On this date in 1749, Edward Rutledge was born. He was a signer of the Continental Association and the youngest signatory to the Declaration of Independence.
Edward was born into the prominent South Carolina Rutledge family on Nov. 23, 1749. As a youngster, he studied law in both America and England. In 1773, he returned to Charleston and established a law practice with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.
Rutledge became involved in the patriot cause when he successfully defended Thomas Powell who was arrested for printing an article critical of the loyalist-leaning upper house of the South Carolina legislature.
Rutledge served in both the First and Second Continental Congress. In October 1774, during the First Congress, he signed the Continental Association. This agreement put teeth into the Declaration of Colonial Rights the Continental Congress adopted a week earlier by formalizing a coordinated economic embargo on British goods.
During the Second Continental Congress, Rutledge personally supported independence but was directed by the South Carolina legislature to oppose the Resolution of Independence penned by Richard Henry Lee.
In a letter to John Jay, Rutledge wrote, “The Congress sat till 7 o’clock this evening in consequence of a motion of R. H. Lee’s resolving ourselves free & independent states. The sensible part of the house Opposed the motion…They saw no wisdom in a Declaration of Independence, nor any other purpose to be answered by it…No reason could be assigned for pressing into this measure, but the reason of every Madman, a shew of our Spirit…The whole Argument was sustained on one side by R. Livingston, Wilson, Dickenson & myself, & by the Powers of all N. England, Virginia & Georgia on the other.”
During a trial vote for independence on July 1, the South Carolina delegation voted no. Rutledge asked the Congress to postpone the final vote until the next day, met with his fellow South Carolina delegates, and convinced them to vote yes. That made the final vote for independence unanimous at 12-0 with New York abstaining.
At 26 years old, Rutledge was the youngest person to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Rutledge served on the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation. In another letter to John Jay, Rutledge reveals his concerns about maintaining state sovereignty.
“Unless it is greatly curtailed it never can pass, as it is to be submitted to Men in the respective Provinces who will not be led or rather driven into Measures which may lay the Foundation of their Ruin. If the Plan now proposed should be adopted nothing less than Ruin to some Colonies will be the Consequence of it. The Idea of destroying all Provincial Distinctions and making every thing of the most minute kind bend to what they call the good of the whole, is in other Terms to say that these Colonies must be subject to the Government of the Eastern Provinces. … I am resolved to vest the Congress with no more Power than what is absolutely necessary, and to use a familiar Expression to keep the Staff in our own Hands, for I am confident if surrendered into the Hands of others a most pernicious use will be made of it.” [Emphasis added]
During the War for Independence, Rutledge served in the South Carolina legislature and as a captain in an artillery unit of the South Carolina militia. The British captured him during the siege of Charleston and he was imprisoned at St. Augustine for 11 months before he was released during a prisoner exchange.
After the war, Rutledge returned to serve in the general assembly and was later elected to the state Senate. George Washington offered him a seat on the Supreme Court but he declined. In 1798, Rutledge was elected the South Carolina governor. He died during his first term.