William Loughton Smith

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William Loughton Smith
3rd United States Minister to Portugal
In office
July 10, 1797 – September 9, 1801
Preceded byJohn Quincy Adams (1796)
Succeeded byThomas Sumter, Jr. (1809)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1789 – July 10, 1797
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byThomas Pinckney
2nd Chairman of the House Committee of Ways and Means
In office
December 21, 1795 – July 10, 1797
Preceded byHimself
Succeeded byRobert Goodloe Harper
In office
March 26, 1794 – November 3, 1794
as Chairman of the Standing Committee of Ways and Means
Preceded byThomas Fitzsimons
Succeeded byHimself
Personal details
DiedDecember 19, 1812 (aged 53–54)
Charleston, South Carolina
Political partyPro-Administration
Other political

William Loughton Smith (1758 – December 19, 1812) was an American lawyer, politician, and diplomat from Charleston, South Carolina. He represented South Carolina in the United States House of Representatives from 1789 until 1797, during which time he served as chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means.

Early life & legal career[edit]

Smith was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1758 to Benjamin Smith and Anne Loughton.[1] His father earned his fortune as an importer of British luxury goods into Charleston. His father's considerable wealth allowed him to sit out the Revolutionary War while obtaining his education in Europe.[2]

In 1774, Smith studied law at the Middle Temple in London, Great Britain and continued his studies in Geneva from 1774 to 1778.[3] Smith remained in Europe for the remainder of the American Revolutionary War.[1]

In 1783, Smith returned to South Carolina. He was admitted to the bar in 1784 and began practicing law in Charleston.[3]

Political career[edit]

In 1784, Smith served as a member of the South Carolina privy council.[3] In 1786, Smith was elected warden of the city of Charleston in 1786, equivalent to a city council member today. From 1787 to 1788, Smith served in the South Carolina House of Representatives.[3]

Smith was elected as a Pro-Administration candidate to the First Congress in 1788 to South Carolina's 1st congressional district. His election was contested by his opponent David Ramsey, who claimed that, because Smith had only returned to the newly founded United States in 1783, he had not been a U.S. citizen for seven years, a constitutional requirement for election to the House. This was the first invocation of Congress's power, established under Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, to serve as the "Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members"; the House found that Ramsey was qualified, with James Madison noting that "it is an established maxim, that birth is the criterion of allegiance."[4]

Smith was subsequently reelected to the Second Congress and Third Congress. Smith later joined the Federalist Party and was reelected to the Fourth and Fifth Congress under that ticket. In the Third Congress, Smith served as chair of the Committee on Elections. In the Fourth and Fifth Congresses, Smith served as chair of the Committee on Ways and Means.[3]

As chair of the Committee on Ways and Means, Smith acted as a Federalist floor leader and was known as a close collaborator and House spokesman for Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.

On July 10, 1797, Smith resigned from Congress to serve as United States Ambassador to Portugal. He held the position until September 9, 1801, when he was recalled and took a leave of absence. Smith returned to Charleston and ran for Congress again in 1804, 1806, and 1808, but lost all of those elections to the Democratic-Republican Party candidate Robert Marion.[3]

In 1808, Smith was commissioned as a lieutenant in the South Carolina Militia. That same year, Smith was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives.[3]

Later life & death[edit]

Following his career in politics, Smith served as president of the Santee Canal Company, vice president of the Charleston Library Society, and vice president of the St. Cecilia Society.[3]

Smith died of an illness in Charleston, S.C., December 19, 1812. He was interred at in St. Philip's Churchyard.[3][1]

Political views[edit]

In a special session of United States Congress called by John Adams in 1797, Smith introduced ten resolutions calling for increased naval defense and shore fortifications in response to the growing crisis in Franco-American relations.[5]

Smith was opposed to the emancipation of slaves, believing it would benefit neither whites nor blacks. As he explained on the floor of the House of Representatives on March 17, 1790:

"If the blacks did not intermarry with the whites, they would remain black until the end of time; for it was not contended that liberating them would whitewash them; if they did intermarry with the whites, then the white race would be extinct, and the American people would all be of mulatto breed. In whatever light, therefore, the subject was viewed, the folly of emancipation was manifest."

In 1808, his politics shifted away from Alexander Hamilton and toward Thomas Jefferson, with Smith embracing the Embargo Act of 1807 as a way to increase the U.S.'s self-sufficiency.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Massey, Gregory D. "Smith, William Loughton". South Carolina Encyclopedia. University of South Carolina. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  2. ^ Pasley, Jeffrey L. (2013). The first presidential contest : 1796 and the founding of American democracy. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-7006-1907-8.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "SMITH, William Loughton, (1758 - 1812)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. United States Congress. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  4. ^ https://history.house.gov/HistoricalHighlight/Detail/35657
  5. ^ DeConde, Alexander (1966). The Quasi-War: The Politics and Diplomacy of the Undeclared War with France, 1797-1801. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 31.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Position established
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Thomas Pinckney
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
John Quincy Adams (1796)
United States Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal
Succeeded by
Thomas Sumter, Jr. (1809)