As the state readies to redistrict itself, Wednesday’s column offers a brief history of the 1st District that we may soon be leaving.
The 1st Congressional District of South Carolina is one of the nation’s oldest districts, electing one of the state’s first U.S. representatives more than 200 years ago. Historically centered in Charleston, the 1st District has included the Grand Strand, in fact all of Horry County, but that is likely to change when the General Assembly adds a seventh district based on the state’s population growth. A look at its history reveals a fascinating background:
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives elected from the 1st District have included three members of the famous Pinckney family and Joel R. Poinsett, after whom the poinsettia plant is named. He resigned his seat in 1825 after he was named minister to Mexico. Pinckney was one of the most prominent names in the young nation. Thomas Pinckney was the second man elected from the 1st District, a Federalist serving from 1797 until 1801. Charles Pinckney served the district from 1819-1821; he was a signer of the U.S. Constitution, S.C. governor three times and minister to Spain before his House service. His son, Henry L. Pinckney, a member of the Nullifer political party, represented the 1st District from 1833-37.
Another representative of the district, Langdon Cheves, was speaker of the House in 1814-15. The longest serving representative was L. Mendel Rivers, elected in 1940 and serving until his death on Dec. 28, 1970. Rivers was the powerful chairman of the Committee on Armed Services. The only woman from the 1st District was Clara Gooding McMillan, serving the balance of her husband’s term after his death in September 1939. Thomas Sanders McMillan was elected to eight terms beginning in 1924.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, nearly all 1st District representatives were from Charleston. And they were largely Democrats until 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected president. Two Republicans, including Joseph H. Rainey of Georgetown, broke the Charleston residency chain. Rainey served a decade in the 1870s. Then with one exception at the end of the 1800s, Democrats were elected until Thomas Hartnett’s coattails win in 1980. After Hartnett, 1st District representatives were Arthur Ravenel Jr., Mark Sanford and Henry Brown, all Republicans from Mount Pleasant, Sullivans Island and Hanahan. Tim Scott of North Charleston was handily elected in November to succeed Brown, who did not seek re-election.
Scott may represent the Grand Strand for only one term. The new congressional district presumably will include Myrtle Beach and Horry County. By the way, the 7th District will not be altogether new. South Carolina had a 7th Congressional District from 1803 until 1853 and again for 50 years from 1883 until it was eliminated in 1933. Now a seventh district returns after the 2010 Census shows a shift in population to Southern states. The state has had as many as nine congressional districts. Eighth and ninth districts were eliminated in 1843.
As the nation grew rapidly in the 1800s, the size of the U.S. House was increased until it was capped at 435 in 1929. The number of seats was increased to 433 in 1911 with provisions for two more when Arizona and New Mexico became states in 1912. So for 100 years, the number of residents in each district has grown – to roughly 700,000. The 1st District’s first man in the U.S. House, William L. Smith, represented about 33,000 folks, and he was one of only 65 members, including five from South Carolina.
Sources: “The Historical Atlas of U.S. Congressional Districts”; “The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress,” both by Kenneth C. Martis.