September, 1762: Governor Boone Refuses Oath of Office to Christopher Gadsden

September 13, 1762:  Governor Boone Refuses Oath of Office to Christopher Gadsden

When Thomas Boone took over as Governor of South Carolina in 1761, the locals hoped he would prove sympathetic to their call for increased legislative power.  Boone was related to the Colleton family of Carolina, so the colonists thought he might be sympathetic to their viewpoint.  But Boone had strict orders from the Board of Trade to review the Election Act of 1721 and restrict the power of the Commons House of Assembly.  When Christopher Gadsden was elected to fill a vacancy for St. Paul’s Parish, Boone seized the opportunity to assert his power.

Christopher Gadsden was the son of a customs collector who became one of the colony’s most successful merchants. He first served in the Commons House in 1757 and was known as a staunch protector of colonists’ rights.  During the Cherokee War, he attacked the British commander, James Grant, for seizing control of local troops.  Gadsden felt that the troops should be led by the colonial Colonel, Thomas Middleton.  Gadsden continued to guard the legislature’s powers in issues such as raising a militia, electing their own members, and spending.  To Boone, Gadsden was a rabble-rouser and the Governor decided to use the 1762 election to deny him a seat in the Commons House.

This hatpin was a gift from Christopher Gadsden to his daughter. It is currently on display in the SCHS Museum in Charleston.

Although it was clear that the voters of St. Paul’s elected Gadsden, the wardens did not technically follow the stated procedure, so Boone refused to administer the oath of office.  He then dissolved the assembly, stating that it had violated the Election Act. He called for an election of new delegates to the assembly.  This was viewed as a challenge by locals, who returned all but ten of the original delegates.  Gadsden was among those chosen to return to the Commons House.

The House held an investigation into the Gadsden election and passed a resolution stating they would perform no other business until the Governor apologized and publicly acknowledged his mistake.  Boone refused and from September of 1762 through 1763, there was no action by the Commons House.  Boone returned to London in May 1764 and was criticized by the Board of Trade for acting with “more Zeal than prudence.”  Walter Edgar notes that, while the episode over Gadsden’s election “was not a prelude to the Revolution,” it did provide experience in “resisting imperial authority.” It also emphasized Gadsden’s role as a defender of colonial rights.

Boone never returned to South Carolina.  But the leaders of the South Carolina legislature at the time included Henry Laurens, William Drayton, Thomas Lynch, Charles Pinckney, and John Rutledge.  Like Gadsden, they would not forget Boone’s misuse of power.  He is listed by Walter Edgar as one of the four governors of South Carolina who, through mishandling “a variety of issues, helped create the climate that would lead to revolution.”

Written by: Faye Jensen
Date: August 31, 2022