During his thirty-six years on the bench, Grimké helped establish fundamental principles of South Carolina jurisprudence by advocating professionalization of legal study, uniformity of law, and judicial independence.
Legislator, jurist. Grimké was born in Charleston on December 16, 1752, the son of merchant John Paul Grimké and his wife, Mary Faucheraud. After receiving his bachelor of arts degree from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1774, Grimké returned to Charleston. His marriage to Mary Smith on October 12, 1784, produced fourteen children, including noted abolitionists Angelina and Sarah Grimké.
His judicial prominence stemmed from early political and military involvement. As a student in England in 1774, Grimké joined twenty-eight other Americans in protesting the Boston Port Bill. Shortly after returning to Charleston in September 1775, Grimké organized an artillery unit for service in the Revolutionary War. Rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel by 1779, he was captured at the fall of Charleston. He was later imprisoned by the British for allegedly violating his parole, but escaped to join General Nathanael Greene’s army, where he served the remainder of the war.
In 1782 Grimké began the first of five terms representing the city parishes of St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s in the General Assembly, including a term as Speaker of the House from 1785 to 1786. Soon after the war, the legislature revived state law courts and named Grimké an associate justice of the Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions in March 1783. Many upstate citizens loyal to Britain during the war feared the nascent judiciary would extract revenge and lack impartiality. At his first grand jury charge in Camden in November 1783, Grimké sought to calm those concerns by declaring “We are all Americans” and that “our passions” were the only enemy of legal justice. Soon after his appointment, the legislature created county courts to hear minor cases, where laymen versed in local custom presided. To provide courtroom standards, Grimké published The South Carolina Justice of Peace in 1784 as a guide for officers of the new judiciary. In 1790 Grimké published the first updated digest of state laws in fifty years, The Public Laws of the State of South Carolina. Listing relevant and applicable laws in the period between the Revolutionary War and ratification of the Constitution, his digest provided a groundwork for judicial uniformity and the professionalization of legal study in South Carolina.
Grimké also resisted outside intimidation of the young state judiciary. In 1785 he encountered hostile debtors on his circuit in Camden. Grimké dismissed the “Camden Court House Riot” as an “illegal measure” and maintained the legitimacy of the court. As a delegate to the state constitutional convention in May 1790, Grimké introduced the provisions separating the judiciary from the legislature and requiring a two-thirds vote for judicial impeachment. In 1811 he took advantage of this proviso to defeat impeachment charges brought against him by political opponents.
During his thirty-six years on the bench, Grimké helped establish fundamental principles of South Carolina jurisprudence by advocating professionalization of legal study, uniformity of law, and judicial independence. After an extended illness, Grimké died in Long Branch, New Jersey, on August 9, 1819.
King, Stephen Earl. “The Honorable John Faucheraud Grimké of South Carolina.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1993.