Governor. Chamberlain was born in West Brookfield, Massachusetts, on June 23, 1835, the ninth of ten children born to Eli Chamberlain and Achsah Forbes. He graduated from Worcester High School in 1857 and Yale University in 1862. The following year he left Harvard Law School to serve as an officer with the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry, a black regiment. He came to South Carolina in 1866 to tend to the affairs of a deceased classmate. On December 16, 1867, he married Alice Ingersoll of Bangor, Maine. They had four children.
Chamberlain entered South Carolina politics in 1868 as a delegate to the state constitutional convention from Berkeley District. From 1868 to 1872 he served as attorney general in Governor Robert K. Scott’s administration. He was also a member of the financial board, an agency tainted by corruption involving the state land commission and the sale of Blue Ridge Railroad bonds. Chamberlain vigorously denied benefiting from these scandals and publicly criticized Republican corruption. In 1871 he joined Democrats in organizing a state taxpayers’ convention to press for reform and limits to state appropriations. Failing to gain the Republican nomination for governor in 1872, Chamberlain practiced law in Charleston. In 1873 he was elected to the board of trustees of the University of South Carolina as the first black students and faculty joined the institution.
In 1874, with the support of the black leaders Francis L. Cardozo and Robert Brown Elliott, Chamberlain became the Republican candidate for governor, and he won the general election that fall. Opposed to Republicans he regarded as corrupt and too radical, Chamberlain cultivated the support of moderate Democrats led by the Charleston newspaper editor Francis W. Dawson. As governor, he vetoed twenty spending and patronage measures he considered reckless. In 1875 he alienated many Republicans when he refused to sign commissions that would have enabled William J. Whipper and Franklin J. Moses, Jr., to serve as circuit court judges.
By 1876 it appeared that Chamberlain’s strategy to gain Democratic support for his reelection would pay political dividends as Dawson repeatedly praised the governor in the pages of the Charleston News and Courier. But when “straight-out” Democrats murdered several black militia members in the Hamburg Massacre of July 1876, Chamberlain condemned the killings and asked Washington for federal troops to quell the violence. Moderate Democrats deserted Chamberlain and threw their support behind Wade Hampton III. In the violent campaign that ensued, Hampton’s supporters threatened and intimidated Republican candidates and black voters. Chamberlain and the black leader Robert Smalls were hooted off the platform by an angry mob at Edgefield during the campaign. Both the Democrats and Republicans claimed victory in the 1876 election, and a prolonged controversy followed. For a time Hampton and Chamberlain each insisted that he was the state’s chief executive. But in April 1877 President Rutherford B. Hayes informed Chamberlain that he supported Hampton and subsequently withdrew federal troops from South Carolina.
Chamberlain departed South Carolina and became a successful Wall Street lawyer. Embittered by his experiences as governor, he vilified the Hayes administration for its “treachery” in abandoning black South Carolinians to white Democrats. In 1881 Chamberlain defended the black West Point cadet Johnson C. Whittaker in his highly publicized court-martial case. However, in the years that followed, Chamberlain shifted in his racial attitudes. In a series of articles Chamberlain described his increasing disillusionment with Reconstruction and criticized attempts to secure voting rights and political power for African Americans. From 1883 to 1897 he was a professor of constitutional law at Cornell University. On his retirement he traveled extensively in Europe before settling in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he died of cancer on April 13, 1907.
Allen, Walter. Governor Chamberlain’s Administration in South Carolina, a Chapter of Reconstruction in the Southern States. 1888. Reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969.
Chamberlain, Daniel H. Governors’ Papers. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia.
Current, Richard Nelson. Those Terrible Carpetbaggers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Green, James. Personal Recollections of Daniel Henry Chamberlain, Once Governor of South Carolina. Worcester, Mass.: Davis & Banister, 1908.