Rutledge, Edward

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Rutledge, Edward

RUTLEDGE, EDWARD. (1749–1800). Member of Continental Congress and U.S. House of Representative, Signer, governor of South Carolina. Born in Christ Church Parish, South Carolina on 23 November 1749, Rutledge studied law with his elder brother, John Rutledge, entered the Middle Temple in 1767, and was admitted to the English bar in 1772. He returned to Charleston in January 1773 and a few months later represented the printer Thomas Powell in a case which established that the South Carolina Council could not order someone sent to jail. Rutledge served in the first and second South Carolina Provincial Congresses. Elected with brother John to the first and Second Continental Congresses, the youthful Edward was characterized acidly by John Adams as "a perfect Bob-o-Lincoln—a swallow, a sparrow,… jejune, inane and puerile." Adams held the other Rutledge in equal contempt. Taking over leadership of the delegation after the departure of his brother and Gadsden, in 1776 Edward delayed action on the resolution for independence almost a month before finally influencing his delegation to vote for it on 2 July. Although he felt that confederation should have preceded independence, he was afraid of a strong central government. In all this he represented the views of the planter oligarchy of his state.

After accompanying John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to the Peace Conference on Staten Island on 11 Sept. 1776, in November 1776 Rutledge returned to South Carolina, where he was a member of the assembly until 1780 as well as a captain of artillery. After taking part in the action at Beaufort (Port Royal) on 3 February 1779, he became a prisoner when Charleston surrendered on 12 May 1780. Imprisoned at St. Augustine from September 1780 to July 1781, he lived in Philadelphia until most of the South had been liberated by Greene. He returned in time to sit in the Jacksonboro assembly that his brother convened in January 1782.

After the war he prospered in private and public life. He retained his aristocratic outlook while representing Charleston in the House of Representatives from 1782 to 1796 and in the state conventions of 1788 and 1790. He was an influential Federalist, elected to the state senate in 1796 and as governor in 1798. He died in Charleston on 23 January 1800.

SEE ALSO Peace Conference on Staten Island.


Haw, James. John and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997.

Rutledge, Edward. Papers. South Caroliniana Library, Columbia, South Carolina.

                            revised by Michael Bellesiles