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1876 South Carolina gubernatorial election

← 1874 November 7, 1876 1878 →
Nominee Wade Hampton III Daniel Henry Chamberlain
Party Democratic Republican
Popular vote 92,261 91,127
Percentage 50.3% 49.7%

County Results

Hampton III:      50–54%      55–59%      60–64%      >65%

Chamberlain:      50–54%      55–59%      60–64%      >65%

Governor before election

Daniel Henry Chamberlain

Elected Governor

Wade Hampton III

The 1876 South Carolina gubernatorial election was held on November 7, 1876, to select the governor of the state of South Carolina. The election campaign was a referendum on the Radical Republican-led state government and their Reconstruction policies. Opponents disputed the challenger Wade Hampton III's victory, gained by a margin of little more than 1100 votes statewide. But he took office in April 1877, after President Hayes withdrew federal troops as a result of a national Democratic compromise, and the incumbent Daniel Henry Chamberlain left the state.

Governor Chamberlain had been unable to preserve the peace in the months beforehand, reducing support for Republicans as the Red Shirts, a white Democratic paramilitary group, attacked Republican blacks in numerous areas of the state, particularly the Piedmont, in violent incidents including the Hamburg Massacre, and riots at Ellenton and Cainhoy. Under this pressure, some blacks were discouraged from voting altogether; others had aligned with Democrats for a variety of reasons. White voters overwhelmingly supported the Democratic ticket in November. The turbulent atmosphere ended before election day, which was peaceful.

Democrat Wade Hampton narrowly won with slightly more than 1100 votes statewide following the suppression of black voters, particularly in Edgefield County. The election was disputed and a prolonged contest ensued as both parties established separate governments. Chamberlain lost most of his support and in early 1877 was kept in office by Federal troops guarding the state capitol. When President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered the troops to stand down, Chamberlain left the state and Hampton was confirmed as the 77th governor of South Carolina.


South Carolina entered 1876 having had eight years of Radical Republican rule. Whites had resisted social and political changes after the war and believed that the Reconstruction programs set up by the Republicans were used by corrupt politicians and carpetbaggers to their financial benefit. At the same time, many whites were angered by the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments which guaranteed citizenship rights to former slaves. Former Confederates were not allowed to vote or hold office for several years until the passage of the Amnesty Act in 1872. Following that, Southern Democrats ran for office and sought to regain political control of the state. The elections were seasons of violence by white paramilitary groups against blacks to disrupt Republican meetings and reduce their vote. In scattered localities, some blacks broke with the Republicans and joined the Hampton forces.[1]

But, most blacks remained steadfastly loyal to the Republican Party. After the end of the Civil War, many whites had conducted a decade-long insurgency to maintain white supremacy and suppress black political power. Black citizens, however, constituted a sizable majority of the electorate, particularly in the Low Country and with narrow majorities in several Piedmont counties. The state Democratic Party was unorganized, not having contested a state election since 1868 when it was utterly defeated by the Republicans.

The Democratic Party also divided on a strategy for contesting the general election. Most Democrats heading into the May convention decided to not oppose the governorship and other state offices because Governor Daniel Henry Chamberlain had implemented many favorable reforms. Known as fusionists, they also felt that any effort spent on state offices would be wasted and better served by trying to acquire a majority in the General Assembly.

The more ardent Democrats, called the "Straightout Democrats", gained strength after the General Assembly elected, former Governor Franklin J. Moses Jr. and William Whipper to circuit judgeships, as they were considered corrupt. The nominations were blocked by Governor Chamberlain, but the Straightouts believed that meaningful political reform would happen only when Democrats gained power. In their opinion, every race from governor to coroner had to be contested.

Democratic conventions

May convention

A reinvigorated South Carolina Democratic Party convened in Columbia from May 4 to May 5. Its purpose was to select 14 delegates and alternates to the National Democratic Convention in St. Louis and state the policies of the party. However, the party remained divided between the Fusionists and the Straightouts as to whether run a state ticket or not.

The debate continued through the summer between the two as to which approach would be best for the Democratic Party. The Hamburg Massacre in July, although limited in fatalities compared to the total from later incidents at Ellenton, Charleston and Cainhoy, persuaded many whites that Governor Chamberlain's administration was unable to maintain order. In most of these events, blacks were killed in much greater number than whites, particularly at Ellenton. Populist Democrats ended hopes of supporting fusion with the Republicans, and the Straightouts became the dominant force within the Democratic Party.

Wade Hampton III during the Civil War

August convention

The Democrats reconvened in Columbia for the nominating convention held on August 15 through August 17. Since the Republicans had yet to meet, the candidacy of Governor Chamberlain was uncertain, which also undermined the Fusionists. Straightouts had been rallied by the assertion of white supremacy by white paramilitary groups of Red Shirts, who killed seven blacks in Hamburg, five of them murdered outright while held as prisoner by whites. One white died in the confrontation. The first test of Straightout strength in the Democratic Party was the election of the president of the convention. By a vote of 80 to 66, the Straightout candidate was elected and after a secret session, the nomination process began.

Matthew Butler nominated Wade Hampton for the post of governor and the delegates unanimously approved the nomination by acclamation. Wade Hampton, although a supporter of the Straightouts, had a moderate reputation that enabled him to unite the two factions of the party and attract some black voters. The Democrats recruited blacks to the Red Shirts paramilitary groups and presented them prominently in public parade.[2]

The Democratic platform that emerged from the convention was vague and noncommittal to specifics. Pledges were made to restore order, reform the government, and lower taxes, but no specific policies were formulated. The Straightouts knew that only a consensus of general ideas would unite the party and enable election of Democrats to statewide offices.

Republican conventions

A group of prominent South Carolina Republicans, notably Senator John J. Patterson and Robert B. Elliott, organized an opposition to Governor Chamberlain prior to the state convention. The group was upset by the reforms enacted by the Governor, especially the removal of corrupt Republicans from positions and replacing them with Democrats. The goal was to weaken Governor Chamberlain enough so that he would be removed from the ticket in November or forced to make favorable concessions.

April convention

The Republicans gathered in Columbia from April 12 to April 14 for the state convention to nominate 14 delegates to the National Republican Convention in Cincinnati. Those in opposition of Governor Chamberlain first succeeded in winning control of the temporary chairmanship for the convention when their candidate defeated the Governor by a vote of 80 to 40.

Having achieved effective control of the convention, the opposition to Governor Chamberlain proceeded to select delegates to the national convention with the purpose of excluding the governor from the delegation. However, the convention descended into chaos between those in support of the governor and those in opposition. An inkstand was thrown at the head of a delegate and a chair was raised above Governor Chamberlain with the intention of striking him.[3]

Governor Chamberlain responded with a powerful diatribe of those opposing him by accusing them of siding with the Ku Klux Klan. He then reaffirmed his loyalty to the Republican Party and its platform and explained that his actions in office were meant to serve the Party. Most delegates were convinced of the Governor's sincerity, and he was elected as a delegate-at-large to the national convention by a vote of 89 to 32.

September convention

Republican nomination for governor
Candidate Votes %
Daniel Henry Chamberlain 88 71.6
Thomas C. Dunn 32 26.0
D.T. Corbin 2 1.6
Robert B. Elliott 1 0.8

Worried by his support among Republicans, Governor Chamberlain canvassed several counties of the state. Accompanied by Republicans held in low esteem by the white community, the meetings were often disrupted by Democrats. However, the growing strength and militancy of the Democrats served the purpose of reducing the opposition to Chamberlain within the Republican Party.

When the Republicans met for the nominating convention in Columbia on September 13 through September 15, Governor Chamberlain was renominated with little difficulty. However, those opposed to Chamberlain sought to compensate for their defeat by adding themselves to the ticket. Robert B. Elliott became the nominee for attorney general and Thomas C. Dunn the nominee for comptroller general.

Both had been very vocal in their opposition to Chamberlain and Elliott was notorious for corruption and his belief of black supremacy. After the election, Chamberlain regretted the inclusion of Elliott on the ticket and thought that Elliott's removal should have been the condition for his acceptance as nominee for governor.[4]

The platform adopted by the Republicans contained many specific and innovative proposals that were to be effected either as amendments to the state constitution or through legislative action:

The results of the convention for the Republicans were mixed; on one hand, the party emerged united from their convention for the first time since 1868, but it came with a heavy price as the more moderate black and white members of the party switched to support Hampton and the Democrats.

General election

Democratic campaign

Further information: South Carolina civil disturbances of 1876

Historian Richard Zuczek writes: "the 1876 gubernatorial campaign in the Palmetto State was really a military operation, complete with armies, commanders, and bloodshed. Indeed, South Carolina might be a classic case of insurgency, with an attempt to overthrow, by terrorism and violence, a standing government."[5]

The Democratic strategy for the election was twofold; Wade Hampton was to attract moderate voters by appearing as a senior statesman. His chief lieutenant, Martin Gary, was to implement the Mississippi Plan in South Carolina. Known as the Shotgun Policy in South Carolina, the Mississippi Plan called for the bribery or intimidation of black voters. Financial enticements were given to blacks who supported the Democrats, and violence was waged on others in order to convince them to join a Democratic club for protection.

The first step of the Democratic campaign was to set up clubs to organize its members; the more militant Democrats were organized into the rifle clubs whereas the red shirt clubs were arranged to intimidate black voters through violence and intimidation. By election day, the Democrats had enrolled almost every white man not associated with the Republican party into a club and set up several clubs for blacks.

Supporters of the Democratic Party often wore red shirts in response to an apocryphal story about Oliver Morton's waving the bloody shirt in Congress that was caused by KKK violence to maintain support in the North for Reconstruction of the South.[6] They would often parade through towns on horseback such as to give an impression of greater numbers and shouted "Hurrah for Hampton" as their slogan. These demonstrations served several purposes for the Democrats: they brought together whites, frightened black and white Republicans.

Another important aspect of the Mississippi Plan put into effect was the disruption of Republican meetings and the demanding of equal time. The campaign device was called "dividing time" and it proved to be one of the more useful techniques employed by the Democrats in the campaign for three reasons: the strong show of force intimidated the black voters; it terrified Republican candidates and disgraced them in front of the blacks; and because most black voters were illiterate, it was the only possible way for the Democrats to reach them with their arguments since the newspapers were useless as they could not be read. The violence toward Republicans had gotten so bad that the state Democratic committee had to warn its members that the purpose was to attract black voters and not to terrorize them.[7]

An unofficial policy employed by the whites, yet equally effective as the others, was "preference, not proscription." Basically, blacks who espoused support for the Democrats were given a certificate that allowed for them to have priority in employment and trade. The device was not used on the farms because the contracts lasted until January, but it instead wreaked havoc among the black artisans in the urban areas. The state Democratic committee never endorsed the tactic, and Hampton urged its ending after the end of the campaign.[8]

Poole argues that in waging its campaign Democrats portrayed the Lost Cause motif through "Hampton Days" celebrations shouting "Hampton or Hell!". They staged the contest between Hampton and governor Chamberlain as a religious struggle between good and evil, and calling for "redemption."[9] Indeed, throughout the South the conservatives who overthrew Reconstruction were often called "Redeemers", echoing Christian theology.[10]

Ronald F. King, used modern statistical techniques on the election returns and concludes: "Application of social science methodology to the gubernatorial election of 1876 in South Carolina confirms charges of fraud raised by Republicans at the time of the election.... [the result] was the product of massive voter fraud and intimidation of black voters."[11]

Democratic black vote

Democrats recognized the black majority in the state and realized that the only way for them to win the election was through violent suppression of black voters or intimidating black voters to vote Democratic. This was a tricky problem for the party because they were known for upholding slavery and introducing the black codes. Furthermore, it angered many blacks that a former slave trader, Joe Crews, was elected as a Republican to the General Assembly.[12]

Those blacks enticed to join and vote for the Democratic Party were attracted to the paternalistic, moderate appeal of Wade Hampton.[13] While the vast majority of violence targeted Black Republicans, some black Democrats often faced ostracism from the black community: the daughter of a black Democrat was whipped at school for her father's support of Hampton.[14]

Republican campaign

The entirety of the Republican campaign for the general election in November was based on maintaining the black vote. There was little campaigning by Republican candidates and one of Governor Chamberlain's newspapers, Columbia Daily Union-Herald, noted that "Public meetings are not necessary to arouse the Republicans, nor to inform them. On the day of election nine-tenths of them could be directed to cast their ballots at one poll, if necessary."[15]

Election results

The general election was held on November 7, 1876, and there were few instances of disturbance. At each polling place, there were federal supervisors from both the Democratic and Republican parties. Federal troops were also stationed at the county seats to preserve the peace at the polling places if needed, but they were never called upon.

As the results were coming in on Wednesday morning, it appeared that Chamberlain would win, but Hampton had taken a very narrow lead by Thursday. Hampton claimed victory with slightly more than an 1100-vote margin statewide. Chamberlain and the Republicans disputed the victory, based on widespread fraud and intimidation by Democrats. In Aiken County, where the Hamburg Massacre had occurred, Republican votes dropped to less than 100, but "Democratic votes quadrupled."[16] The total vote in Edgefield exceeded the total voting age population by more than 2,000 and Republican votes were suppressed.[16] In Laurens County, the votes also exceeded the total number of registered voters.[17]

When the Republican-dominated Board of State Canvassars met after the election to certify the results, they did not certify the election results from Edgefield and Laurens counties. They were ordered by the state supreme court to certify all the results. But, effectively, the results from those counties were thrown out. The state supreme court held the board members in contempt of court and placed them in the Richland County jail. A federal judge annulled the order of the state supreme court and issued a writ of habeas corpus in favor of the board members.

In the morning of November 28, prior to the convening of the General Assembly, Chamberlain ordered two companies of federal troops under the command of General Thomas H. Ruger to the State House. This action was approved by President Ulysses S. Grant on November 26 in order to prevent a violent takeover by the Democrats and to block admission by Democratic members from the disputed Edgefield and Laurens counties.

The Democrats left the General Assembly en masse to set up a rival legislature at Carolina Hall, complete with representatives who had been excluded by the Republicans. In control of the government and backed by the support of federal troops, the Republicans discarded the election returns from Edgefield and Laurens counties for the gubernatorial race and declared Chamberlain elected for a second term on December 5.

Republican count for the South Carolina Gubernatorial Election, 1876
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Daniel Henry Chamberlain 86,216 50.9
Democratic Wade Hampton III 83,071 49.1

The Democrats derided the installation of Chamberlain as governor by the Republicans and on December 14, they declared Hampton Governor of South Carolina. They included returns from Edgefield and Laurens counties in their tally, which meant out of 184,943 registered voters in 1875, only 555 voters did not cast a ballot in the election. The results as declared by the Democrats held up to be the official results of the election when Hampton became the sole governor on April 11, 1877.

South Carolina Gubernatorial Election, 1876
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Wade Hampton III 92,261 50.3 +50.3
Republican Daniel Henry Chamberlain (incumbent) 91,127 49.7 -4.2
Majority 1,134 0.6 -7.2
Turnout 183,388 99.2
Democratic gain from Republican

County results

County Hampton Chamberlain
Votes % Votes %
Abbeville 3,852 51.2 3,669 48.8
Aiken 3,221 56.4 2,495 43.6
Anderson 4,155 78.7 1,124 21.3
Barnwell 3,956 58.7 2,778 41.3
Beaufort 2,274 23.0 7,604 77.0
Charleston 8,809 36.9 15,032 63.1
Chester 2,005 45.5 2,404 54.5
Chesterfield 1,631 62.3 985 37.7
Clarendon 1,436 43.3 1,881 56.7
Colleton 2,984 41.8 4,163 58.2
Darlington 2,752 44.0 3,507 56.0
Edgefield 6,267 66.9 3,107 33.1
Fairfield 2,159 43.3 2,832 56.7
Georgetown 1,058 27.5 2,787 72.5
Greenville 4,172 70.7 1,729 29.3
Horry 1,939 76.7 588 23.3
Kershaw 1,757 46.0 2,063 54.0
Lancaster 1,541 55.5 1,236 44.5
Laurens 2,916 61.8 1,804 38.2
Lexington 2,129 62.9 1,256 37.1
Marion 3,149 55.8 2,492 44.2
Marlboro 1,945 54.7 1,608 45.3
Newberry 2,196 44.3 2,761 55.7
Oconee 2,083 79.9 524 20.1
Orangeburg 2,870 39.1 4,469 60.9
Pickens 2,002 83.1 406 16.9
Richland 2,435 38.7 3,857 61.3
Spartanburg 4,677 76.1 1,467 23.9
Sumter 2,382 38.2 3,859 61.8
Union 2,519 59.0 1,750 41.0
Williamsburg 1,757 41.8 2,443 58.2
York 3,233 56.9 2,447 43.1

Dual governors

Hampton quickly organized his government and made a request to South Carolinians to refuse to pay taxes to the Chamberlain government. To support the Hampton government, each taxpayer was asked to contribute just 10% of what his tax bill had been the previous year.[18] South Carolinians, both white and black, paid taxes to the Hampton government and refused to pay taxes to the Chamberlain government, thereby denying the Chamberlain government its last legitimacy and authority apart from the U.S. Army.[19]

After the resolution 1876 presidential election in favor of Rutherford B. Hayes, both Chamberlain and Hampton traveled to Washington to discuss with the new president regarding the situation in South Carolina. President Hayes realized that only a massive reintroduction of federal troops would enable Chamberlain to continue as governor and thus ordered on April 3, 1877, for the removal of federal troops from South Carolina. The departure of Federal troops on April 10 caused Governor Chamberlain and the Republican-led government to concede the election to Wade Hampton. A day later on April 11, Hampton became the sole and official governor of the state of South Carolina.





See also


  1. ^ Drago, p66
  2. ^ Drago, p8
  3. ^ Reynolds, p363
  4. ^ Reynolds, p367
  5. ^ Richard Zuczek, "The last campaign of the Civil War: South Carolina and the revolution of 1876." Civil War History 42.1 (1996): 18-31. online
  6. ^ Drago, p9
  7. ^ Jarrell, p68
  8. ^ Jarrell, p70
  9. ^ W. Scott Poole, "Religion, Gender, and the Lost Cause in South Carolina's 1876 Governor's Race: 'Hampton or Hell!'", Journal of Southern History, Aug 2002, Vol. 68 Issue 3, pp 573-98
  10. ^ Stephen E. Cresswell, Rednecks, redeemers, and race: Mississippi after Reconstruction (2006)
  11. ^ Ronald F. King, "Counting the Votes: South Carolina's Stolen Election of 1876" Journal of Interdisciplinary History (Autumn 2001), Vol. 32 Issue 2, pp 169-191.
  12. ^ Drago, p35
  13. ^ Drago, p29
  14. ^ Drago, p42
  15. ^ Reynolds, p374
  16. ^ a b c d Melinda Meeks Hennessy, "Racial Violence During Reconstruction: The 1876 Riots in Charleston and Cainhoy", South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 86, No. 2, (April 1985), 104-106 (subscription required)
  17. ^ Edgar, p404
  18. ^ Walter Brian Cisco, "Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior, Conservative Statesman," Potomac Books, Inc., Washington, D.C., 2004, p. 259
  19. ^ Walter Edgar, '"South Carolina: A History p 405
  20. ^ Mark M. Smith, "'All Is Not Quiet in Our Hellish County’: Facts, Fiction, Politics, and Race – The Ellenton Riot of 1876," South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 95, No. 2 (April 1994), 142-155 (subscription required)
  21. ^ Reynolds, p444


Primary sources

Preceded by
South Carolina gubernatorial elections Succeeded by