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Tim Scott's Rise -- and South Carolina's Long Journey

Tim Scott's Rise -- and South Carolina's Long Journey

By Carl M. Cannon - December 18, 2012

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s choice of freshman Congressman Tim Scott to replace Sen. Jim DeMint was a milestone along the road of racial progress so significant that it is worth pausing just to savor.

A conservative freshman elected two years ago with the support of small-government Tea Party enthusiasts, Scott becomes the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction -- and he is now the only black Republican in either house of Congress. He’s a great story, as we say in journalism, as is Nikki Randhawa Haley, the female governor whose parents are Sikh immigrants from Punjab state in India.

What makes Haley’s appointment of Scott most extraordinary is not only that it occurred in the Deep South, but that it took place in South Carolina. To those who lived through the civil rights era, the iconic battlefields were located in Alabama and Mississippi. But in an earlier time the tom-toms of the Old Confederacy beat the loudest in the Palmetto State.

It was neither an accident nor happenstance that the Civil War broke out in South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union. Among the political class, including its congressional delegation, South Carolina was where racism burned brightest, where the skeletons of Jim Crow were buried the deepest, and where the ghosts of slavery have taken the longest to exorcise.

When Timothy Eugene Scott takes the oath of office on Jan. 3, 2013, he will occupy the seat once held by James Henry Hammond, a congressman, governor and senator -- who was one of the most dedicated racists of his, or any other, era.

“American slavery is not only not a sin,” Hammond once proclaimed, “but especially commanded by God through Moses, and approved by Christ through his disciples.”

“I repudiate, as ridiculously absurd,” he also said, “that much lauded but nowhere accredited dogma of Mr. Jefferson that ‘all men are born equal.’ ”

In the 1830s Hammond led the pro-slavery forces in the House of Representatives while fellow South Carolinian John C. Calhoun did the same in the Senate. Calhoun, one of the earliest and most powerful voices for secession in the South, eschewed the normal Southern argument that slavery was “a necessary evil,” in favor of the claim that it was “a positive good.”

In 2009 and 2010, as the Tea Party rose to prominence, critics in the Democratic Party and liberal corners of the media routinely smeared the movement as racist.

There was little evidence to support this claim, and plenty to rebut it. In fact, the tangible results of Tea Party involvement in Republican Party politics was increased representation in elective office of racial minorities. Prior to the 2010 midterm elections, only three Republican governors or members of Congress were people of color. Today, this number is 15, almost all of whom, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, were elected with Tea Party support while bucking the (mostly white) GOP establishment.

“The Tea Party,” noted National Journal, “is diversifying the GOP.” Included among those diverse faces were Nikki Haley and Tim Scott of South Carolina.

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News of Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 presidential election prompted South Carolina to convene an emergency convention on the subject of secession. Even before it took place, both U.S. senators from the state resigned their seats and the state’s legislature appropriated money to equip an army of 10,000.

By the time Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States, Jefferson Davis was already ensconced as president of the Confederate States -- and South Carolina had led the way. It seceded five days before Christmas in 1860, and then dispatched lawyers and politicians deputized as “secession commissioners” to other Southern capitals to persuade them to do the same -- all for the stated purpose of preserving slavery.

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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