James M. Rutland

James M. Rutland was born on May 6, 1814, in Fairfield County, South Carolina, to Thomas Rutland and Sarah Marr. His father was a small non-slaveholding farmer who owned $1,200 in real estate in 1850. As one local writer recalled, Rutland "attend[ed] schools at intervals until he had acquired the elements of an education." He spent several years as a teacher and storeroom clerk before enrolling at the University of Virginia in 1839. He spent the next two years studying law, ancient languages, and moral philosophy. Rutland returned to Fairfield County in 1841, and he was admitted to the bar that December. In 1844, he petitioned the General Assembly to let him build a 16-foot-by-40-foot “fire proof office building” on the public square in Winnsboro, South Carolina. Lawmakers, however, promptly rejected the petition. 

Rutland was fiercely committed to the South’s “peculiar institution.” In November 1848, he attended a meeting in Winnsboro to protest the Wilmot Proviso, a resolution seeking to ban slavery from the country’s new western territories. He warned that the proviso would “endanger our institutions and destroy the equality of the States." He claimed that it would violate the Constitution and lead to a "virtual dissolution of the Union." In 1850, Rutland served as secretary of a local Southern Rights Association, and six years later, he cheered Congressman Preston Brooks for caning Republican Senator Charles Sumner. By 1860, he owned at least two slaves and was helping administer a neighbor’s plantation.

Nonetheless, Rutland desperately hoped to hold the Union together. In the 1850s, he subscribed to the Southern Patriot, a Unionist newspaper published in Greenville, South Carolina. In a state dominated by radicals, Rutland found editor Benjamin Perry’s moderation “refreshing.” He praised Perry's “solid sense and sound views” and decried the sectional conflicts “distracting the country." During the secession crisis, one writer recalled, Rutland “was one of the few men in the State who proclaimed themselves Unionists.” He later resisted the Confederate draft and reportedly refused to pay taxes to the Confederate government. In 1864, officials demanded that he serve in the South Carolina Reserves. The company muster rolls, however, reveal that he “Never reported” for service. His convictions enraged his Confederate neighbors, and he narrowly escaped hanging by three mobs. Even after the war, Rutland noted, he “suffered much persecution." Several men seized and plundered part of his property, swearing “they will Kill me if I put my foot on the premises.”

In July 1865, Rutland urged President Andrew Johnson to keep federal soldiers in the state. White South Carolinians, he warned, remained fiercely hostile to the federal government. Many former Confederates had surrendered and sworn oaths of allegiance, but they "do not love the Union any the more because they have taken the oath." These men, Rutland explained, "wish to get rid of what they call a military despotism, and [swearing an oath] is the only mode of attaining that end." If Johnson restored civilian rule, Rutland feared, "secession" juries would leave murderers, traitors, and thieves unpunished. White lawmakers, furthermore, would pass "excessive legislation, and make too many invidious distinctions between the two races.”

Rutland also believed that African Americans were unprepared for freedom, claiming that emancipation would "cause great trouble and distress in the country." Former slaves, he insisted, were “intoxicated by the idea of freedom” and would “become insolent and disorderly.” Rutland hoped that federal soldiers would remain in the South to impose order on freedmen and former Confederates alike. African Americans, he explained, could be “more successfully and more easily managed by United States troops than by the civil authorities of the State.”

In July 1866, Johnson appointed Rutland as an assessor for the Internal Revenue Service. He joined the Union Republican Party during the early years of Reconstruction, explaining that he favored “reconstructing the State under the [congressional] military bill.” He also “conced[ed] to the colored people all their legal and political rights, and yield[ed] obedience to the laws of my country.” He supported freedmen's access to education, writing that it would "prepare them to be good and useful citizens." Even so, he “eschew[ed] Radicalism” and insisted that he was "no extremist." 

In early 1868, Rutland represented Fairfield County in the state's Constitutional Convention. As chairman of the legislative committee, he approved a provision that “all persons possessing certain qualifications shall be entitled to vote.” At the same time, however, he fiercely opposed plans to nullify the debts incurred from slave sales. He declared the proposal “class legislation,” insisting that it “smacked somewhat of the spirit of revenge." Under antebellum southern law, he observed, "Slaves were property...and the country was bound to recognize them as property as long as the institution existed." 

Rutland attended a Republican meeting in Winnsboro in April 1868, and voters elected him to the state senate later that month. In September, however, he resigned to become a circuit court judge. As one writer recalled, Rutland was initially “ostracized by many of his former associates,” but he gradually “fully regain[ed]” their trust. In 1872, a group of Fairfield lawyers commended his “earnest desire…to administer the laws faithfully.” Under Rutland’s guidance, they insisted, “crime has been greatly checked, harmony and good will among the citizens promoted, and the prosperity and happiness of the community advanced.” Lawyers in Marlboro agreed, observing that Rutland had “administered justice without fear, favor or affection.”

These lawyers, however, revealed that Rutland had earned a reputation for “undue harshness in passing sentence upon colored offenders.” By the early 1870s, he had reportedly grown “disgusted with the [Republican] party,” and he “denounced the villainy and corruption” of President Ulysses S. Grant. When South Carolina Republicans levied a tax to support the victims of Ku Klux Klan raids, Rutland vehemently objected. He declared the law unconstitutional and sued the county treasurer to recover his money. 

Rutland stepped down from the bench in 1872 and returned to private life. By then, one writer noted, seven “paralytic strokes [had] shattered his constitution.” He died in Winnsboro on April 17, 1874, and was buried in Laurelwood Cemetery in York County, South Carolina.


James M. Rutland to Andrew Johnson

James M. Rutland Declares Himself a "Union Republican"

Obituary of James M. Rutland

Name:Rutland, James M.
Alternative names:
  • UVA (Union)
  • Civilian
Branch of service:
Residence at UVA:South Carolina
UVA Begin Year:1839
UVA End Year:1841
Residence at enlistment:
Rank In:
Rank Out:
Highest rank achieved:
Birth date:1814-05-06
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:Fairfield County, SC
Death date:1874-04-17
Death place:Winnsboro, SC
Causes of death:
Occupations:Attorney, Judge

1840, 1850, and 1860 United States Federal Censuses, available from Ancestry.com; Catalogue of the Officers and Students of the University of Virginia, Session of 1839-40 (Charlottesville, VA: Robert C. Noel, 1840); A Catalogue of the Officers and Students of the University of Virginia: Seventeenth Session, 1840-1841 (Charlottesville, VA: Chronicle Steam Book Printing House, 1880); The Charleston Daily Courier, 10 December 1841, 9 September 1850; Camden Weekly Journal, 25 October 1848 and 22 November 1848; The Autauga Citizen (Prattville, AL), 5 June 1856; Yorkville Enquirer, 14 March 1867; The Daily Phoenix, 14 June 1867; Charleston Daily News, 29 January 1868, 31 January 1868, 11 April 1868, 22 April 1868, and 14 September 1868; Semi-Weekly Eagle, 21 June 1873; Fairfield Herald, 11 September 1867, 10 July 1872, and 22 April 1874; Abbeville Press and Banner, 29 April 1874; “Petition and Supporting Paper Asking Permission to Build a Fire Proof Office Building on the Public Square in Winnsboro,” c. 1844, South Carolina Department of Archives and History; James M. Rutland to Benjamin F. Perry, 17 March 1851, Benjamin F. Perry Papers, Southern Historical Collection; James M. Rutland to Andrew Johnson, 6 July 1865, Andrew Johnson Papers, Library of Congress; Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America, from February 13, 1866, to July 28, 1866, Inclusive, Vol. XIV, Part II (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1887); James Alex Baggett, The Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2004), 45-46.