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The Letters of Pierce Butler, 1790–1794
Nation Building and Enterprise in the New American Republic

Edited by Terry W. Lipscomb

A political insider's perspective on the inaugural Congresses from one of South Carolina's signers of the Constitution

Enlivened by Irish humor and colorful turns of phrase, this collection of Pierce Butler's letters offers a new perspective on the most enigmatic of South Carolina's signers of the Constitution and on the formative years of the American republic. Describing Butler as an intriguing question mark among the founding fathers, Terry W. Lipscomb presents a cache of correspondence that covers the senator's service during the First, Second, and Third Congresses of the United States. In the first major collection of Butler's writings to be published in book form, Lipscomb offers a detailed biographical sketch of the man and explains the value of his letters—including correspondence to such contemporaries as George Washington, John Adams, George Mason, Richard Henry Lee, Wade Hampton, Andrew Pickens, Charles Pinckney, James Gunn, and Archibald Maclaine.

Lipscomb recounts Butler's rise to prominence, from his early days as an Irish-born officer in the British army to his marriage into the lowcountry's Middleton family. More Virginian than Charlestonian in his political views, Butler holds a place of notoriety as the delegate who pushed for the adoption of an electoral college and who allegedly wrote the Constitution's fugitive slave clause. Lipscomb shows Butler to have been a strict constitutional constructionist, a persistent advocate of religious liberty, and an admirer of the French Revolution. He also favored making government actions more transparent and pioneered the tactic of leaking privileged information.

Offering an insider's view of the early Senate at a time when it conducted its business behind closed doors, these letters present a new resource on the history of the young republic.

Terry W. Lipscomb has been associated with the South Carolina Department of Archives and History and the South Caroliniana Library for more than thirty-five years. His numerous previous publications include South Carolina in 1791: George Washington's Southern Tour and South Carolina Revolutionary War Battles: The Carolina Lowcountry, April 1775–June 1776 and the Battle of Fort Moultrie. Lipscomb was also a longtime editor of the colonial journals of the South Carolina General Assembly.

"Terry Lipscomb's edition of Pierce Butler's letters provides a fascinating window into the politics and society of the early American republic. A proponent of what he called "pure republicanism," Senator Butler applauded the French Revolution and opposed the consolidating policies of treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton. Butler's letters go beyond commentary on foreign affairs and politics and contain rich detail on such diverse topics as religion, slavery, cotton agriculture, land speculation, diplomatic relations with Native Americans, and indebtedness and honor among gentlemen. This volume is a valuable resource for all scholars interested in this pivotal period in American history."—Gregory D. Massey, author of John Laurens and the American Revolution

"Amid a flurry of recent biographies of the great men who established the American republic, Terry Lipscomb's volume introduces us to a neglected Founding Father. Pierce Butler's letters reveal his role in the drafting of the Constitution and later, the myriad concerns troubling the nation's early years, including relations with European powers, Indian affairs, and divisive disputes about the meaning of the Constitution. The letters demonstrate that intrigue, factionalism, and the 'leaking' of anti-administration information—practices decried today—originated in the first Congress. In addition to providing a comprehensive biographical sketch of Butler as introduction, Lipscomb has augmented the letters with rich annotation that interprets the significance of this correspondence."—Edward J. Cashin, director of the Center for the Study of Georgia History, Augusta State University



book jacket for The Letters of Pierce Butler, 1790–1794


6 x 9
440 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-689-7
hardcover, $39.95s


    Copyright ©2018 The University of South Carolina Press