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RHETT, Robert Barnwell, politician, born in Beaufort, South Carolina, 24 December, 1800; died in St. James parish, Louisiana, 14 September, 1876. He was the son of James and Marianna Smith, but in 1837 adopted the name of Rhett, which was that of a colonial ancestor. He studied law, was elected to the legislature in 1826, and in 1832 became attorney-general of South Carolina. During tile nullification controversy he was an ardent advocate of extreme state-rights views. He served six successive terms in congress, from 1837 till 1849, having been elected as a Democrat, and on the death of John C. Calhoun he was chosen to fill the latter's seat in the United States senate, which he took on 6 January, 1851. In congress he continued to uphold extreme southern views, and in 1851-'2, during the secession agitation in South Carolina, he advocated the immediate withdrawal of his state from the Union, whether it should be accompanied by others or not. On the defeat of his party in the latter year, he resigned from the senate, and after the death of his wife in the same year he retired to his plantation, taking no part in politics for many years. He was an active member of the South Carolina secession convention of December, 1860, and prepared the address that announced its reasons for passing the ordinance. Subsequently he was a delegate to the provisional Confederate congress at Montgomery, Alabama, in 1861, and presided over the committee that reported the Confederate constitution. He was afterward a member of the regular Confederate congress. Mr. Rhett was for some time owner of the Charleston "Mercury," the organ of the so-called "fire-eaters," in which he advocated his extreme views. During the war it was conducted by his son, Robert Barnwell Rhett Jr. After the civil war Mr. Rhett removed to Louisiana, and was seen no more in public life, except as a delegate to the Democratic national convention in 1868.
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