Governor. Manning was born at Holmesley Plantation in Sumter County on August 15, 1859, the son of Richard Irvine Manning II and Elizabeth Allen Sinkler. A member of one of South Carolina’s wealthiest and most politically prominent families, Manning was educated at Kenmore Preparatory School in Amherst, Virginia, and the University of Virginia, where he studied law but left after his sophomore year. Returning to Sumter, Manning became a successful planter and businessman. On February 10, 1881, he married Leila Bernard Meredith. The couple eventually had thirteen children.
In 1892 Manning won election from Sumter County to the South Carolina House of Representatives, where he served from 1892 until 1896. He represented Sumter in the state Senate from 1899 to 1906. In 1906 Manning made an unsuccessful run for governor. Campaigning for the office again in 1914, Manning defeated John G. Richards, and he was reelected in 1916, triumphing over the controversial Cole Blease.
Manning’s two terms as governor were among the most progressive in South Carolina history. Although descended from privilege, Manning maintained a philosophy that government must act to further the welfare of its citizens and that the privileged had an obligation to assist those less fortunate. Explaining his platform in 1916, Manning told legislators, “We are progressive Democrats and we must have the courage to do justly to each and every class of our citizens, even if it requires legislation hitherto untried by us.” His success was due in part to his ability to work closely with state legislators. Following the example of President Woodrow Wilson, Manning addressed the General Assembly in person. He secured the legislature’s cooperation by presenting convincing arguments based on the merits of his proposals.
Manning envisioned an expanded government role in confronting the problems facing South Carolina. He advocated greater state involvement in education and in enhancing the economic welfare of its citizens. Manning believed that state government should take over functions not effectively done by local governments and pushed to reform South Carolina’s outmoded tax structure in order to provide revenue to pay for these services.
Improvements in the education system became a hallmark of Manning’s administration. In 1915 Manning signed a local government option act for compulsory school attendance, the first act of its kind in South Carolina. The state funded teaching training courses, increased teachers’ salaries by twenty percent, created a state bureau of teacher certification, and doubled its financial support for education. Manning also secured additional funding to improve the quality of teacher training at the state-supported black college at Orangeburg.
Under Manning’s leadership, the state passed a child labor law raising the minimum age for employment from twelve to fourteen. Manning reorganized and modernized the state hospital for the mentally ill, and in order to attract a nationally recognized expert to head the hospital, he supplemented the administrator’s salary from his private funds. Other notable accomplishments during his two terms as governor included the establishment of a school for mentally handicapped children, the opening of a state tuberculosis hospital, the creation of an industrial school for delinquent white females, the separation of the State Reformatory for Negro Boys from penitentiary control, the creation of the state highway commission, the reinstatement and reorganization of the South Carolina National Guard, and the introduction of the secret ballot for all elections.
To finance the increased role of the state, Manning created the State Tax Commission. This agency became the major financial and supervisory body of the state’s revenue. It started the move to equalize property valuations and made the income tax one of the major sources of revenue for South Carolina by effectively enforcing its income tax laws.
After leaving office, Manning returned to Sumter and devoted himself to his business interests and public service. He was appointed a director of the New York Life Insurance Company and was named president of the Bank of Mayesville in 1921. Manning served as president of the South Carolina Cotton Growers Association and in 1930 was appointed a trustee for the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace. Manning suffered a stroke in May 1931 and died of pneumonia on September 11, 1931, in Columbia. A devout Episcopalian, he was buried at Trinity Churchyard in Columbia.
Burts, Robert Milton. Richard Irvine Manning and the Progressive Movement in South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1974.
Manning, Richard Irvine. Papers. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.