The council met almost daily through early March. The formation of the Confederate government lessened the need for the council, and on April 8 the convention directed the governor to relieve the members as soon as public necessity allowed.

(1861–1862). The secession of South Carolina on December 20, 1860, necessitated state assumption of responsibilities formerly carried out by the federal government. To assist the governor, the Secession Convention passed an ordinance on December 27, 1860, establishing the Executive Council, consisting of the governor, the lieutenant governor, and four persons appointed by the governor and confirmed by the convention. Governor Francis W. Pickens appointed David F. Jamison, Andrew G. Magrath, Christopher G. Memminger, and Albert C. Garlington to the council, which met and organized on January 3, 1861. The Executive Council was modeled on the federal cabinet, and administrative duties were divided by function. Magrath assumed the duties of foreign affairs; Jamison, war; Memminger, treasury; and Garlington, interior affairs. Lieutenant Governor William W. Harllee was given responsibility for postal and custom matters. On February 2 Pickens appointed Edward Frost to replace Memminger, who had been elected to the Montgomery Convention.

The council met almost daily through early March. The formation of the Confederate government lessened the need for the council, and on April 8 the convention directed the governor to relieve the members as soon as public necessity allowed. Although the Executive Council no longer met, some members continued their duties through the end of the year. As late as February 1862, Wilmot G. DeSaussure, who had replaced Edward Frost in June 1861, was still actively seeking reimbursement from the Confederate government for funds expended in defending Charleston harbor.

The Union invasion of Port Royal in November 1861 and the Charleston fire the following month led to public questioning of Pickens’s leadership. In response, the reconvened Secession Convention on January 7, 1862, created a council to exercise executive power. The new body was composed of the governor, the lieutenant governor, and three members elected by the convention. The convention provided the Executive Council with a broad range of power to conduct affairs related to the war effort, including matters of martial law, impressment, conscription, and war-material production.

James Chesnut, Jr., Attorney General Isaac W. Hayne, and William H. Gist were elected to the council by the convention and exerted considerable influence. Chesnut suggested that the council create several administrative departments. He became chief of the military department, effectively supplanting Governor Pickens as commander in chief. Hayne headed the Department of Justice and Police. Gist and Harllee jointly ran the Department of Treasury and Finance. On March 24 Gist became the chief of the newly created Department of Construction and Manufacturing.

Although effective in marshaling the state’s meager resources for a concerted war effort, the Executive Council engendered widespread opposition because of its extralegal nature and concentrated power. Pickens and his supporters felt that the council illegally usurped his constitutional authority, although he actively participated in council proceedings through the fall of 1862. On September 17, 1862, the Secession Convention left the Executive Council’s fate in the hands of the legislature. The legislature abolished the Executive Council on December 18, 1862, and invalidated all of its actions except fiscal contracts.

Cauthen, Charles E. South Carolina Goes to War, 1860–1865. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1950.

———, ed. Journals of the South Carolina Executive Councils of 1861 and 1862. Columbia: South Carolina Archives Department, 1956.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Executive Councils
  • Author Patrick McCawley
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/executive-councils/
  • Access Date January 23, 2020
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date May 17, 2016
  • Date of Last Update September 20, 2016