Characterized as “a man of sense and a most lovable gentleman,” Richardson continued to be active in conservative Democratic politics and in civic and business affairs after relinquishing public office.
Governor. Last of the conservative-era governors, Richardson was born in Sumter District (later Clarendon) on September 25, 1831, the son of Governor John Peter Richardson and Juliana Augusta Manning. Educated by private tutors, he graduated third in his class from South Carolina College in 1849. By profession a planter, Richardson had extensive agricultural interests in the Panola section of northwestern Clarendon District. On December 3, 1868, he married Eleanora Norvelle Richardson. After her death in 1874, he wed Juliana Augusta Manning Richardson on February 13, 1877. Both marriages were childless.
Richardson represented Clarendon District in the state House of Representatives from 1856 to 1861. He entered Confederate service in 1862, serving first as brigade and later as division inspector general on the staff of his first cousin Brigadier General James Cantey. Active politically after the war, Richardson served as a delegate to the 1865 state constitutional convention, again represented Clarendon District in the House in 1865 and from 1878 to 1880, and also had a brief tenure in the state Senate from 1865 to 1866. He served three consecutive terms as state treasurer from 1880 until 1886. After a skillful campaign managed by the newspaperman Narciso G. Gonzales, Richardson won the Democratic nomination for governor over the incumbent John C. Sheppard. Inaugurated on November 30, 1886, Richardson utilized all of the influence of his office to secure passage of a bill reorganizing South Carolina College into a university. Faced with a severe agricultural depression, in 1887 he recommended postponement of the tax deadline to help prevent farm forfeitures. Although strongly opposed by the Farmers’ Association and its leader Benjamin R. Tillman, “Clarendon’s Silver Tongued Orator” was renominated in 1888. His second term was dominated by the founding of Clemson College. Richardson opposed acceptance of the Clemson bequest on the grounds that the state would not have ultimate control of the college, its establishment would siphon funds from the University of South Carolina (which already had an agricultural department), and the uncertainty over court challenges to the bequest. After the Clemson will was validated by a federal court on May 21, 1889, he reluctantly signed the bill creating the college into law in November 1889. Richardson stated his racial policy in 1889: “We believe that the whites must dominate, but at the same time we do not refuse local offices to blacks.” In that same year he recommended alteration of the state’s civil rights law to permit racially separate but equal accommodations on railroad cars, and he ordered the state militia to York to prevent the lynching of black prisoners.
Characterized as “a man of sense and a most lovable gentleman,” Richardson continued to be active in conservative Democratic politics and in civic and business affairs after relinquishing public office. He divided his time between residence at his Clarendon County plantation, Elmswooe, and Columbia’s Hotel Jerome. He died at the latter place on July 5, 1899, and was buried at the Quaker Cemetery in Camden, South Carolina.
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, l986.
Begley, Paul R. “Governor Richardson Faces the Tillman Challenge.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 89 (April 1988): 119–26.
Cooper, William J., Jr. The Conservative Regime: South Carolina, 1877–1890. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1968.