In 1871 and 1874 white Democrats in South Carolina, frustrated with high taxes and the Republicans’ domination of the state government, held statewide conventions to register their protests. The 1871 convention met in Columbia to protest that year’s tax increase to the unheard-of level of eleven mills on the dollar. William D. Porter of Charleston presided, and the leading members of the convention were Matthew C. Butler and Martin W. Gary of Edgefield. The delegates undertook a rather cursory review of the state’s finances and (erroneously) pronounced the state’s debt to be entirely legitimate. They also advocated a scheme for “cumulative voting,” which would have increased the representation of the minority party (the Democrats) in the legislature.
In 1873 widespread reports of profligate spending and financial malfeasance by the Republican state government surfaced, accompanied by the highest taxes of the Reconstruction era (twelve mills). A second Taxpayers’ Convention therefore met in February of 1874, with William D. Porter again presiding. Martin Gary again played a leading role, this time proposing to solve the problems of white South Carolinians by recruiting white immigrants into the state in order to outnumber blacks. The convention submitted a petition to President Ulysses Grant and to Congress complaining of “taxation without representation,” by which they meant that the class that paid the bulk of the taxes—white Democrats—was unable to win elective office. Neither Congress nor the president was impressed by this logic.
The 1874 convention, like its predecessor in 1871, achieved its most important results indirectly: by shining a light on the financial situation of the state, both conventions shamed the Republican government into conducting its own investigation. The second investigation, completed in June 1874, provided the most revealing picture yet of Republican financial mismanagement and laid the foundation for the rapid improvements that took place during Governor Daniel Chamberlain’s administration.
Proceedings of the Tax-Payers’ Convention of South Carolina, Held at Columbia, Beginning May 9th, and Ending May 12th, 1871. Charleston, S.C.: Edward Perry, 1871.
Proceedings of the Tax-Payers’ Convention of South Carolina, Held at Columbia, Beginning February 17, and Ending February 20, 1874. Charleston, S.C.: News and Courier, 1874.
Rubin, Hyman S., III. “The South Carolina Scalawags.” Ph.D. diss., Emory University, 2001.