit]

May convention[edit]

A reinvigorated South Carolina Democratic Party convened in Columbia from May 4 to May 5. The purpose of this convention was to select 14 delegates and alternates to the National Democratic Convention in St. Louis and state the policies of the party. However, the party remained divided between the Fusionists and the Straighouts as to whether run a state ticket or not.

The debate continued through the summer between the two as to which approach would be best for the Democratic Party. The Hamburg Massacre persuaded white South Carolinians that Governor Chamberlain's administration was unable to maintain order in the black state militias. Any hopes of fusion with the Republicans were thus ended and the Straighouts became the dominant force within the Democratic Party.

Wade Hampton III during the Civil War

August convention[edit]

The Democrats reconvened in Columbia for the nominating convention held on August 15 through August 17. Since the Republicans had yet to meet, the candidacy of Governor Chamberlain was uncertain, undermining the Fusionists. Straightouts were further rallied by the opening shots at the Hamburg Massacre. The first test of Straightout strength in the Democratic Party was the election of the President of the Convention. By a vote of 80 to 66, the Straightout candidate was elected and after a secret session the nomination process began.

Matthew Butler nominated Wade Hampton for the post of governor and the delegates unanimously approved the nomination by acclamation. Wade Hampton, although a supporter of the Straightouts, had a moderate reputation that enabled him to unite the two factions of the party and even attract black voters.[2]

The Democratic platform that emerged from the convention was vague and noncommittal to specifics. Pledges were made to restore order, reform the government, and lower taxes; but no spefic policies were formulated. The Straightouts knew that only a consensus position of general ideas would unite the party and elect Democrats to statewide offices.

Republican conventions[edit]

A group of prominent South Carolina Republicans, notably Senator John J. Patterson and Robert B. Elliott, organized an opposition to Governor Chamberlain prior to the state convention. The group was upset by the reforms enacted by the Governor, especially the removal of corrupt Republicans from positions and replacing them with Democrats. The goal was to weaken Governor Chamberlain enough so that he would be removed from the ticket in November or forced to make favorable concessions.

April convention[edit]

The Republicans gathered in Columbia from April 12 to April 14 for the state convention to nominate 14 delegates to the National Republican Convention in Cincinnati. Those in opposition of Governor Chamberlain first succeeded in winning control of the temporary chairmanship for the convention when their candidate defeated the Governor by a vote of 80 to 40.

Having achieved effective control of the convention, the opposition to Governor Chamberlain proceeded to select delegates to the national convention with the purpose of excluding the governor from the delegation. However, the convention descended into chaos between those in support of the governor and those in opposition. An inkstand was thrown at the head of a delegate and a chair was raised above Governor Chamberlain with the intention of striking him.[3]

Governor Chamberlain responded with a powerful diatribe of those opposing him by accusing them of siding with the Ku Klux Klan. He then reaffirmed his loyalty to the Republican Party and its platform and explained that his actions in office were meant to serve the Party. Most delegates were convinced of the Governor's sincerity, and he was elected as a delegate-at-large to the national convention by a vote of 89 to 32.

September convention[edit]

Republican nomination for Governor
Candidate Votes %
Daniel Henry Chamberlain 88 71.6
Thomas C. Dunn 32 26.0
D.T. Corbin 2 1.6
Robert B. Elliott 1 0.8

Worried by his support among Republicans, Governor Chamberlain canvassed several counties of the state. Accompanied by Republicans held in low esteem by the white community, the meetings were often disrupted by Democrats. However, the growing strength and militancy of the Democrats served the purpose of reducing the opposition to Chamberlain within the Republican Party.

When the Republicans met for the nominating convention in Columbia on September 13 through September 15, Governor Chamberlain was renominated with little difficulty. However, those opposed to Chamberlain sought to compensate for their defeat by adding themselves to the ticket. Robert B. Elliott became the nominee for Attorney General and Thomas C. Dunn the nominee for Comptroller General.

Both had been very vocal in their opposition to Chamberlain and Elliott was notorious for corruption and his belief of black supremacy. After the election, Chamberlain regretted the inclusion of Elliott on the ticket and thought that Elliott's removal should have been the condition for his acceptance as nominee for Governor.[4]

The platform adopted by the Republicans contained many specific and innovative proposals that were to be effected either as amendments to the state constitution or through legislative action:

  • Ban government funds from being given to religious organizations.
  • A permanent tax to support public schools.
  • Tort reform.
  • Repeal of the agriculture lien law.
  • Use of convict labor.
  • Require cattle owners to fence their land.

The results of the convention for the Republicans were mixed; on one hand, the party emerged united from their convention for the first time since 1868, but it came with a heavy price as the more moderate black and white members of the party switched to support Hampton and the Democrats.

General election[edit]

Democratic campaign[edit]

The Democratic strategy for the election was twofold; Wade Hampton was to attract moderate voters by appearing as a senior statesman. Hhis chief lieutenant, Martin Gary, was to implement the Mississippi Plan in South Carolina. Known as the Shotgun Policy in South Carolina, the Mississippi Plan called for the bribery or intimidation of black voters. Financial enticements were given to blacks who supported the Democrats, and violence was waged on others in order to convince them to join a Democratic club for protection.

The first step of the Democratic campaign was to set up clubs to organize its members; the more militant Democrats were organized into the rifle clubs whereas the red shirt clubs were arranged to appeal to black voters. By election day, the Democrats had enrolled almost every white man not associated with the Republican party into a club and set up several clubs for blacks.

Supporters of the Democratic Party often wore red shirts in response to Oliver Morton's use of the bloody shirt to maintain support in the North for Reconstruction of the South.[5] They would often parade through towns on horseback such as to give an impression of greater numbers and shouted "Hurrah for Hampton" as their slogan. These demonstrations served several purposes for the Democrats: they brought together whites, frightened Republicans and inspired blacks towards their cause.

Another important aspect of the Mississippi Plan put into effect was the disruption of Republican meetings and the demanding of equal time. The campaign device was called "dividing time" and it proved to be one of the more useful techniques employed by the Democrats in the campaign for three reasons: the strong show of force intimidated the black voters; it terrified Republican candidates and disgraced them in front of the blacks; and because most black voters were illiterate, it was the only possible way for the Democrats to reach them with their arguments since the newspapers were useless as they could not be read. The harassment of the Republicans had gotten so bad that the state Democratic committee had to warn its members that the purpose was to attract black voters and not to terrorize them.[6]

An unofficial policy employed by the whites, yet equally effective as the others, was "preference, not proscription." Basically, blacks who espoused support for the Democrats were given a certificate that allowed for them to have priority in employment and trade. The device was not used on the farms because the contracts lasted until January, but it instead wreaked havoc among the black artisans in the urban areas. The state Democratic committee never endorsed the tactic, and Hampton urged its ending after the end of the campaign.[7]

Poole argues that in waging its campaign Democrats portrayed the Lost Cause scenario through "Hampton Days" celebrations shouting "Hampton or Hell!". They staged the contest between Hampton and governor Chamberlain as a religious struggle between good and evil, and calling for "redemption."[8] Indeed, throughout the South the conservatives who overthrew Reconstruction were often called "Redeemers," echoing Christian theology.[9]

Democratic black vote[edit]

Democrats recognized the black majority in the state and realized that the only way for them to win the election was through the addition of black voters to its ranks. This was a tricky problem for the party because they were known for upholding slavery and introducing the black codes. However, the Republicans had become notoriously corrupt and little progress was made towards the promises made to blacks, such as 40 acres and a mule. Furthermore, it angered many blacks that a former slave trader, Joe Crews, was elected as a Republican to the General Assembly.[10]

Those blacks enticed with joining and voting for the Democratic Party were ultimately motivated by the paternalistic nature of Wade Hampton.[11] They resented the northern politicians who came to rule the state into destruction and saw Hampton as someone who would redeem the state out of its current despair.

However, black Democrats faced ostracism from the black community and multiple threats of violence. The black women were especially noted for their cruelty; they would strip known black Democrats naked in public and some of the wives would leave their husbands or refuse to sleep with them. Even the daughter of a black Democrat was whipped at school for her father's support of Hampton.[12]

Republican campaign[edit]

The entirety of the Republican campaign for the general election in November was based on maintaining the black vote. There was little campaigning by Republican candidates and one of Governor Chamberlain's newspapers, Columbia Daily Union-Herald, even noted that "Public meetings are not necessary to arouse the Republicans, nor to inform them. On the day of election nine-tenths of them could be directed to cast their ballots at one poll, if necessary."[13]

Instead, the Republicans made a point of making a show of force with its black members and to impress upon other black voters that a vote for the Democrats would result in violence. Additionally, the Republicans sought to create racial disturbances to give President Grant an excuse to send Federal troops to the state.

Election results[edit]

The general election was held on November 7, 1876, and there were few instances of disturbance. At each polling place, there were federal supervisors from both the Democratic and Republican parties. Federal troops were also stationed at the county seats to preserve the peace at the polling places if needed, but they were never called upon.

As the results were coming in on Wednesday morning, it appeared that Chamberlain would win, but Hampton had taken the lead by Thursday. Hampton claimed victory, which was immediately denied by Chamberlain and the Republicans, who claimed that massive fraud and intimidation had given Hampton the victory. Indeed, there were more votes cast in Edgefield and Laurens counties than there had been registered voters.[14]

When the Republican dominated Board of State Canvassars met after the election to certify the results, they failed on November 22 to certify the election results from Edgefield and Laurens counties despite being ordered by the state supreme court to certify all the results. Effectively, the results from those counties were thrown out. The state supreme court then held the board members in contempt of court and placed them in the Richland County jail. However, a federal judge annulled the order of the state supreme court and issued a writ of habeas corpus in favor of the board members.

In the morning of November 28 prior to the convening of the General Assembly, Chamberlain ordered two companies of federal troops under the command of General Thomas H. Ruger to the State House, which had been approved by President Ulysses S. Grant on November 26 in order to prevent a violent takeover by the Democrats and to block the admittance of the Democratic members from Edgefield and Laurens counties.

The Democratic members from Edgefield and Laurens counties were forbidden to enter the General Assembly, and the Democrats left to set up a rival legislature at Carolina Hall. With the Republicans in complete control of the government and backed by the support of federal troops, they discarded the election returns from Edgefield and Laurens counties for the gubernatorial race and declared Chamberlain elected for a second term on December 5.

Republican count for the South Carolina Gubernatorial Election, 1876
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Daniel Henry Chamberlain 86,216 50.9
Democratic Wade Hampton III 83,071 49.1

The Democrats derided the installation of Chamberlain as Governor by the Republicans and on December 14, they declared Hampton Governor of South Carolina. They included returns from Edgefield and Laurens counties in their tally, which meant out of 184,943 registered voters in 1875, only 555 voters did not cast a ballot in the election. The results as declared by the Democrats held up to be the official results of the election when Hampton became the sole Governor on April 11, 1877.

South Carolina Gubernatorial Election, 1876
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Wade Hampton III 92,261 50.3 +50.3
Republican Daniel Henry Chamberlain 91,127 49.7 -4.2
Majority 1,134 0.6 -7.2
Turnout 183,388 99.2
  Democratic gain from Republican

County results[edit]

County Hampton Chamberlain
Votes % Votes %
Abbeville 3,852 51.2 3,669 48.8
Aiken 3,221 56.4 2,495 43.6
Anderson 4,155 78.7 1,124 21.3
Barnwell 3,956 58.7 2,778 41.3
Beaufort 2,274 23.0 7,604 77.0
Charleston 8,809 36.9 15,032 63.1
Chester 2,005 45.5 2,404 54.5
Chesterfield 1,631 62.3 985 37.7
Clarendon 1,436 43.3 1,881 56.7
Colleton 2,984 41.8 4,163 58.2
Darlington 2,752 44.0 3,507 56.0
Edgefield 6,267 66.9 3,107 33.1
Fairfield 2,159 43.3 2,832 56.7
Georgetown 1,058 27.5 2,787 72.5
Greenville 4,172 70.7 1,729 29.3
Horry 1,939 76.7 588 23.3
Kershaw 1,757 46.0 2,063 54.0
Lancaster 1,541 55.5 1,236 44.5
Laurens 2,916 61.8 1,804 38.2
Lexington 2,129 62.9 1,256 37.1
Marion 3,149 55.8 2,492 44.2
Marlboro 1,945 54.7 1,608 45.3
Newberry 2,196 44.3 2,761 55.7
Oconee 2,083 79.9 524 20.1
Orangeburg 2,870 39.1 4,469 60.9
Pickens 2,002 83.1 406 16.9
Richland 2,435 38.7 3,857 61.3
Spartanburg 4,677 76.1 1,467 23.9
Sumter 2,382 38.2 3,859 61.8
Union 2,519 59.0 1,750 41.0
Williamsburg 1,757 41.8 2,443 58.2
York 3,233 56.9 2,447 43.1
1876 South Carolina gubernatorial election map, by percentile by county.
  65+% won by Hampton
  60%-64% won by Hampton
  55%-59% won by Hampton
  50%-54% won by Hampton
  50%-54% won by Chamberlain
  55%-59% won by Chamberlain
  60%-64% won by Chamberlain
  65+% won by Chamberlain

Dual governors[edit]

Hampton quickly organized his government and made a request to South Carolinians to contribute 10% of their income. South Carolinians, both white and black, paid taxes to the Hampton government and refused to pay taxes to the Chamberlain government, thereby denying the Chamberlain government its last legitimacy and authority apart from the U.S. Army.[15]

After the resolution 1876 presidential election in favor of Rutherford B. Hayes, both Chamberlain and Hampton traveled to Washington to discuss with the new president regarding the situation in South Carolina. President Hayes realized that only a massive reintroduction of federal troops would enable Chamberlain to continue as Governor and thus ordered on April 3, 1877 for the removal of federal troops from South Carolina. The departure of Federal troops on April 10 caused Governor Chamberlain and the Republican led government to concede the election to Wade Hampton. A day later on April 11, Hampton became the sole and official governor of the state of South Carolina.




  • January 6 - Meeting of the Democratic State Committee to reorganize and agree to prepare for the Democratic convention in May.
  • April 12–April 14 - Republicans held a state convention in Columbia to elect delegates to the National Convention in Cincinnati.
  • May 4–May 5 - Democrats held a state convention in Columbia to elect delegates to the National Convention in St. Louis.
  • July 8 - Violence at Hamburg in Aiken County killed 1 white and 6 blacks. Governor Chamberlain's remonstrances ineffective.
  • August 15–August 17 - Democratic convention in Columbia adopted a platform and selected Wade Hampton as their nominee for Governor in the general election.
  • September 6 - Riots provoked by black Republicans in Charleston kill 1 white and injure 12 others.
  • September 13–September 15 - Republican nominating convention met in Columbia and selected Governor Chamberlain as their nominee for Governor in the general election.
  • September 16–September 19 - Violence at Ellenton in Aiken County killed 1 white and 40 blacks.
  • October 4 - A document signed by Governor Chamberlain stated that he had no effective control of state government and was entirely dependent upon Federal troops. He threatened to use the soldiers to bring economic damage to the state if he was not elected Governor of South Carolina.[16]
  • October 7 - Governor Chamberlain orders rifle clubs to disperse and that any unorganized militias were forbidden.
  • October 16 - Black Republicans ambushed unarmed white men near Cainhoy killing 6 whites and injuring 16. Only 1 black man was killed.
  • October 17
    • President Ulysses S. Grant placed the Federal troops in South Carolina under the command of Governor Chamberlain.
    • A party of a black militia ambushed 6 white men leaving a Democratic meeting in Edgefield, killing 1 and wounding another.
  • October 23 - A black mob laid siege to the town of Mt. Pleasant for the night, forcing the white citizens into a single house. The mob left in the morning threatening to return and kill everyone in the town.
  • November 7 - Election day.
  • November 8 - Black Republicans attacked whites on Broad Street in Charleston when somebody yelled incorrectly that Edmund W.M. Mackey had been killed. In the altercation, 1 white was killed and 12 were wounded; 1 black was killed and 11 others were wounded.
  • November 22 - State Board of Canvassers throws out the results from Edgefield and Laurens counties.
  • November 28 - Governor Chamberlain orders Federal troops to occupy the State House to prevent the recently elected Democratic majority in the House of Representatives from taking power. The Democratic members left the State House and organized at Carolina Hall.
  • November 30 - The Democratic legislators returned to the State House and assumed leadership of the House of Representatives. However, the Republican members threatened violence and the Democratic members left the chamber.
  • December 3 - The Republican House of Representatives planned to eject the Democratic members from Edgefield and Laurens counties through the use of force from the black "Hunkidori Club" in Charleston. The plot was discovered by the Democrats and over 5,000 white men from all over South Carolina assembled in Columbia to prevent the removal of the members.
  • December 4 - The Democrats adjourned and left the State House, returning to Carolina Hall in order to prevent bloodshed.
  • December 5 - Republican led General Assembly elects Chamberlain as Governor.
  • December 6 - South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the Democrat, William H. Wallace, was the legally elected Speaker of the House. The commander of the Federal troops in the State House declared that he would ignore the decision of the Supreme Court and exclude the Democratic members from the House.
  • December 7 - Governor Chamberlain inaugurated as the Governor of South Carolina for a second term.
  • December 14 - The Democratic legislators tabulated the votes and declared Wade Hampton Governor of South Carolina. He took the oath of office for Governor and was inaugurated on the same day.
  • December 20 - Governor Chamberlain issues a pardon for Peter Smith at the State penitentiary. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled on appeal that Governor Chamberlain was not the legally elected Governor of South Carolina and therefore not entitled to the powers of the office.
  • December 22 - The Republican led General Assembly adjourned.
  • December 29 - Senator John Brown Gordon of Georgia proposed a resolution in the US Senate to declare Wade Hampton III as the lawful Governor of South Carolina.


  • January 17 - Senator John J. Patterson of South Carolina replied to the resolution of Senator Gordon by submitting papers that Governor Chamberlain was the legally elected Governor of South Carolina.
  • February 9 - Governor Hampton issues a pardon for Tilda Norris, but the superintendent of the state penitentiary refuses to recognize Hampton as Governor and does not release her.
  • February 20 - President Grant orders for there to be no parades of the rifle clubs in honor of George Washington's birthday on February 22.
  • March 7 - The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Wade Hampton III was the legally elected governor of South Carolina and was entitled to the powers of the office. After the ruling, Tilda Norris was released.
  • March 31 - Hampton and Chamberlain meet with President Rutherford B. Hayes to discuss the situation in South Carolina.
  • April 3 - President Hayes orders the removal of Federal troops from South Carolina.
  • April 10 - Federal troops leave the State House and return to their barracks.
  • April 11 - At noon, Wade Hampton becomes the sole and official Governor of South Carolina.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Drago, p66
  2. ^ Drago, p8
  3. ^ Reynolds, p363
  4. ^ Reynolds, p367
  5. ^ Drago, p9
  6. ^ Jarrell, p68
  7. ^ Jarrell, p70
  8. ^ W. Scott Poole, "Religion, Gender, and the Lost Cause in South Carolina's 1876 Governor's Race: 'Hampton or Hell!'," Journal of Southern History, Aug 2002, Vol. 68 Issue 3, pp 573-98
  9. ^ Stephen E. Cresswell, Rednecks, redeemers, and race: Mississippi after Reconstruction (2006)
  10. ^ Drago, p35
  11. ^ Drago, p29
  12. ^ Drago, p42
  13. ^ Reynolds, p374
  14. ^ Edgar, p404
  15. ^ Walter Edgar, '"South Carolina: A History p 405
  16. ^ Reynolds, p444


  • Drago, Edmund L. (1998). Hurrah for Hampton!: Black Red Shirts in South Carolina during Reconstruction. University of Arkansas Press. ISBN 1-55728-541-1. 
  • Edgar, Walter (1998). South Carolina A History. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1-57003-255-6. 
  • Holt, Thomas (1979). Black over White: Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina during Reconstruction. University of Illinois Press. pp. 173–207. ISBN 0-252-00775-1. 
  • Jarrell, Hampton M. (1969). Wade Hampton and the Negro. University of South Carolina Press. 
  • Poole, W. Scott, "Religion, Gender, and the Lost Cause in South Carolina's 1876 Governor's Race: 'Hampton or Hell!'" Journal of Southern History Volume: 68. Issue: 3. 2002. pp 573+. online edition; in JSTOR
  • Reynolds, John S. (1969). Reconstruction in South Carolina. Negro University Press. ISBN 0-8371-1638-4. 
  • Simkins, Francis Butler, and Robert Hilliard Woody. South Carolina During Reconstruction (1932)
  • Rogers Jr., George C. and C. James Taylor (1994). A South Carolina Chronology 1497-1992. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 0-87249-971-5. 
  • Williamson, Joel. After Slavery: The Negro in South Carolina During Reconstruction, 1861-1877 (1965)
  • Zuczek, Richard. State of Rebellion: Reconstruction in South Carolina (1998),

Primary sources[edit]

  • "The Vote in 1876 and 1878". The News and Courier. 3 November 1880. p. 2. 
  • U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections. South Carolina in 1876: Report on the Denial of the Elective Franchise in South Carolina at the State and National Election of 1876, to Accompany Senate Miscellaneous Document 48, Forty-Fourth Congress, Second Session (Washington, D.C., 1877)

External links[edit]

Preceded by
South Carolina gubernatorial elections Succeeded by