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South Carolina African Americans – Did Hampton Win?


South Carolina SC African Americans SC Reconstruction Era Did Hampton Win?

The Most Corrupt Election in SC History

This article documents the most fraudulent election in South Carolina history. It took place on November 3, 1876 and pitted incumbent Daniel Henry Chamberlain against Wade Hampton, III. Chamberlain was a veteran of the US Army and Hampton was a veteran of the Confederacy. This article was written by Michael Trinkley of the Chicora Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving South Carolina heritage.

Daniel Henry Chamberlain V. Wade Hampton, III

There was extraordinary fraud throughout South Carolina on election day. At one poll in Edgefield, armed Democratic horsemen surrounded the polling place. Allegedly their purpose was to prevent more than ten voters from approaching the poll at a given time, but the effect on blacks was obvious. At another Edgefield poll, armed men blocked access to the ballot box.

In other locations, election officers were intimidated. In Abbeville County, armed Democrats attacked several polls. In Greenville, an armed mob of Democrats tore down a fence built to control the crowds and rushed the ballot box. In Barnwell, Democrats fired on the polling place, driving off both voters and managers. The ballot box was then stolen.

An English observer reported the use of "gossamer" paper for ballot tickets. Several ballots were folded inside one ticket, which was shaken as it was placed in the ballot box. This forced loose the inner "tickets" so that a single voter might deposit a dozen or more votes. This may explain why some counties – such as Edgefield and Laurens – had more Democratic voters than total registered voters!

The Democrats also capitalized on the illiteracy of black voters. Thousands of tickets were printed with the heading "UNION REPUBLICAN TICKET" – but which listed only Democratic candidates. Laura Towne, the noted Penn Center teacher on St Helena Island, commented in her diary that more than a hundred such rigged ballots were confiscated at one poll alone.

When the initial count came in it appeared that Hampton had won the election by a very slim margin of 92,261 to 91,127 (a difference of only 1,134 votes). Then the county commissioners for Edgefield and Laurens reported fraud – in both counties the Democrats received more votes than there were voters. For several months South Carolina was in turmoil. Hampton was locked out of the State House while two different houses were seated – a Republican House in the State House and a Democratic House in nearby Carolina Hall. After much legal wrangling and even more threats of violence, United States military troops, which had initially been called in to maintain order, were removed. This ensured that Hampton would take office.

The Republican governor David H. Chamberlain wrote to the black and white Republicans of the state:
The government of the United States abandons you, deliberately withdraws from you its support, with full knowledge that the lawful Government of the State will be speedily overthrown ... [forsaking] the lawful State Government to a struggle with insurrectionary forces too powerful to be resisted.
Thus, Wade Hampton was elected governor through intimidation and vote fraud.

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