Legislator, congressman. Mackey was one of the state’s controversial Republican politicians during Reconstruction and thereafter. Born on March 8, 1846, in Charleston, he received a classical education, but the outbreak of the Civil War prevented his entering college. He was admitted to the practice of law in 1868. In 1874 Mackey married Vicky Sumter, who was part African American. The couple had two sons.
Mackey first entered Republican politics with his election to the state constitutional convention of 1867. Between 1868 and 1875 he held a series of elective offices including county sheriff, Charleston alderman, and member of the state House of Representatives from Charleston County. He also was editor of the Charleston Republican, which enabled him to increase his influence in the Republican Party. In 1874 he was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the state’s Second District, and he served for sixteen months until the seat was declared vacant.
In October 1876 Mackey was again elected to the General Assembly. However, election returns from several counties were in dispute, with both Republicans and Democrats claiming victory in the gubernatorial and presidential contests and in certain state legislative races. Each side accused the other of fraud. Out of this confused situation emerged two separate State House organizations, one that elected Mackey as the Republican Speaker and one that elected William H. Wallace as the Democratic Speaker. The two competing bodies became known as the “Mackey House” and the “Wallace House.” For days they occupied the same chamber, sought to conduct business, and tried to ignore one another. Subsequently, the state supreme court ruled that Wallace, not Mackey, was the “legal speaker of the lawfully constituted House of Representatives.” In April 1877 the legally recognized “Wallace House” successfully reduced the Republican contingent in the General Assembly through forced resignations, expulsions, and declaring invalid the election of Republican members from Charleston County, including Mackey.
In 1878 Mackey again sought election to Congress from the Second District and again was unsuccessful. Two years later, in 1880, he made still another try. This time, after challenging the seating of the incumbent Democrat and with the contest still pending, his opponent died and Mackey was awarded the office. In 1882, running in the newly drawn Seventh District that had a black majority, he was easily reelected.
As a native and a Republican who seemed continually to be seeking elective office, Mackey came to be regarded by many in the state as little more than a scalawag opportunist. He was, however, seriously involved in trying to maintain and even strengthen the Republican organization. To that end, he was twice a delegate to Republican National Conventions and from 1880 to 1884 served as chairman of the state party committee.
About halfway through his second term in Congress, on January 27, 1884, Mackey died unexpectedly in Washington, D.C. He was buried in that city’s Glenwood Cemetery.
Obituary. New York Times, January 29, 1884, p. 5.
Simkins, Francis Butler, and Robert Hilliard Woody. South Carolina during Reconstruction. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1932.