Congressman, banker, U.S. senator. Born on October 15, 1799, in Laurens District, Elmore was the son of John Archer Elmore and Sarah Saxon. After receiving his early education in the academies near Laurens, Elmore entered South Carolina College in 1817 and graduated two years later. After graduating, he studied law with Andrew P. Butler at Laurens Court House and was admitted to the bar in 1821. Elmore then moved to Walterboro, the seat of Colleton District, and began his practice. Quickly proving his ability as a lawyer, Elmore was appointed solicitor of the Southern Circuit in 1822 and held the post as the region’s criminal prosecutor until 1836. In 1825 the General Assembly elected Elmore as a trustee of South Carolina College, a post to which he was reelected in 1829 and 1833. Elmore married Harriet Chesnut Taylor on May 10, 1827. The couple had twelve children.
In 1836 James H. Hammond resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives and Elmore was elected to fill the vacated seat. He took his seat on December 19 and was subsequently reelected to a full, two-year term in 1837. While in Congress, Elmore voted with the Democrats and was a faithful ally of John C. Calhoun. Among the more contentious national issues of the time was the increase in antislavery agitation by northern abolitionists. In a series of published letters to James G. Birney of the American Anti-slavery Society, Elmore defended slavery, claiming that “the two races cannot exist together upon terms of equality—the extirpation of one and the ruin of the other would be inevitable.” Like Calhoun, Elmore was a staunch proponent of railroad expansion and advocate of federal aid to southern railroads.
A year after completing his term in the House in 1839, Elmore was elected president of the Bank of the State of South Carolina (BSSC). During his tenure the bank prospered and proved itself to be a vital institution of economic development in the state. Despite the overall economic success of the BSSC, an increasingly vocal antibank faction developed in South Carolina. The bank’s critics charged that Elmore and the bank’s directors used the institution’s resources to reward friends and further their political agenda, criticism not entirely without foundation. Elmore and Robert Barnwell Rhett led what was called at the time the “Rhett-Elmore clique,” a group of lowcountry Calhoun supporters who wielded significant power from the mid-1830s until 1850 and at times alienated other factions in the state.
After Calhoun died in 1850, Elmore was appointed by Governor Whitemarsh Seabrook to fill the vacant seat in the U.S. Senate. Elmore took his seat on April 11 but died in Washington on May 29, 1850, of a recurring illness. Although he held political office for just a few brief years, Franklin Elmore was a behind-the-scenes political force in antebellum South Carolina. He was buried in the churchyard of First Presbyterian in Columbia.
Correspondence between the Hon. F. H. Elmore and James G. Birney. 1838. Reprint, New York: Arno, 1969.
Lesesne, J. Mauldin. The Bank of the State of South Carolina: A General and Political History. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970. O’Neall, John Belton. Biographical Sketches of the Bench and Bar of South Carolina. 2 vols. Charleston, S.C.: S. G. Courtney, 1859.