Benjamin Ryan Tillman, Jr.

54th Governor of the State of South Carolina 1890 to 1894

Date Born: August 11, 1847

Date Died: July 3, 1918

Place Born: Edgefield District, SC (near Trenton, SC)

Place Buried: Ebenezer Cemetery in Trenton, SC

Residence: Edgefield District, SC

Occupation: Farmer


Left school at 17 to enlist in the Confederate States Army. Tillman became seriously ill after leaving school to join the Confederate States Army, resulting in the loss of his left eye - 1864.

Governor Tillman never held a government office prior to being elected SC Governor: 1890-1894

U.S. Senate: 1895-1918

Tillman was censured while serving in the U.S. Senate for assaulting fellow Senator from South Carolina John L. McLaurin in the U.S. Senate chamber - 1902

During World War I Tillman served as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Naval Affairs

Tillman was also known as "Pitchfork Ben," either for his defense of farmers' interests or because he wanted to "stick" a pitchfork "into President Grover Cleveland"

The SC General Assembly erected a monument to Gov. Benjamin Ryan Tillman - 1940

Clemson University's Benjamin Ryan Tillman Society was named for Governor Tillman

Tillman Hall at Winthrop University was named for Governor Tillman


Benjamin Ryan Tillman, Jr. was born on August 11, 1847, the son of Benjamin Ryan Tillman and Sophia Ann (Hancock) Tillman, in the Edgefield District, SC. He was educated at "an old field school" and at the Bethany Academy till seventeen years old, when he quit school to join the Confederate Army. He soon became seriously ill for two years and lost his left eye as a result. In 1867, he went to Florida, but returned the next year and pursued farming.

In 1868, Benjamin Ryan Tillman, Jr. was married to Sallie Starke, daughter of Samuel C. Starke of Elbert County, GA. They had five children.

Tillman was a Captain of the Edgefield Hussars, a militia company from 1884-1890. He was also for a time Chairman of the Democratic organization in Edgefield County. Gradually, his focus became the depressed condition of farming interests in South Carolina and he began his self-education concerning its causes and issues.

In August of 1885, Tillman made his first public address before a farmer's society in Bennettsville, in which the causes of agricultural depression were set forth with great boldness and force, and the reform of the board of agriculture, together with the establishment of an experimental farm and of the Farmer's Institute were urged as measures of relief. This speech gave rise to a controversy which very soon degenerated into a war of denunciation against the innovator, who was contemptuously styled as the "Agricultural Moses."

Tillman answered his critics in the Charleston News and Courier in a series of letters, which were widely read and aroused profound interest among the farmers and even among others who were usually indifferent to politics.

In April of 1886, Tillman delivered another speech before a great farmer's convention in Columbia, SC, where he inaugurated the "farmer's movement" in South Carolina, which soon grew tremendously. A platform was adopted by this convention demanding the foundation of an industrial school for women, and of a separate agricultural college, which later became the principal subject of agitation, and soon took first place among Tillman's efforts.

In 1887, Bejamin Ryan Tillman, Jr. secured from Thomas G. Clemson the modified and final draft of his will, which resulted in the formation of the Clemson Agricultural College at Fort Hill, the home of John C. Calhoun.

In 1888, though not a candidate, Tillman took a part in the canvass for governor at the request of the Farmer's Association, and secured the election of a state legislature which by a narrow vote accepted the Clemson bequest. Meanwhile, the Farmer's Alliance was organized, and under Tillman's leadership entered upon the struggele against the undemocratic methods and measures of an oligarchy, which had successfully sustained itself since the overthrow of the Republican domination by Wade Hampton, III.

In January of 1890, the famous "shell manifesto" was issued, calling a convention of the reformers to meet in March. On its assembling, Tillman, amid great enthusiasm, was suggested for governor, subject, however, to the regular Democratic Convention. The canvass for the nomination was one of the most remarkable ever held in the South, and was accompanied by almost unexampled bitterness of public feeling. Opposed by two distinguished citizens, Gen. Bratton and Attorney General Earle, as well as by the most influential newspapers.

Tillman, untried in public affairs and without previous training in debate, sustained himself with singular nerve and skill, invariably commanding the attention of his audiences. The tide of popular enthusiasm in his favor was so great that he was nominated by a vote of 269 to 40 in the Democratic Convention held in September.

A month before the general election, another effort was made to defeat him in the final contest, and an opposition ticket was nominated, headed by the distinguished Judge A.C. Haskell of Columbia, in the hope that this movement woould meet with sufficient support from the black vote. But, it ended in complete failure and Tillman was elected by a great majority, with a legislature strongly in his favor.

The administraton of Gov. Benjamin Ryan Tillman, Jr. proved so satisfactory to his fellow citizens that he was re-elected in 1892, again over powerful opposition, and with a legislature still more decidedly than before pledged to his support. As chief executive, he was instrumental in promulgating the Dispensary Law for the control of the sale of spiritous liquors by the state, and in founding the Winthrop Normal and Industrial College for Women at Rock Hill, SC. This institution is the largest of its kind in the South.

To his efforts was also largely due the increase of the school tax from two to three mills, and the calling of the SC Constitution Convention of 1895, in which he served as Chairman of the committe on suffrage that framed the article providing for an educational and property qualification for voting, thus eliminating the black vote.

After retiring from the governorship, Benjamin Ryan Tillman, Jr. was elected as a U.S. Senator for the term beginning on March 4, 1895. He was subsequently re-elected for another term, which ended in 1907. On entering the U.S. Senate, he made the first speech in severe denunciation of President Grover Cleveland, which was widely read and excited much adverse criticism on account of its virulence.

Tillman was one of the leaders in securing the insertion of advance positions in the Democratic platform of 1896.

He died on July 3, 1918 in Washington, DC and was later buried in the Ebenezer Cemetery in Trenton, SC.


Benjamin Ryan Tillman, Jr., a U.S. Senator from South Carolina; born near Trenton, Edgefield District, SC on August 11, 1847; pursued an academic course; left school in 1864 to join the Confederate Army, but was stricken with a severe illness; engaged in agricultural pursuits; Governor of South Carolina 1890-1894; established Clemson College and Winthrop College while Governor; member of the SC Constitutional Convention in 1895; elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1894; re-elected in 1901, 1907 and 1913 and served from March 4, 1895, until his death; censured by the Senate in 1902 after assaulting another Senator on the Senate floor; chairman, Committee on Revolutionary Claims (57th through 59th U.S. Congresses), Committee on Five Civilized Tribes of Indians (61st and 62nd U.S. Congresses), Committee on Naval Affairs (63rd through 65th U.S. Congresses); Tillman was known as “Pitchfork Ben” during his years in the U.S. Senate; died in Washington, DC on July 3, 1918; interment in Ebenezer Cemetery, Trenton, SC.

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