Edward Rutledge

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Edward Rutledge
Rutledge, Edward, 1749-1800 James Earl.jpg
39th Governor of South Carolina
In office
December 18, 1798 – January 23, 1800
LieutenantJohn Drayton
Preceded byCharles Pinckney
Succeeded byJohn Drayton
Delegate from South Carolina to the Continental Congress
In office
1774 – 1776
Member of the
South Carolina Senate
from Charleston
In office
November 28, 1796 – December 6, 1798
Member of the
South Carolina House of Representatives
from Charleston
In office
January 6, 1783 – November 28, 1796
In office
March 26, 1776 – October 17, 1778
Personal details
Born(1749-11-23)November 23, 1749
Charleston, South Carolina, British America
DiedJanuary 23, 1800(1800-01-23) (aged 50)
Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.
Resting placeSaint Philip's Episcopal Church Cemetery, Charleston
Political partyFederalist
Spouse(s)Henrietta Middleton
Mary Shubrick Eveleigh
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
State of South Carolina
Branch/serviceSouth Carolina militia
Years of service1778–1781
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War

Edward Rutledge (November 23, 1749 – January 23, 1800) was an American politician and youngest signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence. He later served as the 39th Governor of South Carolina.

Early life and education[edit]

Like his eldest brother John Rutledge, Edward was born in Charleston. He was the youngest of seven children (5 sons and 2 daughters) born to Dr. John Rutledge and Sarah Hext. His father was a physician and colonist of Scots-Irish descent; his mother was born in South Carolina and was of English descent. Following his brothers John and Hugh he studied law in London at the Inns of Court. In 1772 he was admitted to the English bar (Middle Temple),[1] and returned to Charleston to practice. He was married on March 1, 1774, to Henrietta Middleton (17 November 1750 – 22 April 1792), daughter of Henry Middleton. The couple had three children;

  • Maj. Henry Middleton Rutledge (5 April 1775 – 20 January 1844)
  • Edward Rutledge (20 March 1778 – 1780)
  • Sarah Rutledge (1782–1855)

Rutledge had a successful law practice with his partner, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. He became a leading citizen of Charleston. He owned more than 50 enslaved people.[2]


American Revolution[edit]

During the American Revolution Rutledge served along with his brother John representing South Carolina in the Continental Congress (1774-1776). He worked to have African Americans expelled from the Continental Army.[2] Although a firm supporter of colonial rights, he (as a delegate) was instructed initially to oppose Lee's Resolution of independence; South Carolina's leaders were unsure that the time was "ripe."[3] At age 26 he was the youngest delegate to sign the Declaration of Independence.

He returned home in November 1776 to take a seat in the General Assembly. He served as a captain of artillery in the South Carolina militia, and fought at the Battle of Beaufort in 1779. In May 1780, Rutledge was captured along with his co-signers of the Declaration of Independence, Arthur Middleton and Thomas Heyward during the siege of Charleston. They were released during a prisoner exchange in July 1781.[4]

Rutledge is standing on the far right in John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence.

Later life and death[edit]

The Edward Rutledge House in Charleston

After his release he returned to the General Assembly, where he served until 1796. He was known as an active legislator and an advocate for the confiscation of Loyalist property. Like John Rutledge, Edward Rutledge opposed the Jay Treaty and the Anglophilic stance he perceived in the Federalist Party.[5] As an elector in the 1796 Presidential Election, Rutledge voted for the two Southern candidates, Republican Thomas Jefferson and Federalist Thomas Pinckney.[6] Rutledge had not been close with the eventual victor John Adams dating back to their days in the Continental Congress, but he approved of Adams's defense policies towards France during the Quasi-War.[7] The opposition afforded Adams's measures by Vice President Jefferson and the Congressional Republicans angered Rutledge because he now saw the Republicans as more partial to France than to American interests, a situation similar to the pro-British feelings he sensed in the Federalists during the Jay Treaty debates.[8] Rutledge thereafter ceased communication with Jefferson.[8] Rutledge served in the state senate for two years, then was elected governor in 1798.

Governor Rutledge, while attending an important meeting in Columbia, had to be sent home because of his gout. He died in Charleston before the end of his term. Some said at the time that he died from apoplexy resulting from hearing the news of George Washington's death.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

Rutledge is a prominent character in the musical play 1776. He is depicted as an obstructionist to John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, acting as an accomplice to John Dickinson. Along with Dickinson, he participates in the minuet of "Cool, Cool Considerate Men" as the aforementioned rallies the Congress's conservatives to oppose Adams. However, unlike Dickinson, whose unwavering opposition to independence is partly motivated by financial interests, Rutledge, acting as the voice for all three southern states, is willing to discuss the idea after many demands are met. As part of his signature scene, he sings "Molasses to Rum," in which he bombastically claims that the North is in no position to condemn slavery in the Declaration of Independence due to its large role in and complicity in the triangular trade, reenacting a slave auction to the Congress as part of his demonstration. Rutledge was portrayed by Clifford David in the original Broadway production, and John Cullum in the 1972 film.

1776 claims that Rutledge led the opposition to an anti-slavery clause in the original draft of the Declaration. Rutledge's leadership against the clause is fictitious. According to Jefferson, the clause was opposed by South Carolina and Georgia, plus unspecified "northern brethren";[9] that is the limit of known information about opposition to the clause. Rutledge was a delegate from South Carolina, but there is no evidence in the historical record that he played any part—much less that of leader—in the opposition to the clause.[10]

In the 2008 miniseries John Adams, Rutledge was portrayed by Clancy O'Connor, where his vote for independence is portrayed as contingent not upon the removal of the clause on slavery from the Declaration, but on the condition that there would be no votes in opposition to the motion on independence, a condition which Adams assures him will be fulfilled.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. Encyclopedia of the Age of Political Revolutions and New Ideologies, 1760-1815: A-L. Greenwood Publishing, 2007, page 651.
  2. ^ a b c Williams, American National Biography.
  3. ^ The Rise of the Republic of the United States (1881) by Richard Frothingham, p. 515; The Story of Philadelphia (1900) by Lillian Ione Rhoades MacDowell, p. 169; The Constitutional Review, Volume 6 (1922), article by Henry Campbell Black, p. 162; Revolutionary America, 1763–1815: A Political History (2008) by Francis D. Cogliano, p. 91.
  4. ^ Kiernan, Denise; D'Agense, Joseph (2009). Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed The Declaration of Independence. Philadelphia: Quirk Books. p. 214.
  5. ^ James Haw, John and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1997), p. 262.
  6. ^ James Haw, John and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1997), p. 265.
  7. ^ James Haw, John and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1997), pp. 264-71.
  8. ^ a b James Haw, John and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1997), p. 267.
  9. ^ The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia: a Comprehensive Collection of the Views of Thomas Jefferson (1900) by Thomas Jefferson, edited by John P. Foley, p. 246
  10. ^ In the 19th Century, Rutledge was routinely included in volumes of biographies of American statesmen. Invariably, each capsule biography of Rutledge points out that nothing is known of what he said or did during the Continental Congress, because the Congress was conducted in closed session and its members had made a pact of secrecy. The 19th Century biographers pointed to no letters or memoirs in which Rutledge's participation was specified. See, e.g. (there are many others), Lives of the Presidents of the United States by Robert W. Lincoln (1836), p. 390; Sanderson's Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1846) by John Sanderson and Robert Taylor Conrad, p. 351; The United States Manual of Biography and History by James V. Marshall (1856), p. 115; An Outline of the Political and Social Life of George Washington, Volume 2 (1895) by James Tyson, p. 339.


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Pinckney
Governor of South Carolina
Succeeded by
John Drayton