A Rule of Law: Elite Political Authority and the Coming of the Revolution in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1763-1776 by Aaron J. Palmer offers a fresh examination of how South Carolina planters and merchants—the wealthiest in the thirteen colonies—held an iron grip on political power in the province. Their authority, rooted in control of the colonial legislature’s power to make law, extended into local government, courts, plantations, and the Church of England, areas that previous political studies have not thoroughly considered. These elite planters and merchants, who were conservative by nature and fiercely guarded their control of provincial government, led the province into the American Revolution in defense of the order they had established in the colonial period.
Aaron J. Palmer, Ph.D. (2009) Georgetown University is Associate Professor of History, Wisconsin Lutheran College. He was a fellow of the Harvard International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World and published in the
Journal of Early American History.
Palmer (Wisconsin Lutheran College) offers an account of the political power of the South Carolina Lowcountry elite in the period leading to the American Revolution. Building on the existing scholarship, the author argues that the extent of that political power has been consistently underestimated by scholars. While many (this reviewer included) have focused on the elite’s control over the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly, the author sees that control extending much more deeply at the local level. In particular, Palmer highlights the elite’s authority over the courts, church affairs, and slavery. This close look at local authority is a valuable contribution, as the only other relevant study is from an unpublished PhD dissertation (Waterhouse) from the 1970s. As Palmer notes in his review of the historiography in this field, this has been an active area of study over the past 20 years. Overall, this work would be of use to scholars studying the political history of late Colonial and Revolutionary South Carolina.
--J. Mercantini, Kean University
[This review appeared in the December 2014 issue of
Copyright 2014 American Library Association
All interested in South Carolina and Lowcountry history and the political history of eighteenth-century colonial America and the imperial crisis in general.