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Robert Barnwell Rhett

Senator Robert Barnwell Rhett, South Carolina- Fire-eater

Said in 1848

"The South must protect itself," he said, and repeated his old warning that "no slaveholding communities can be safe but by their own engergies." If others were allowed to tamper with slavery, it would provide "proof conclusive of your imbecility, and prove also that the Constitution has failed in affording you that 'domestic tranquillity' which on its face it was established to secure." If Southerners could no longer protect their rights within the Union, particarly "this great question of slavery," they must dissolve it. "Gentlemen!" he cried, "I long for the union of the South for the sake of the South. I care not what may be the measure that produces it." As he had said many times before, if other southren states would not act, South Carolina must, and force the rest to choose sides. Charleston Mercury, September 29, 1848.

Rhett was a secessionist or disunionist. Had attended and help lead the Nashville and Macon Southern disunion conventions in the late 1840s and early 1850s.

Rhett had believed that secession would "make the welfare of the South the welfare of their representatives." When politicians were no longer tempted to yield their section's interests to northern demands, the public good in the South would become their only "road to distinction and official preferment."....without the distractions of political parties or "toadies to Northern opinion, "all southerners would embrace the ...ideals, philosophy of government, and devotion to the South {that were his}. When his dreams were frustrated by the new Confederate Government in Richmond, Rhett began to lash out at the very government he had just helped to create.

Robert Barnwell Rhett was born Robert Barnwell Smith. He had been raised and educated in his most influential years by his uncle Robert Gibbes Barnwell, who served in the South Carolina legislature, was elected to the Continental Congress, and later served in the the U.S. Congress. He believed in the Constitution and Federalist ideas in the protection of rights for all. He served in the state senate as a progressive proponent of free public education and abolition of the African slave trade, and passionate supporter of Beaufort College.

David Upton