South Carolina Governors

South Carolina SC History SC Governors

Colonial SC Governors

On March 26, 1776 – just over three months before the Declaration of Independence was signed – South Carolina adopted a state constitution drafted by a provincial congress, becoming the first independent government in the colonies.

The state's first president, John Rutledge, and its first vice-president, Henry Laurens, were elected by the General Assembly. The titles of these offices were changed to governor and lieutenant governor by the Constitution of 1778.

Prior to the 1776 constitution, South Carolina did have governors, but they were not elected. These officials were appointed by the Lords Proprietors from 1670 to 1719, then by the British government from 1719 to 1775.

Learn more about South Carolina's colonial governors.

Modern SC Governors: 1776-Present

The term for South Carolina governors generally last four years, unless a governor moves on to another position and his or her seat is vacated. Then the Lieutenant Governor will move into the executive position, as did Henry McMaster in 2017 when Nikki Haley was appointed as ambassador to the United Nations. Gubernatorial elections take place in even years opposite United States presidential elections. Governor McMaster's term will expire in 2027, and South Carolina's next election for governor will be held in November 2026.

How to Become SC's Governor

This tongue-in-cheek look at South Carolina's gubernatorial politics offers plenty of facts and hopefully, plenty of fun too ....

If you plan to run for governor in South Carolina, you'll have a much better chance of success if your last name begins with M. Sixteen of our winning governors have been blessed with a last name that begun with M, including our sitting governor, Henry McMaster (who was elected South Carolina's Lieutenant Governor before succeeding Nikki Haley after she left office to serve as ambassador to the United Nations). This works out to 18 percent of our total modern governors. H comes in as a close second for surname initials, with 13 governors, or 15 percent.

Another way you could improve your odds would be to be part of the Manning-Richardson family, a veritable South Carolina dynasty that has produced six governors in its time. The Richardson-Manning clan sired such leaders as James Burchell Richardson, John Peter Richardson, Jr, and Richard I. Manning. The family is so famous, in fact, South Carolina's State Waltz is named for it, as is the county seat of Clarendon County.

A third advantage is birthplace, with a whopping TEN South Carolina governors hailing from sparsely-populated Edgefield County. Go figure! These patriarchs of South Carolina politics include Andrew Pickens, Pierce Mason Butler, James Henry Hammond, Milledge Luke Bonham, Ben "Pitchfork" Tillman, and Strom Thurmond.

And last but not least, another triumphant technique for winning a term as governor is simply to win the first time. Eighteen of our governors have served more than one consecutive terms, and five have served more than one non-consecutive terms. Charles Pinckney is the winner in the latter regard, have being elected by the people of South Carolina not once, not twice, but three separate times! (Current South Carolina laws limit any governor to two terms in office.)

Nikki Haley was the Palmetto State's first female governor. She was also our first minority governor, being of Indian-American descent. We have not yet had a black governor, despite South Carolina's historically large African-American population.

During the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, South Carolina voters leaned decidedly democratic. However, in 1948, the South Carolina Democratic Party elected to allow black citizens to vote in primary elections. Since democratic candidates never lost to republicans in the general election, this policy effectively meant South Carolina African-Americans were disenfranchised. Many party members defected when black people were allowed to join as full members in the late 1960s, and South Carolina is now a guaranteed red state. Like almost everywhere else in the nation, the democratic party in South Carolina today is racially mixed, while the state's republican party is predominately white. A notable exception is South Carolina's Junior US Senator, Tim Scott, who is a black republican.

SC Governors by Dates Served

SC Governors by Last Name



















South Carolina Governors – Resources

  • Coleman, Malinda Moore and McGarity-Williams, Ann. Governors of South Carolina: 1776-Present. Greenville, South Carolina: The Greenville News-Piedmont Company, 1988.
  • Cyclopedia of Eminent and Representative Men of the Carolinas of the Nineteenth Century. Madison, Wisconsin: Brant & Fuller, 1892.
  • Glashan, Roy R. American Governors and Gubernatorial Elections, 1775-1975. Stillwater, Minnesota: Croixside Press, 1975.
  • Gubernatorial Elections, 1787-1997. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1998.
  • Hemphill, James Calvin. Men of Mark in South Carolina. Washington, D.C.: Men of Mark Publishing Company, 1907-1909.
  • Waring W. Hills III of the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum provided the portrait of Governor Paul Hamilton.
  • National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, volume 12. New York: J.T. White, 1904.
  • Simms, William Gilmore. The History of South Carolina, revised with supplementary chapters by Mary C. Simms Oliphant. Columbia, South Carolina: State Co., 1918.
  • Snowden, Yates. History of South Carolina. Chicago and New York: The Lewis Publishing Co., 1920.
  • Sobel, Robert and Raimo, John. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States. Westport, Connecticut: Meckler Books, 1978.
  • Wallace, David Duncan. The History of South Carolina. New York: The American Historical Society, 1934.
  • Weber, John Langdon. Fifty Lessons in the History of South Carolina. Boston, Massachusetts: Ginn & Co., 1891.
  • White, Henry Alexander. The Making of South Carolina. New York: Silver, Burdett, 1906.

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