McSweeney’s tenure as governor was generally disappointing. He presided over the opening of the South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition in Charleston, which failed in its design to revive the city’s status as a major Atlantic port. McSweeney also failed to convince the General Assembly to increase funding for public education.
Governor. McSweeney was born in Charleston on April 18, 1855, the eldest son of Miles and Mary McSweeney. Following his father’s sudden death from yellow fever in 1859, McSweeney helped to support the family by earning money as a newsboy. Later he worked in a Charleston bookstore and became interested in the printing trade. While serving as an apprentice printer, McSweeney completed his basic education by attending night school. He was awarded a scholarship from the Charleston Typographical Union to attend Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. However, insufficient funds forced him to terminate his studies before he had completed his first term.
Returning to South Carolina, McSweeney relocated in 1877 to Ninety Six, where he published the Ninety Six Guardian in partnership with Milledge Bonham. McSweeney later moved to Hampton and started the Hampton County Guardian in 1879. He became an active member of the South Carolina Press Association, serving as president from 1885 to 1892. While primarily a journalist, he also pursued a variety of business interests. On July 12, 1886, McSweeney married Mattie Miles Porcher of Hampton. They had six children.
McSweeney became an influential member of the Democratic Party in Hampton County, serving as chairman of the county’s Democratic committee from 1884 until 1894. In 1894 he was chosen to represent Hampton County in the state House of Representatives. Two years later McSweeney was elected lieutenant governor, to which office he was returned in 1898. Following the death of Governor William H. Ellerbe, McSweeney was elevated to the governorship on June 3, 1899. The following year McSweeney was elected to a full two-year term after overcoming a considerable challenge from the prohibitionist candidate James A. Hoyt. Much of the credit for McSweeney’s victory could be traced to the support he received from U.S. Senator Benjamin R. Tillman.
McSweeney’s tenure as governor was generally disappointing. He presided over the opening of the South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition in Charleston, which failed in its design to revive the city’s status as a major Atlantic port. McSweeney also failed to convince the General Assembly to increase funding for public education. His defense of the state liquor dispensary system drew the ire of both prohibitionists and progressive Democrats. Finally, just days before the end of his term, McSweeney’s lieutenant governor, James Tillman, shot and killed the newspaper editor Narciso G. Gonzales in front of the State House in Columbia.
Constitutionally ineligible to serve another term, McSweeney left office on January 20, 1903, and returned to private life in Hampton. Although he remained active in the Democratic Party, he never held another public office. After a brief illness, McSweeney died on September 29, 1909, at Mount Hope Sanitarium in Baltimore, Maryland. He was buried in Hampton.
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.
“Ex-Gov. M’Sweeney Dies in Hospital.” Columbia State, September 30, 1909, p. 1.