South Carolina changed from a colony to a state by writing a new state constitution after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Although states in the North were influenced by the words of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” to gradually free their slaves, South Carolina slave owners did not support such laws. The plantation-owning low country elite continued to have more political power than the Backcountry farmers because they were given a greater representation in the state legislature.
Later, compromises helped the backcountry farmers. The capitol was moved from Charleston to Columbia to give backcountry people more of an opportunity to petition and influence their government. However the low country retained its representative majority in the state legislature. Finally, new counties with court systems were created to address the lack of law and order in the backcountry. Backcountry farmers were granted more equal representation once they began to own slaves and the low country elite no longer feared that the backcountry men would vote to limit slavery.
After the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress had established a new government for the United States [the Articles of Confederation]. However other states were having conflict between the low country elites and backcountry farmers that was similar to the conflict in South Carolina, [especially Massachusetts’ Shays’ Rebellion]. Some Americans thought that the first United States government was too weak and called for changes. Representatives of the states met in Philadelphia to set up a better government for the new nation. This meeting resulted in a second constitution and became known as the Constitutional Convention. South Carolina sent
four delegates to Philadelphia. All were rich planters from the Lowcountry. Although South Carolina delegates had to compromise and did not get everything they wanted in the United States Constitution they, and other members of the low country elite, supported its ratification. Backcountry farmers did not support ratification because they feared the power of the elites. The compromise of adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution in order to protect the rights of individuals was promised and South Carolina became the 8th state to ratify the new United States Constitution.
Authority in the new government derived from “We, the people.” The new government of the United States had three branches: the legislative branch that makes the laws, the executive branch which carries out the laws and the judicial branch which interprets the laws. The people were given the right to elect representatives to the House of Representatives and to indirectly elect Senators and the President. No branch of the government could become too powerful because of a system of checks and balances. The constitution also included a process that allowed it to be updated or amended. The amendment process has allowed the Constitution to continue to work for over 200 years, longer than any other constitution in the world to this day.
There are three branches of government in South Carolina. The legislative branch is the General Assembly, which makes state laws. The General Assembly is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The executive branch is lead by the governor. He is responsible for carrying out (or executing) the laws passed by the General Assembly. He signs or vetoes laws passed by the legislature. The judicial branch is our state’s court system. The responsibility of the courts is to see that the laws are fairly applied to all citizens. The Supreme Court of South Carolina decides whether the laws passed by the General Assembly or the actions of the governor conform to the constitution of the state of South Carolina.
Cities, towns, and counties have local governments to serve citizens. Towns usually have elected mayors who are the executive and elected town councils that serve as the legislature for the town. They also have municipal (town) courts. Counties have county councils that make rules for the unincorporated parts of the state that are not divided into towns. These governments play a vital role in providing services and meeting the needs of the local citizens. Such services include protection provided by police, firemen and emergency medical teams; water, sewer and garbage services; public schools, libraries and parks; and new roads and road repairs. Towns and counties also regulate land use and businesses within their jurisdiction. Students should be able to identify the symbols for towns and cities on a map and locate and name the county and/or town in which they live. They should be able to locate and name the state capital.