William Aiken, Jr.

31st Governor of the State of South Carolina 1844 to 1846

Date Born: January 28, 1806

Date Died: September 6, 1887

Place Born: Charleston, SC

Place Buried: Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, SC

Residence: Charleston, SC

Occupation: Planter


South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina): Graduated 1825

South Carolina House of Representatives: 1838-1842

South Carolina Senate: 1842-1844

Governor of South Carolina: 1844-1846

US House of Representatives, 1851-1857

Aiken was arrested by federal authorities for refusing to attend the raising of the US flag at Fort Sumter after its capture by Union troops.

Aiken was re-elected to the US House of Representatives after the Civil War but was denied his seat.


William Aiken, Jr. was the son of William Aiken, the first president of the pioneering South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company. Unfortunately, William Sr. was killed in a Charleston carriage accident and never saw his namesake town of Aiken, SC. His mother was Henrietta Wyatt. He was born on January 28, 1806 in Charleston, SC, and his initial education was also in Charleston at the Hurlburt School.

William Aiken, Jr. graduated from the College of South Carolina (now the University of South Carolina) at Columbia in 1825 and engaged in agriculture. A very wealthy planter, he owned a highly successful cotton and rice plantation on Jehosse Island in St. John's, Colleton Parish, and a town house and other property in Charleston.

On February 3, 1831, William Aiken, Jr. married Harriet Lowndes, daughter of Thomas Lowndes and Sarah Bond I'On Lowndes, and they had one daughter.

In 1838, he was first elected to represent St. Philip's & St. Michael's Parish in the House of Representatives of the:
- 33rd General Assembly that met from 1838-1839
- 34th General Assembly that met from 1840-1841

In 1842, he was first elected to represent St. Philip's & St. Michael's Parish in the SC Senate of the:
- 35th General Assembly that met from 1842-1843
- 36th General Assembly that met from 1844-1845

In the last assembly above, he was elected by the legislature as the next governor of South Carolina on December 7, 1844 and served two years. He had to give up his seat in the SC Senate. During his administration as governor, he encouraged economic growth and railroad expansion across the state.

Subsequent to his service as governor, William Aiken, Jr. served in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 32nd, 33rd, and 34th U.S. Congresses (March 4, 1851 – March 3, 1857). In December of 1855, Aiken was a leading candidate for Speaker of the House of Representatives. After two months and 133 ballots, Aiken lost the race to Nathaniel P. Banks by a vote of 103 to 100, in what has been termed the “the longest and most contentious Speaker election in House history.”

Aiken's first cousin, D. Wyatt Aiken served as a Confederate States Army officer and five-term U.S. Congressman.

When the American Civil War broke out, William Aiken, Jr. would not side with his state nor take an active part against her, and when he was invited by the Federal government to be present at the raising of the national flag over Fort Sumter after the surrender, he declined the invitation. Shortly afterwards, he was arrested by order of the Secretary of War and was sent to Washington under guard. Upon his arrival, he at once went to see President Andrew Johnson, who promptly ordered his release. They had been good friends when both were members of Congress.

William Aiken, Jr. died at Flat Rock, NC, September 6, 1887, and was interred in the Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC. His house, the Aiken-Rhett House, is part of the Historic Charleston foundation.


William Aiken, Jr. (cousin of David Wyatt Aiken), a U.S. Representative from South Carolina; born in Charleston, SC, January 28, 1806; attended private schools; was graduated from the College of South Carolina (now the University of South Carolina) at Columbia in 1825; engaged in agricultural pursuits; member of the State House of Representatives 1838-1842; served in the State Senate 1842-1844; Governor of South Carolina 1844-1846; elected as a Democrat to the 32nd, 33rd, and 34th U.S. Congresses (March 4, 1851-March 3, 1857); was an unsuccessful candidate for Speaker of the House of Representatives after 133 ballots in the Thirty-fourth Congress; was not a candidate for renomination in 1856; presented credentials as a Member-elect to the 39th U.S. Congress February 12, 1867, but was not permitted to qualify; resumed his former pursuits near Charleston, SC; died at Flat Rock, Henderson County, NC, September 6, 1887; interment in Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, SC.

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