Governor. Manning was born to Richard I. Manning and Elizabeth Peyre Richardson on January 29, 1816, at Hickory Hill, Clarendon District. After engaging a private tutor, Manning attended Hatfield Academy in Camden before proceeding to the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1833. However, after the death of his father in 1836, Manning returned home and enrolled at South Carolina College; he graduated from that institution in 1837. On April 11, 1838, he married Susan Frances Hampton. They had three children. After the death of his first wife in 1845, Manning wed Sally Bland Clark in April 1848, and they eventually had four children.
Manning was born to both privilege and political connections. His father was governor of South Carolina from 1824 to 1826. John Manning became one of the wealthiest men in the South. By 1860 he possessed an estate valued at $2 million, which included plantations in South Carolina and Louisiana and at least 648 slaves. His status, as well as his captivating personal manner, ensured that Manning frequented elite circles. “He is always the handsomest man alive,” Mary Boykin Chesnut remarked in her famous diary, “and he can be very agreeable. That is, when he pleases. He does not always please.” His high social standing colored his political outlook. When he was asked once why he hated republics, Manning replied, “Because the mob rules republics.”
In 1842 Manning was elected by the voters of Clarendon District to the S.C. House of Representatives. He was returned to the House in 1844 and then was elected to the state Senate in 1846. He was serving in the Senate when he was unanimously elected governor on December 9, 1852. Taking office after the secession crisis of 1851, Manning declared that South Carolina was currently “free from cabal and faction.” However, the sectional tensions that sparked the crisis had not evaporated. A cooperationist, Manning nevertheless announced in his inaugural address that in a contest between federal and state authority it was “both my inclination and my duty as a States Rights Republican . . . to sustain the constitution and the laws of this commonwealth.” But in general, Manning’s term coincided with what he called “a brief period of repose” in the sectional crisis.
While governor, Manning supported internal improvements and presided over the renovation of the State House. His primary emphasis was on higher education. Manning viewed collegiate institutions not just as places of learning but also as academies especially designed for young men of “refinement, intelligence, and property” and bulwarks of conservative leadership. This view also influenced his decidedly lukewarm conception of free schools. “I have no hesitation in expressing the opinion that more benefit has arisen from the few thousand dollars expended annually on [colleges] for ten years past,” he once remarked, “than has been accrued to the state from the application of the free school appropriations for thirty years previous.”
Manning had a particular fondness for South Carolina College, his alma mater and a place he equated with conservative instruction and order. One of his first official acts was the suppression of the so-called “Great Biscuit Rebellion,” a revolt of the students at South Carolina College over compulsory room and board fees. Manning, who served as a trustee of the institution from 1841 to 1854 and again from 1865 to 1869, endowed the school’s first private scholarship in 1846. He encouraged others to follow his example and asked the legislature during his tenure to continue its “favor and protection” of the institution.
Manning attended the state’s Secession Convention, signed the Ordinance of Secession, and sat in the state Senate for the duration of the Civil War. During the war he briefly served on the staff of General P. G. T. Beauregard. Manning also represented Clarendon District in the state Senate from 1861 until November 4, 1865, when he resigned upon his election to the U.S. Senate. However, Congress refused to seat him, and Manning subsequently resigned in December 1866. Except for a brief return to the state Senate in 1878, Manning retired from public service for the remainder of his life. He died in Camden on October 29, 1889, and was buried in Trinity Churchyard, Columbia.
Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776–1985. 3 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.
Chesnut-Miller-Manning Papers. Clemson University Library Special Collections, Clemson.
Manning, John Laurence. Papers. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.