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Borne of the districts were divided into several parishes, a few districts on the coast, — Charleston, Colleton, and Beaufort, for instance, — if they did not have an actual majority in the Senate, certainly were strong enough to control the vote of that body; and that they did so control it, and generally for their own benefit, is beyond question. Forty or fifty years ago, when nearly all the wealth and population were in the sea-coast districts, this parish system constituted a check on the tendencies of the up-country, which, if not founded in any right, at least did not operate to any serious disadvantage. For the last twenty years or more, however, it has been an oppressive burden on the State, of which it seemed utterly impossible to get rid; for it could not be reached except through an amendment to the Constitution, and a convention for that purpose could only be called by the Legislature; and legislatures so virtuous that they readily vote themselves and their constituents out of power are not numerous — in South Carolina at least. A convention, therefore, called by other authority than the Legislature, and without restriction as to the questions upon which it should act, was to the up-country partial compensation for the overthrow of the Confederacy. The issue of the elections there, if issue it can be called when everybody favored it, was "death to the parishes."
The first onset in behalf of the up-country was made by the Provisional Governor, who says in his message: "The parish representation in the Senate is unequal and unjust, contrary to all republican principles; for twenty or thirty voters in'one of the parishes, whose population and taxation combined entitle it to only one member of the House of Representatives, have the same representation in the Senate that three thousand voters have in Edgefield District, whose population and taxation entitle it to six members in the House."
The only hope for the parishes was that the Convention would limit itself to a narrow range of action. The lowcountry was in favor of doing as little work as possible; the up-country wTas in favor of doing as much as possible.
On the first day of the session one of the low-country delegates offered a resolution calculated to define and limit the province of the Convention. It was unceremoniously sent to the table.
The quarrel between the two sections next came to the surface on the question of appointing the standing committees. Few committees meant narrow range of work and a speedy adjournment; and of course that view was supported by the sea-coast members. Many committees meant a thorough revision of the Constitution, and that wras what the upcountry members wanted. The latter carried the day, after a good deal of skirmishing, getting eight committees.
On the second day, Judge Lesesne introduced a resolution reciting that the action of the Convention should be restricted to those measures which are necessary for the reinstatement of the State in the Union, and the restoration to her of a civil government. This may be called the first movement of Charleston; but it amounted to nothing, for the resolution was instantly tabled.
On the third day, that city made a reconnoissance in force, under the lead of'John Conner, late a general in the Confederate service, whose chief of staff on the occasion was Judge Frost, also of the delegation from that city. General Conner's force consisted of the troops used on the previous day by his colleague Judge Lesesne; but it was marshalled in such a manner as to present a much more imposing front, and was handled with consummate skill. Two hours' spicy debate served, however, to send his resolution to the table; and he then retired and left the field to the up-country enemy.
On the fourth day, the three low-country members of the Committee on the Executive Department made a report, stating, "We are of the opinion that the Convention, not having been called according to the forms of the Constitution of the State, can only exercise such powers as are absolutely necessary to restore the State to the Union with a Constitution republican in its character; and that any fundamental change in the said Constitution is not within the exercise of such powers." This was signed by Messrs. Aldrich of Barnwell District, and Conner and Simonton of Charleston; but these names were not enough to secure the acquiescence of the Convention, in the opinion, and the report also went to the table.
On the fifth day, the St. Helena Parish election case came up. The applicant for a seat was a young man originally from Philadelphia, but resident about three years on the island, and to all intents and purposes a citizen of the State. His constituents are, like himself, mostly new-comers, though all legal voters. There was no pretence of fraud, or that the election did not fairly represent the will of the people of the parish. The term of office of the managers of election appointed by the Legislature in 1860-61 had expired, and there were neither managers nor legislative delegation to appoint new ones. Therefore the people did the best thing they could in the emergency, — held a mass-meeting, and chose their managers. The technical question involved in the case was, whether the certificate of managers thus appointed could be received. The special committee of three to which the matter was referred, and of which Mr. Perry, the Governor's son and private secretary, was chairman, decided that it could, and reported in favor of the admission of the delegate. The debate was sharp and spirited. The informality of the election and certificate were admitted on all hands. The committee and most of their supporters argued that, as the will of the people had been fairly expressed, the informality could be overlooked. Mr. Orr would admit the delegate as an earnest of the good faith and good disposition of the people of the State in their relation to the Union. Judge Thomson, of Abbeville District, would admit him as an earnest of the welcome he stood ready to extend to all Northern men who are willing to cast their fortune with South Carolina in this hour when she so much needs help. On the other hand, the chief argument of the opposition rested on the facts that the delegate is a Northerner, that the owners of the island have been driven from their homes, and that the constituency now there is from the North. The report of the committee was sustained, and the delegate was admitted by a vote of 56 to 53; and the action of the Convention in this regard was generally con sidered as another repulse to the low-country.
On the seventh day, the parish system was brought out for trial, condemnation, and execution; and the work was so thoroughly accomplished, that hardly enough of its friends were found to give the mourners a respectable appearance. The question came up indirectly, on a proposition to give the city of Charleston two senators instead of one, as recommended by the Legislative Committee. The debate was long and earnest, and called out the ablest men of the Convention. The merits and demerits of the parish system were discussed in all their length and breadth, and the amendment was finally adopted by a vote of 78 to 30.
In this vote was the grand defeat of the low-country. It swept away the system which made South Carolina the leader in the Rebellion, and in a moment transferred the political power of the State from the conservative hands of the low-country to the progressive hands of the up-country. This fact is of grave importance. The parishes governed the State in the one sole interest of slavery; and though the up-country will not govern it just yet in the interest of freedom, the proportion of negroes in the low-country districts is very much larger than in the up-country districts. The inhabitants of the low-country are of direct foreign descent, with monarchical and aristocratic tendencies; those of the up-country came originally from the North, and have republican and democratic tendencies.
The people of the State are wretchedly poor; but on the evening of the day in which this great victory was gained, I heard — and for the first time since the Convention met — heard, in the rooms of the leading up-country delegates, a lively and long-continued fire of champagne corks. Peace to the ashes of the parish system!
George D. Tilman, a man of immense frame and very considerable abilities, genial and off-hand, who has lived in South America and California, and now hails from Edgefield District, who has served six years in the State Legislature for honor, and two years in the State Penitentiary for manslaughter, who quotes philosophy from De Tocquevillej and historical maxims from Gibbon, — this man, who makes friends with everybody, and at whom the "gentlemen," so called, of the low-country, affect to sneer, is a genuine Red Republican in his disregard of what are called "ancient rights and privileges." Sitting with great blue-gray eyes that seem always half asleep, he is always alert and wideawake; slouching along with a rolling gait, he is careful and earnest; utterly wanting in the power of oratory or rhetoric, he has made more points than any other member of tjie Convention, and has carried all of them but one, and that of minor importance. He is the leader of the advance line of the up-country delegates, not so much by any election as by the inherent force of necessity; for he fights independently, and leaves them no choice but to follow. He is fairly entitled to the honors of the day in the open-field fight against the Conner resolution, and has been from the first the restless and untiring and self-possessed and goodhumored enemy of the parish system, or, to use his own phrase, "the Chinese conservatism of Charleston." His object has been, and still is, to cripple the power of the low