Governor. Moses was the son of Franklin J. Moses, a prominent Jewish jurist from Sumter District, and his wife, Jane McLelland. After briefly attending South Carolina College in 1855, Moses withdrew and commenced the study of law. On December 20, 1859, he married Emma Buford Richardson, with whom he had at least one child. An enthusiastic secessionist, Moses served as secretary to Governor Francis W. Pickens and claimed to have raised the Confederate and Palmetto flags over Fort Sumter after its surrender in April 1861. He was drafted into the Confederate army, where he served as an enrollment officer. As editor of the Sumter News after the war, Moses supported President Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction policies, which restored many antebellum white leaders to power. He was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1868.
That same year Moses executed an abrupt political about-face and joined the Republican Party. He served in the 1868 constitutional convention and was elected to the General Assembly. Despite an African American majority in the state House of Representatives, Moses was chosen Speaker over the black leader Robert Brown Elliott. He served as Speaker until 1872.
While serving in the legislature, Moses was appointed adjutant, inspector general, and quartermaster of the state militia by Governor Robert K. Scott. He subsequently arranged to purchase obsolete muskets and have them converted to rifles to arm the virtually all-black militia. In return, Moses secured a “payment” of $10,000 from the state for negotiating the transaction. As Speaker, Moses regularly accepted bribes to expedite the passage of legislation. In 1872 Governor Scott allegedly canceled repayment of a loan he had made to Moses in return for the Speaker’s assistance in derailing a resolution to impeach the chief executive.
In 1872, in spite of his notorious reputation for corruption, the Republican state convention nominated Moses for governor. About one-third of the Republican delegates bolted from the convention and instead supported the former Freedmen’s Bureau official Reuben Tomlinson. But with no Democratic candidate in the field, Moses easily won the election. Moses was arguably the most corrupt governor in South Carolina history. He sold hundreds of pardons and regularly diverted public money to personal use. He purchased the palatial Hampton-Preston mansion in Columbia. In the words of the Charleston News and Courier, he was a “profligate debauchee.”
Moses was not renominated for governor in 1874. The General Assembly instead elected him to serve on the state circuit court. However, Governor Daniel H. Chamberlain refused to issue the necessary commission. The last three decades of Moses’s life were marked by dissolution, decline, and crime. He filed for bankruptcy in 1875 and was divorced from his wife three years later. He eventually left South Carolina and lived in several northern cities. Addicted to drugs, he supported himself with assorted jobs as journalist and periodically resorted to crime. He served time in several jails. Moses died in poverty in Winthrop, Massachusetts, on December 11, 1906.
Current, Richard Nelson. Those Terrible Carpetbaggers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Moses, Franklin, Jr. Governors’ Papers. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia.