Miller, Stephen Decatur

Miller, Stephen Decatur

May 8, 1787–March 8, 1838

From 1822 to 1828 Miller was a member of the South Carolina Senate and an early leader in the movement toward nullification.

Congressman, governor, U.S. senator. Miller was born in the Waxhaws, Lancaster District, on May 8, 1787, the son of William Miller, a farmer, and Margaret White. After being schooled in the classics by a private tutor, he entered South Carolina College and graduated in 1808. Miller studied law in the office of John S. Richardson in Sumter and was admitted to the bar in 1811. Miller settled in Stateburg and married Elizabeth Dick of Sumter in 1814, with whom he had three children, two of whom died in infancy.

Miller’s public service began in 1816, when he was elected to Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of William Mayrant. He was reelected the following year, but his wife’s illness prevented his running for an additional term. Miller left Washington in 1819 and resumed his law practice. Two years after the death of his first wife in 1819, Miller married Mary Boykin. Among their four children was the famous diarist Mary Boykin Miller, who married James Chesnut, Jr.

From 1822 to 1828 Miller was a member of the South Carolina Senate and an early leader in the movement toward nullification. In 1824 he offered resolutions that set forth the states’-rights strict constructionist argument and declared federal internal improvement schemes and protective tariffs unconstitutional. The Senate passed the “Miller Resolutions,” but they were tabled by the House. The next year, however, William Smith recalled the resolutions, which were passed by both the House and Senate and became the platform of the States’ Rights and Free Trade Party in South Carolina. Between 1828 and 1830 Miller served as governor. Through his widely reprinted, rousing speeches he helped popularize nullification.

After completing his term as governor, Miller successfully challenged his onetime ally William Smith for a seat in the U.S. Senate. He told audiences during the campaign that “the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box” are the only three ways to reform oppressive federal legislation. As senator, Miller was a strict-constructionist and defender of the compact theory of Union. He opposed the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States, Henry Clay’s 1832 Land Bill, and the Tariff of 1832. Upon passage of the 1832 tariff, Miller joined with the rest of the South Carolina delegation in an “Address to the People of South Carolina.” The address rejected the tariff and said that relief from federal power would have to come from the people of the state acting in their sovereign capacity. A delegate to both the 1832 and 1833 nullification conventions, Miller voted for nullification in 1832 and against the test oath in 1833.

Miller resigned from the Senate on March 2, 1833, citing poor health, and retired to land he had purchased in Mississippi. On March 8, 1838, Miller died in Raymond, Mississippi, where he was buried.

Freehling, William W. Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816–1836. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.

Kirkland, Thomas J., and Robert M. Kennedy. Historic Camden. Vol. 2, Nineteenth Century. 1905. Reprint, Camden, S.C.: Kershaw County Historical Society, 1994.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Miller, Stephen Decatur
  • Coverage May 8, 1787–March 8, 1838
  • Author
  • Keywords Congressman, governor, U.S. senator, member of the South Carolina Senate and an early leader in the movement toward nullification, helped popularize nullification,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date May 22, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 15, 2022
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