Civil War Wiki
Robert Barnwell Rhett
Robert Rhett

United States Senator
from South Carolina
In office
December 18, 1850 – May 7, 1852
Preceded by Robert W. Barnwell
Succeeded by William F. De Saussure

Born October 21, 1800(1800-10-21)
Beaufort, South Carolina
Died September 14, 1876 (aged 75)
St. James Parish, Louisiana
Political party Democratic
Profession Politician, Lawyer

Robert Barnwell Rhett, Sr. (October 21, 1800 – September 14, 1876), was a United States secessionist politician from South Carolina.


Born Robert Barnwell Smith in Beaufort. His name was originally Smith, but after entering public life he changed it for that of a prominent colonial ancestor Colonel William Rhett. He studied law and became a member of the South Carolina legislature in 1826.

His great-uncle was Congressman Robert Barnwell the father of Congressman Robert Woodward Barnwell. A cousin of the Barnwells was the wife of Alexander Garden (soldier).

After his state legislative service, Rhett was the South Carolina attorney general (1832), U.S. representative (1837–1849), and U.S. senator (1850–1852). Extremely pro-Southern in his views, he split (1844) with John C. Calhoun to lead the Bluffton Movement for separate state action on the Tariff of 1842. Rhett was one of the leading fire-eaters 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 that merely declared a state's right to secede, Rhett resigned his U.S. Senate seat. He continued to express his fiery secessionist sentiments through the Charleston Mercury, edited by his son, Robert Barnwell Rhett, Jr. Rhett was a member of the South Carolina Secession Convention in 1860. In the Montgomery Convention which met to organize a provisional government for the seceding states, he was one of the most active delegates and was chairman of the committee which reported the Confederate Constitution.

Subsequently he was elected a member of the lower house of the Confederate Congress. He received no higher office in the Confederate government and returned to South Carolina, where he sharply criticized the policies of Confederate President Jefferson Davis of Mississippi.

After the end of the War, he settled in Louisiana. While it was rumored that he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1868, that was in fact his son, Robert Rhett, Jr., who had shared his father's editorship responsibilities.

Rhett died in St. James Parish near New Orleans. He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Robert Barnwell Rhett House was declared to be a National Historic Landmark in 1973.


  • Laura A. White. Robert Barnwell Rhett: Father of Secession (1931)
  • A Fire-Eater Remembers: The Confederate Memoir of Robert Barnwell Rhett edited by William C. Davis (2001)
  • William C. Davis. Rhett: The Turbulent Life and Times of a Fire-Eater. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

External links[]

Template:Start box |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States Senate Template:U.S. Senator box |} Template:USSenSC

de:Robert Rhett senior sv:Robert Rhett