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Who Shall Rule at Home?
The Evolution of South Carolina Political Culture, 1748–1776

Jonathan Mercantini

A new telling of how principles of self rule developed in colonial South Carolina

A reinterpretation of the origins of the colonial revolutionary movement, Who Shall Rule at Home? charts the changing nature of South Carolina's political culture from the end of King George's War in 1748 to the decision for independence in 1776. As he follows the colony's shifting political landscape, Jonathan Mercantini challenges the prevailing interpretation of South Carolina as a politically harmonious colonial entity. Examining a series of constitutional and political conflicts, he highlights the increasing tensions between local authorities and royal officials in both London and Charles Town—disputes that demonstrate the growing resistance by the colony's elite to imperial control. These disagreements are all the more striking in South Carolina, according to Mercantini, because the colony benefited considerably from its relationship with Great Britain.

Mercantini explains this rejection of British rule through the transformation of the "rights of Englishmen" into the "rights of Carolina Englishmen." He suggests that South Carolinians, accustomed to authority as slave masters, took the British idea that certain inalienable rights accompanied an English birthright and reinterpreted the concept in ways related to self-rule. These "rights of Carolina Englishmen" centered on local control of elections, representation, finances, and taxation.

In addition Mercantini details the strategies South Carolinians used to resist royal control, the most notable of which was a refusal to compromise. After 1748 South Carolina politics were not geared toward conciliation or compromise but an all-or-nothing strategy that Mercantini calls "brinkmanship." Such tactics culminated with a bold threat to shut down government operations and suspend all business with the royal governor rather than concede to the demands of political rivals. Mercantini concludes that brinkmanship reveals what high political principles South Carolina's leaders believed to be at stake in their conflicts with outside authorities and the lengths to which they were willing to go to resist external interference.

Jonathan Mercantini received his B.A. from the University of Richmond and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Emory University. He is an assistant professor of history at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.

"This is a significant contribution to our understanding of an important colony's pre-revolutionary political culture. Jonathan Mercantini shows that South Carolina's Commons House challenged all infringements on its authority to exercise home rule—before the Stamp Act came along and Parliament threatened assembly privileges and rights. As early as 1748, and continuing through the crises years with Great Britain, the Commons House consistently asserted their rights against all threats, whether from governor, royal council, or the mother country. And it did so, with what Mercantini calls, the politics of brinkmanship—a refusal to compromise when rights were at stake—augmenting a political culture that continued through the Civil War."—Alan Gallay, author of Formation of a Planter Elite: Jonathan Bryan and the Southern Colonial Frontier and The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670–1717

"Who Shall Rule at Home? is a lucid account of South Carolina's political culture in the mid-eighteenth century. Mercantini persuasively argues that the brinkmanship for which the state's political figures became famous emerged earlier in the pre-Revolutionary period than previously thought, as the colony's elite leaders honed their skills and arguments while resisting infringement of their self-defined English rights."—Jerome J. Nadelhaft, author of Disorders of War: The Revolution in South Carolina



Book jacket for Who Shall Rule at Home?


6 x 9
336 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-654-5
cloth, $49.95s

The Carolina Lowcountry and the Atlantic World
Finalist for the 2007 George C. Rogers, Jr., Book Award, South Carolina Historical Society

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