Beginning in the spring of 2016, the SCAH Foundation, in conjunction with the SCDAH, will embark on a year long campaign to preserve the seven original constitutions of South Carolina.
The SCDAH is the repository for all seven of the state’s constitutions. The state’s first constitution was written in 1776, and rewritten in 1778, 1790, 1861, 1865, and 1868. The constitution of 1895 is the most recent and is the one that South Carolina is still governed by to this day. Each document is a valuable historical record of our state during the time in which it was created. These historically significant records are in various states of repair, with some examples in need of considerable conservation.
“For over two decades the South Carolina Archives and History Foundation has provided vital financial support to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History for projects ranging from the construction of the Archives and History Center to the education of South Carolinians regarding the Palmetto State’s rich history. With its current initiative to conserve each of our state’s seven constitutions, the Foundation is helping to ensure that our state’s fundamental documents will survive for the benefit of future generations.” – Dr. W. Eric Emerson, Director, SCDAH
“In 1776 South Carolinians wrote their first Constitution that defined their rights as a sovereign entity. Six more constitutions were written by succeeding generations of South Carolinians to reflect a changing society. Now housed at the SC Department of Archives and History these unique documents represent the historical legacy of our state and are badly in need of preservation thereby ensuring future generations a direct connection to their heritage as South Carolinians and Americans.” – Dr. Fritz P. Hamer, Chairman, South Carolina Archives and History Foundation
Constitution of 1776
South Carolina’s first state constitution was adopted more than three months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. By its terms the extra-legal Provincial Congress dissolved itself into a General Assembly and set up a system of government that was to last “until an accommodation of the unhappy differences between Great Britain and America can be obtained.” This constitution provided for a president and vice-president chosen by the General Assembly from among its members.
Constitution of 1778
The South Carolina State Senate was created by this constitution, replacing the thirteen-member Legislative Council provided for by the Constitution of 1776. A governor and lieutenant governor took the place of the president and vice-president, but both officials, as well as a Privy Council, continued to be elected by the legislature. This constitution disestablished the Church of England, but proclaimed that the “Christian Protestant Religion shall be deemed, and is hereby declared to be, the established Religion of this State.”
Constitution of 1790
This constitution was the first to be drawn up by a specially elected convention of delegates of the “People of the State of South Carolina.” It continued in effect until 1861. By its terms the separation of church and state was completed and rights of primogeniture were abolished. The governor, who had no veto power, and other officials continued to be elected by the legislature. The first amendment to this constitution, adopted in 1808, gave the white males of the Up Country control of the House of Representatives, long dominated by the less numerous Low Country.
Constitution of 1861
The Constitution of 1861 was essentially the Constitution of 1790 with a few verbal changes necessitated by the withdrawal from the Federal Union on December 20, 1860. Drawn up by the Secession Convention, this document has suffered extensive damage due to water, insects and mold.
Constitution of 1865
Promulgated as a requirement for readmission to the Federal Union under President Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction program, the Constitution of 1865, while basically a conservative document, incorporated limited democratic reforms. Under the guidance of Provisional Governor Benjamin F. Perry, the constitution provided for the election of the governor an presidential electors by direct popular vote, rather than by the legislature; abolished property qualifications for officeholding; and established more equitable representation in the state Senate. In the face of overwhelming opposition, Governor Perry’s desire to include voting rights for qualified blacks was abandoned.
Constitution of 1868
Written to satisfy the dictates of the Congressional Reconstruction plan, the Constitution of 1868 was the most democratic in the state’s history and the only constitution to be submitted to the electorate for approval. Often referred to as the “Ohio Constitution” because of its purported resemblance to that state’s constitution and the number of carpetbaggers from there in the constitutional convention’s membership, this document granted the franchise to all men; provided for legislative representation based solely on population; and granted some rights to women which they had not previously held. The constitution’s most lasting achievement was the establishment of a genuine system of universal education, which was contained in Article 10. This constitution was approved by Congress on June 25, 1868.
Constitution of 1895
The content and adoption of the Constitution of 1895 can be directly attributed to the driving force of Benjamin R. “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, governor and United States senator. Tillman’s primary impetus in calling for a new constitution was to deny the franchise to South Carolina blacks without disfranchising poor, illiterate whites or running afoul of the United States Constitution. This was effectively accomplished in Article II. Representative of a number of state constitutions written in the 1890s with its excessive restrictions and cumbersome detail, the 1895 constitution came under extensive scrutiny from special legislative committees in 1948-1950 and 1966-1969. As a result of these committees’ recommendations, basic constitutional changes reorganized state and local government in the 1970s.
Cellulose acetate lamination was the most popular method of document conservation from the 1930s well into the 1970s. What was believed to be a secure way of providing extra strength to fragile paper has now proven to cause degradation of original documents. The process of laminating documents included deacidfying the paper, layering with tissue and thin sheets of plastic and fusing together by way of a heated press. Conservators have now found that this process is the source behind the damage we are seeing in documents. Lamination not only alters the original appearance of the documents but can cause acid from the lamination to become trapped between the original document and plastic, causing the paper to yellow and eventually become brittle. When laminate begins to break down, it undergoes a process called vinegar syndrome, in which acid from the binding molecules is released and can cause paper to internally split. As lamination begins to degrade, not only does it affect the document directly, but indirectly affects those in its environment. They will be tested for alkalinity and iron; appropriate treatment and localized mending will be performed, if necessary.
In the fall of 2017, all seven state constitutions will undergo extensive, state of the art conservation treatment, which will take approximately six months to complete. The records will be delaminated and washed. They will be tested for alkalinity and iron and appropriate treatment and localized mending, if necessary. The documents will be encapsulated in protective Mylar or framed and mounted, depending on size and original organization.
The Foundation has set a goal to raise $200,000 to contribute to the conservation cost of all seven original state constitutions.
Upon their return, the SCDAH will launch an exhibit at the Archives and History Center featuring all seven, restored constitutions. The exhibit will be one of a kind and will highlight the road to ratification for each document.