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Governor of South Carolina, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Justice of the Supreme Court
John Rutledge was born near Charleston, South Carolina. He received his early education from his father, studied law at London's Middle Temple in 1760, and began practicing law at Charleston in 1761.
Rutledge began his political career at the same time as his legal career. In 1761 he was elected to the Provincial Assembly, a position he held until the Revolutionary War broke out. He also temporarily held the post of Provincial Attorney General in 1764.
Although he opposed severance from Great Britain, he did chair a committee of the Stamp Act Congress that drew up a petition to the House of Lords. He continued to pursue a moderate course as a delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congresses.
After serving on the committee which drafted the South Carolina Constitution of 1776, Rutledge was elected president of the South Carolina General Assembly, a position he held until 1778, when his disapproval of democratic revisions in the State Constitution led him to resign. Elected Governor of South Carolina the next year, Rutledge was forced to flee when Charleston fell to the British in May of 1780. In 1781, forces led by General Nathanael Greene recaptured the city and Rutledge resumed his position as Governor. In January 1782 he resigned the governorship and took a seat in the Continental Congress, where he served until 1783. He then sat on the State Chancery Court for a time in 1784 before once again entering the Continental Congress, from 1784 to 1790.
A delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Rutledge championed the cause of slavery, urged the assumption of state debts by the national government, and argued in favor of dividing society into classes as a basis for representation and requiring high property qualifications for office-holding.
President George Washington appointed Rutledge to the Supreme Court in 1789, where he served as Associate Justice until 1791. He next became Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, serving until 1795. President Washington nominated him to replace Chief Justice John Jay in 1795, but Rutledge's outspoken opposition to Jay's Treaty of 1794 caused the Federalist-dominated Senate to reject the nomination.
John Rutledge died in Charleston on July 18, 1800. He is interred at St. Michael's Episcopal Church.
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