John Rutledge

John Rutledge

Infobox Chief Justice
name = John Rutledge

imagesize = 190
caption =
office = 2nd Chief Justice of the United States
termstart = July 1, 1795
termend = December 15, 1795
nominator = George Washington
appointer =
predecessor = John Jay
successor = Oliver Ellsworth
office2 =

John Rutledge (September 17, 1739 – July 23, 1800) was an American statesman and judge. He was the first Governor of South Carolina following the signing of the Declaration of Independence. For a time, he held dictatorial powers in that state. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and he signed the United States Constitution. He served as an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, and was the second Chief Justice of the Court from August to December 1795. He was the elder brother of Edward Rutledge, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence.

Early life and family

Rutledge was born into a large family in Charleston. His father was Scots-Irish immigrant John Rutledge (Sr.), a physician. His mother, South Carolina-born Sarah ("nee" Hext), was of English descent. She was only 15 years old when John was born. John’s early education was provided by his father until 1749, when John Sr. died. The rest of Rutledge's primary education was provided by an Anglican priest.cite book
title=The Lives and Times of the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States
publisher=J. B. Lippincott & Co.

John took an early interest in law and often "played lawyer" with his brothers and sisters. When he was 17 years old, Rutledge began studying law under a man named James Parsons. Two years later, he sailed to England to further his studies at London's Middle Temple. In the course of his studies, he won several cases in English courts. [ Flanders 438-439 ]

After finishing his studies, Rutledge sailed back to Charleston to begin a fruitful legal career. At the time, many lawyers came out of law school and barely scraped together enough business to earn a living. Most new lawyers could only hope that they would win a well-known case to ensure their success. [ Flanders 447-448 ] Rutledge, however, emerged almost immediately as one of the most prominent lawyers in Charleston, and his services were in high demand.cite book
first=Dennis Brindell
title=The Founders: The 39 Stories behind the U.S. Constitution
origdate= 2005
publisher=Walker Publishing Company, Inc.
location=New York City

With his successful legal career, he was able to build on his mother's fortune. In 1763, Rutledge married Elizabeth Grimke, who eventually bore him 10 children. Rutledge was very devoted to his wife, and Elizabeth's death in 1792 was a major cause of the illness that affected Rutledge in his later years. [ Flanders 451 ]

Political career

Pre-Revolutionary War

In mid 1765 Rutledge was appointed a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress. This congress produced a resolution that stated that it was "the undoubted right of Englishmen, that no taxes be imposed on them but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives". Rutledge chaired a committee that drew up a petition to the House of Lords, and he was responsible for the removal of a concession that acknowledged the British Parliament’s right to impose taxes on trade. [ Flanders 460 ]

When the delegates returned to South Carolina after the Congress adjourned, they found the state in turmoil. The people had destroyed all of the revenue stamps they could get their hands on and they broke into suspected Loyalists' houses to search for stamps. When the Stamp Act went into effect on November 1, 1765, there were no stamps in the entire colony. Dougal Campbell, the Charleston court clerk, refused to issue any papers without the stamps. Because of this, all legal processes in the entire state came to a standstill until news that the Stamp Act had been repealed reached South Carolina in early May of the next year. [ Flanders 463-464 ]

After the Stamp Act conflict ended, Rutledge went back into private life, and to his law practice. Besides serving in the colonial legislature, he did not involve himself in politics. His law practice continued to expand and he became fairly wealthy as a result.cite book
first=Cecil B.
title=Heroes and Patriots of the South
publisher=G. G. Evans

In 1774, Rutledge was sent to the First Continental Congress. It is not known for certain exactly what John Rutledge contributed during this assembly. In the notes we have of the actions of this Congress, the name is given simply as "Rutledge", despite the fact that John's brother Edward Rutledge was also present. In any case, the most important contribution made by "Rutledge" to the Congress was during the debate of how to appropriate votes in the Congress. Some wanted it to be determined by the population of the colonies. Others wanted to give each colony one vote. "Rutledge" observed that as the Congress had no legal authority to "force" the colonies to accept its decisions, it would make the most sense to give each colony one vote. The other delegates ultimately agreed to this proposal. [ Flanders 481-482 ]

President of South Carolina

John Rutledge continued to serve in the First Continental Congress and the Second Continental Congress until 1776. That year, he was elected President of South Carolina under a constitution drawn up on March 26, 1776. Upon taking office, he worked quickly to arrange the new government and to prepare defenses in case of a British attack. Hartley 296-297 ]

In June 1776, Rutledge learned that a large British naval force was moving toward Charleston. In response, he ordered the construction of Fort Sullivan (now Fort Moultrie) on Sullivan's Island in Charleston Harbor. By the time the British arrived, the fort was only half completed. General Charles Lee of the Continental Army, who had arrived a few days earlier with reinforcements from North Carolina, told Rutledge the fort should be evacuated, as Lee considered it indefensible. Lee said that the fort would fall in under a half an hour, and all the men would be killed. In a note to the fort’s commanding officer, Colonel William Moultrie, Rutledge wrote "General Lee […] wishes you to evacuate the fort. You will not, without [an] order from me. I would sooner cut off my hand than write one" [ Fradin 91 ]

On June 28, 1776, the British attacked the fort, expecting it to fall quickly. However, the fort’s walls were made out of soft palmetto palm trees, and the British cannonballs simply sank into the logs without doing any damage. The British attack failed. South Carolina later became known as the Palmetto State as a result of this battle. [ Fradin 91-92 ]

Rutledge continued as President of South Carolina until 1778. That year, the South Carolina legislature proposed a new constitution. Rutledge vetoed it, stating that it moved the state dangerously close to a direct democracy, which Rutledge believed was only a step away from total anarchy. When the legislature overrode his veto, Rutledge resigned. [ Flanders 551 ]

Governor of South Carolina

A few months after Rutledge’s resignation, the British, having suffered several defeats in the North, decided to try to retake the South. British Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Campbell landed in Georgia with 3000 men and quickly took control of the entire state. Flanders 561 ]

In 1779, Rutledge was elected to head the government of South Carolina under a revision of the new constitution. Governor Rutledge sent a detachment of troops under General Benjamin Lincoln into Georgia to harass the British. The new British commander, General Jacques Prevost, learned what Rutledge was trying to do and set out toward Charleston with 2500 troops. When Rutledge heard about the British, he hurried back to Charleston and worked furiously to build up defenses. In spite of Rutledge’s efforts, when General Prevost arrived outside Charleston, the British force had been greatly increased by the addition of Loyalists, and the Americans were vastly outnumbered.

Rutledge privately asked Prevost for surrender terms. Prevost made an offer, but when Rutledge submitted it to the council of war, the council instructed Rutledge to ask if the British would accept a declaration of South Carolina’s neutrality in the Revolution. They forbade Rutledge from surrendering mainly because William Moultrie, who was now a general, believed that the Americans had enough troops to at least equal the British force, which consisted largely of untrained civilians.When given the offer, Prevost replied by saying that as he was faced with such a large military force, he would have to take some of them prisoner before he could accept. Moultrie advised the council that he would never stand by and allow the British to simply take them prisoner, so the council decided to fight it out. The city braced itself for an attack, but the next morning, the British had disappeared. Prevost had intercepted a letter from General Lincoln to Moultrie saying that he was marching to the aid of Charleston, and Prevost decided that he could not hold out if the Americans got reinforcements. [ Flanders 561-564 ]

Charleston occupied

In early 1780, Sir Henry Clinton attacked South Carolina, and Charleston was thrown into a panic. The legislature adjourned upon learning of the British. Their last action was to give John Rutledge power to do anything short of executing people without a trial. Rutledge did his best to raise the militia, but Charleston was in the midst of a smallpox epidemic, and few dared to enter the city.

In February, Sir Henry landed on John’s Island, less than 30 miles from Charleston, with 5000 troops and was quickly joined by 1400 more from Savannah. Clinton waited for more troops and in May, he attacked Charleston with around 9000 troops. The Americans under General Lincoln numbered less than 2500, and on May 10, Charleston surrendered. [ Flanders 568-569 ]

Rutledge was not captured with Charleston, as he had been urged to leave the city. He remained Governor of the unconquered part of South Carolina. [ Flanders 573 ] On January 17, 1781, the Americans heavily defeated the British at Cowpens, South Carolina. This victory greatly raised the spirits of those in Charleston, but the army was soon outmaneuvered by the better-organized British, and the Americans were forced to retreat. [ Flanders 576-577 ]

In December, 1781, General Nathanael Greene retook Charleston and drove the British from South Carolina. In January, 1782, John Rutledge’s term of office came to an end, and he was not able to run again, because of term limits. [ Flanders 588-589 ]

Judicial career

A few weeks after leaving the governorship, Rutledge was again elected to the Continental Congress, where he served until 1783. In 1784, he was appointed to the South Carolina Court of Chancery.

Constitutional Convention

Rutledge continued to serve on the Court of Chancery until 1791. During this time, he was selected to represent South Carolina in the Constitutional Convention. [ Flanders 602 ] Rutledge maintained a moderate nationalist stance and chaired the Committee of Detail. He attended all the sessions and served on five committees.cite book
editor=E. H. Scott
title=Journal of the Federal Convention
publisher=Albert, Scott, and Co.
pages=Various locations throughout the book.

Rutledge recommended that the executive power consist of a single person, rather than a plurality, because he felt that one person would feel the responsibility of the office more acutely. Because the president would not be able to defer a decision to another "co-president", Rutledge concluded that a single person would be more likely to make a good choice. [ Flanders 602 ]

Rutledge was largely responsible for denying the Supreme Court the right to give advisory opinions. Being a judge himself, he strongly believed that a judge’s sole purpose was to resolve legal conflicts; he held that a judge should only hand down an opinion when ruling on an actual case. [ Flanders 604 ]

Rutledge also argued that if either house of the legislature was to have the sole authority to introduce appropriation bills, it should be the Senate. He noted that the Senate, by nature of its lengthier terms of office, would tend to be more leisurely in its actions. Because of this, Rutledge felt that the Senate would be better able to clearly think about what the consequences of a bill would be. And since the bills could not become law without the consent of the House of Representatives, he concluded that there would be no danger of the Senate ruling the country. [ Flanders 606 ]

When the proposal was made that only landowners should have the right to vote, Rutledge opposed it perhaps more strongly than any other motion in the entire convention. He stated that making a rule like this would divide the people into "haves" and "have nots". It would create an undying resentment against the landowners and could do nothing but cause discord. Benjamin Franklin agreed with Rutledge, saying that such a law would suppress the ambitions of the common people. Franklin also observed that if only people who actually "owned" land could vote, the sons of a substantial farmer, not having land in their own names, would be denied the right to vote. [ Flanders 607]

In the debate of whether or not to allow slavery in the new country, Rutledge took the side of the slave-owners; he was a Southerner and he owned several slaves. Rutledge said that if the Constitution forbade slavery, the Southern states would never agree to the Constitution. [ Flanders 609-610 ]

Supreme Court Associate Justice

In 1790, after the Constitution was ratified, Rutledge was appointed to be an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court. Although he accepted the nomination, he never actually sat on the Court. In 1791, he was elected the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas and Sessions, and he resigned his federal post. [ Flanders 622 ]

Second Chief Justice of the United States

In 1795, the Chief Justice of the United States, John Jay, was elected Governor of New York. Jay resigned his post as Chief Justice, and George Washington again appointed Rutledge during a recess of the Senate to the U.S. Supreme Court, this time as Chief Justice of the United States. Rutledge became Chief Justice on July 1, 1795. [Fisher, Louis. " [ Recess Appointments of Federal Judges] ," Congressional Research Service (2001-09-05).] Soon thereafter, on July 16, 1795, Rutledge gave a highly controversial speech denouncing the Jay Treaty with England. He reportedly said in the speech "that he had rather the President should die than sign that puerile instrument"ndash and that he "preferred war to an adoption of it." ["Independent Chronicle" (Boston). 1795-08-13, reprinted in " [,M1 The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States] ", 1789-1800 by Maeva Marcus and James Russell Perry.]

Rutledge's outspoken opposition to the Jay Treaty, and the rumors of mental illness he had suffered since the death of his wife in 1792, caused the Federalist-dominated Senate to reject his appointment on December 15, 1795. As a result, Rutledge's recess appointment automatically expired at the end of that Senate session. Rutledge thus became the only U.S. Supreme Court Justice in history to be forced out of office involuntarily, ending his public career. Alexander Hamilton questioned his sanity, and Vice President John Adams wrote to Abigail Adams that the Senate's rejection of Rutledge "gave me pain for an old friend, though I could not but think he deserved it. C. Justices must not […] inflame the popular discontents which are ill founded, nor propagate Disunion, Division, Contention and delusion among the people." [Maltese, John. " [,M1 The Selling of Supreme Court Nominees] " (Johns Hopkins University Press 1998), pp. 30-31.]

Later years

The Senate's rejection completely destroyed Rutledge mentally. [ Flanders 642 ] He attempted suicide shortly before leaving office as Chief Justice on December 28, 1795. [Haw, James. " [,M1 John and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina] ," (University of Georgia Press 1997).] John Adams explained that the Senate feared his "accelerated and increased ... Disorder of the Mind." [Laboratory of Justice, The Supreme Court's 200 Year Struggle to Integrate Science and the Law, by David L. Faigman, First edition, 2004, p. 34; Smith, Republic of Letters, 15, 501]

John Rutledge died on July 18, 1800, at the age of 60. [ Fradin 92 ] He was interred at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Charleston. One of his houses, said to have been built in 1763 and definitely sold in 1790, was renovated in 1989 and opened to the public as the John Rutledge House Inn.cite web|url=|title=John Rutledge House Inn History|author= |publisher=John Rutledge House Inn|accessdate=2008-05-12|date=]



*Flanders, Henry. "The Lives and Times of the Chief Justices of the United States Supreme Court". Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1874.
*Fradin, Dennis Brindell. "The Founders: The 39 Stories behind the U.S. Constitution". New York: Walker Publishing Company, Inc., 2005.
*Hartley, Cecil B. "Heroes and Patriots of the South". Philadelphia: G. G. Evans, 1860.
*Madison, James. in E. H. Scott: "Journal of the Federal Convention". Chicago: Albert, Scott, and Co., 1893.

External links

* [ SCIway Biography of John Rutledge]
* [ NGA Biography of John Rutledge]

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