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Constitution of South Carolina

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The Constitution of the State of South Carolina is the governing document of the U.S. state of South Carolina. It describes the structure and function of the state's government. The current constitution took effect on December 4, 1895. South Carolina has had six other constitutions, which were adopted in 1776, 1778, 1790, 1861, 1865 and 1868.[1]


Constitution of 1868Edit

A new constitution was required for readmission to the Union after the Civil War. A new constitution was ratified at a convention September 27, 1865, but its reforms were limited — blacks could still not vote — and it was rejected by the U.S. Congress.

A constitutional convention met in Charleston, January 14, 1868. For the first time, black men participated in the election of delegates to the convention. It is the only constitution in the history of the state submitted directly to the electorate for approval; many whites refused to participate. The United States Congress ratified it on April 16, 1868.

The constitution ignored wealth and based representation in the House strictly on population. It abolished debtors' prison, created counties, gave some rights to women, and provided for public education. The popularly-elected governor could veto and a 2/3 vote of the General Assembly was required to override. Race was abolished as a condition for suffrage. Black codes were overturned, there was no prohibition on interracial marriage, and all public schools were open to all races. It provided a uniform system of free public schools, "although not implemented until decades later."[2]

Changes made in the 1895 ConstitutionEdit

Before the 1895 Constitution, voter registration limits were lower; voting was open to all males of 21 years. In the 1895 Constitution, the focus of voter registration became one of "intelligence" instead of "personhood." Individuals would, until January 1, 1898, have to be able to answer questions about any constitutional provision asked in order to qualify as a voter. Thereafter, the registration process included a test of reading and writing; individuals with at least $20 in property were also permitted to vote.[3] The change from the 1868 constitution's "personhood" to the 1895 constitution's "intelligence" was due to the 1895 constitution's framers' desire to disenfranchise African Americans in order to bar them from participation in the political process. According to the state's Democratic Party-leaning newspapers, the motivations behind changing the constitution were clear:

We can trust white men to do right by the inferior race, but we cannot trust the inferior race with power over the white man.

— Charleston News and Courier, [4]

Revisions since 1968Edit

The 1895 Constitution has been rewritten article by article on an ongoing basis since 1968, with each proposed revision submitted to the voters for approval. Prior to 1968, the 1895 Constitution had been amended 330 times, making it one of the longest state constitutions in the United States. It had become a somewhat chaotic document, in large part because most of the amendments dealt with matters addressed by statute in most other states.

The great majority of these amendments dealt with bonded debt limits for local governments. Originally, changes in the bonded debt limits for counties could only be adopted by a statewide vote.

Selected provisionsEdit

Article XVI, Section 1 requires constitutional amendments to be approved by two-thirds of each house of the legislature, approved by the people in an election, and then ratified by a majority of each house of the legislature. If the legislature fails to ratify the amendment, it does not take effect even though it has been approved by the people.

Some provisions of the Constitution of South Carolina have conflicted with the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court has had to resolve the constitutionality of some provisions of the former document. For example:

  • Article IV, Section 2, regarding the qualifications of the governor, states: "No person shall be eligible to the office of Governor who denies the existence of the Supreme Being." Article VI, section 2 and Article XVII, section 4, both of which deal with the qualifications for state office, state: "No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution." These provisions have never been enforced in modern times, since current precedent holds that the First Amendment's Establishment Clause is binding on the states per the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause. The state supreme court underlined this in Silverman v. Campbell, a 1997 case which held that these provisions not only violated the Establishment Clause, but also the no religious test clause in Article VI of the United States Constitution.
  • Article XI, Section 7 required racial segregation in schools: "Separate schools shall be provided for children of the white and colored races, and no child of either race shall ever be permitted to attend a school provided for children of the other race."[5] This provision was effectively rendered invalid by Brown v. Board of Education One of the cases that was combined into Brown was a South Carolina case, Briggs v. Elliott. Article XI, Section 7 is removed from the current text of the constitution.[6]

Some provisions of the Constitution of South Carolina are antiquated and reflect the morals of an earlier era. For example, Article XVII, Section 3 of the Constitution prohibited divorce for any reason. On April 15, 1949, it was revised to permit divorce for certain reasons. It is believed that South Carolina is the only state in which the grounds for divorce are written into the constitution. The legislature is thus prohibited from creating additional grounds for divorce except by constitutional amendment.

Other provisions of the Constitution of South Carolina are unique in certain respects:

  • A two-thirds vote of the South Carolina House of Representatives is required to impeach the governor and other state officials, as opposed to the majority required by the U.S. Constitution and most other state constitutions.
  • The adjutant general, head of the South Carolina National Guard, is an elected official until the current office holder Major General Robert E. Livingston Jr's 4-year term ends in 2018. South Carolina is the only state where this is the case until 2014 when the Admentment 2 was passed to make it a Governor appointed position.
  • Due to extremely strict annexation laws passed by the General Assembly in 1976, incorporated municipalities in South Carolina are usually much smaller in area and population than those elsewhere in the fast-growing Southeast. However, when adjacent suburbs which would be annexed elsewhere are added in, they exhibit sizes and rates of growth similar to many municipalities in neighboring states, such as Georgia and North Carolina.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Graham
  2. ^ Graham, Cole Blease, Jr. (2016). "Constitutions". South Carolina Encyclopedia. University of South Carolina.
  3. ^ "The Old and the New". News and Courier. Charleston, South Carolina. December 4, 1895. p. 9. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  4. ^ Charleston News and Courier
  5. ^ Briggs v. Elliott, 98 F. Supp. 529 (E.D.S.C. 1951). Dissent by District Judge Waring at 538-539 quotes Article XI, Section 7 as it existed then (in 1951.)
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-08-19. Retrieved 2013-11-04.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) 2012 South Carolina Constitution Unannotated, Article XI. Public Education.

Graham, C. Blease. "South Carolina's Constitutions". University of South Carolina. Archived from the original on February 25, 2008. Retrieved October 8, 2009.

External linksEdit