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8 South Carolina Volunteers in the Second Seminole War A Nullifier Debacle as Prelude to the Palmetto State Gubernatorial Election of 1836 James M. Denham and Canter Brown Jr. The South Carolina General Assembly on December 10, 1836, elected as governor thirty-eight-year-old Pierce Mason Butler, heralded as a Nullifier in the state’s recent clash with President Andrew Jackson over enforcement of tariff law. A committee of notables, including Butler’s friend Robert Howell Goodwyn , quickly notified him of the honor. At the time Goodwyn served as state senator from St. Matthew Parish, but within the year he had acted, in the capacity of regimental colonel of mounted South Carolina volunteers, as the newly elected governor’s immediate superior in Florida’s recently commenced Second Seminole War. In a matter of weeks after taking office on December 21, Butler would appoint Goodwyn to the powerful position of cashier of the Columbia branch of the Bank of the State of South Carolina. Butler had launched himself into state affairs in 1830 from that position and had ascended from it to the presidency of the bank in 1833.1 Butler’s climb to the governor’s office had come amidst controversy regarding his and Goodwyn’s roles in the Second Seminole War. This fact drew national attention just as he was savoring his election victory and organizing his administration. Four hundred miles to the north a far different, though not unrelated, process then was underway. At Frederick, Maryland, a court of inquiry had convened on November 7, 1836, to examine the conduct by Major Generals Winfield Scott and Edmund P. Gaines during the opening stages of the Florida war. In the ten days prior to Butler’s election, Brigadier General Abraham Eustis stood out as the star figure at those proceedings. Testifying in defense of General Scott, Eustis found occasion to mention Butler’s name. In so doing he intimated that certain actions taken by Butler and others 210 / James M. Denham and Canter Brown Jr. associated with him, rather than ones taken by Scott, had contributed to the failure of the Florida campaign.2 The events of that Florida campaign during the early months of 1836—and their aftermath—form an integral part of the story of Pierce M. Butler’s election as governor of South Carolina and of the persistence of the Palmetto State in its willingness to confront and to disobey federal authority. A review of those events discloses a tale of bravado and promise, of courage, sacrifice, and tragedy. They portray a very human disappointment projected upon a canvas of personal ambition and national controversy. They help us to understand how and why the early history of that war came to be written, and they suggest how South Carolina’s commitment to the intertwined philosophies of states’ rights and nullification was hardened by Butler’s personal and political needs. Since Butler’s actions were to figure so prominently in the early dynamics of the Florida conflict, a quick review of his life up to that point seems in order. The future governor began his professional career in 1819 as a U.S. Army officer , a position that he obtained through the intercession of South Carolina congressman Eldred Simkins and the encouragement of Simkins’s law partner George McDuffie. Butler served in the Arkansas Territory before leaving the service in 1829 upon his marriage to Miranda Julia DuVal of Washington. Upon his return to civilian life in the Palmetto State, he soon found himself politically at McDuffie’s side as a delegate to the 1832 Nullification convention. Both men acted as leaders, and Butler went so far as to urge secession in the event of any federal military coercion directed at the state. Butler’s extreme views were circulated in part through a series of letters written to prominent Nullifiers during and after the crisis. “There is only one question among our party,” he wrote to James H. Hammond, “& I wonder that it is a question— which is to the time of the application of this act of Nullification—I say without further delay—in the name of God[,] Hammond, why pause longer.”3 A sidelight of the Nullification Crisis saw political conflicts infused into the South Carolina state militia as never before. This took on special significance because nowhere was the importance of the state militia as a social and political institution greater than in South Carolina. Vernon Burton, in his seminal study of Edgefield, has...


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