Rhett, Robert Barnwell

Rhett, Robert Barnwell,

1800–1876, American politician, b. Beaufort, S.C. His family changed its name from Smith to Rhett (after a colonial ancestor) in 1837. A lawyer, he was a state legislator, state attorney general (1832), U.S. representative (1837–49), and senator (1850–52). Extremely pro-Southern in his views, he split (1844) with John C. CalhounCalhoun, John Caldwell
, 1782–1850, American statesman and political philosopher, b. near Abbeville, S.C., grad. Yale, 1804. He was an intellectual giant of political life in his day. Early Career

Calhoun studied law under Tapping Reeve at Litchfield, Conn.
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 to lead the movement for separate state action on the tariff. Rhett was one of the leading fire-eatersfire-eaters,
in U.S. history, term applied by Northerners to proslavery extremists in the South in the two decades before the Civil War. Edmund Ruffin, Robert B. Rhett, and William L. Yancey were the most notable of the group.
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 at the Nashville Convention of 1850, which failed to endorse his aim of secession for the whole South. When South Carolina passed (1852) an ordinance merely declaring the state's right to secede, he resigned (1852) his seat. He continued to express his rabid secessionist sentiments through the Charleston Mercury, edited by his son. Rhett was a member of the South Carolina secession convention in 1860. Receiving no office in the Confederate government, he returned to South Carolina, where he sharply criticized the policies of President Jefferson DavisDavis, Jefferson,
1808–89, American statesman, President of the Southern Confederacy, b. Fairview, near Elkton, Ky. His birthday was June 3. Early Life

Davis's parents moved to Mississippi when he was a boy.
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See W. C. Davis, A Fire-Eater Remembers: The Confederate Memoir of Robert Barnwell Rhett (2000).

Rhett, Robert Barnwell (b. Robert Barnwell Smith)

(1800–76) U.S. representative/senator, political idealogue; born in Beaufort, S.C. A South Carolina planter, he served in the state legislature (1827–32) and was the state's attorney general (1832–37). (It was in 1837 that he adopted the surname of an ancestor.) Inspired by the political rhetoric of the American Revolution, he became a "fire-eater" secessionist and was briefly John C. Calhoun's protégé. He served South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives (Dem., S.C.; 1837–49) and in the U.S. Senate (1850–52) and opposed all attempts at compromise over the issues of slaves (of which he owned many) and states' rights. He also carried on his campaign through the columns of the Charleston Mercury, which he owned. He was a central delegate at the South Carolina secession convention (1860) and wrote an "Address to the Slaveholding States" to encourage secession. After he failed to become president of the Confederate States of America, he vocally opposed President Jefferson Davis and his conduct of the war. He moved to Louisiana in 1867 and although he was a delegate to the Democratic national convention in 1868, he never abandoned his belief in a "separate and free" South.