Nikki Haley: 1st South Carolina Governor in More Than Half a Century to Exit Early

However, nearly one in six governors of the Palmetto State did not finish their term

Nikki Haley’s departure from South Carolina this week to become the country’s United Nations Ambassador marks the first time in more than 50 years that a Palmetto State governor failed to complete his or her term.

However, Haley has plenty of company when looking at the state’s long political history with many governors failing to finish what they started – through no fault of their own or otherwise.

Since statehood in 1788, a total of 82 men and women have served as governor of South Carolina, of whom 13 exited before the end of their term – or nearly one in six.

Four of these governors died in office: Federalist Edward Rutledge (1798-1800), Democrat Patrick Noble (1838-1840), Democrat William Ellerby (1897-1899), and Democrat Joseph Harley (1941-1942).

A fifth governor, Democrat Wade Hampton (1876-1879), cut his second term short soon after it began – resigning after being seriously injured in a hunting accident. [Hampton did recover and was elected to the U.S. Senate later that year].

In addition to Haley, six other South Carolina governors resigned from office to take on other governmental positions:

  • Democrat William Simpson (1879-1880) was appointed Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court – a position he held for a decade
  • Democrat Hugh Thompson (1882-1886) was appointed by President Cleveland to be Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury where he served until 1889
  • Democrat Robert Cooper (1919-1922) was appointed to the Federal Farm Loan Board where he served until 1927
  • Democrat Burnet Maybank (1939-1941) resigned after winning a special election to the U.S. Senate where he served until his death in 1954. [Maybank narrowly defeated Eugene Blease in the primary and was unopposed in the general].
  • Democrat Donald Russell (1963-1965) famously resigned from the governorship to effectively appoint himself to the U.S. Senate after the death of Olin Johnston. Russell was easily defeated in the 1966 Democratic primary by Fritz Hollings.

Two other governors exited before the end of their term.

One, Democrat Andrew McGrath, was in office at the close of the Civil War and was removed from the office by the federal government approximately a month and a half after General Lee’s surrender of his forces at Appomattox.

Controversial Democratic Governor Cole Blease (1911-1915) ran for the U.S. Senate in 1914 during his second two-year term as governor but was defeated in the primary by incumbent Cotton Ed Smith. Blease resigned five days before the end of his term in 1915 so he would not have to attend the inauguration of his successor – progressive Democrat Richard Manning.

Blease would run for governor a total of eight times (1906, 1908, 1910, 1912, 1916, 1922, 1934, 1938) and for U.S. Senator  in five other cycles (1914, 1918, 1924, 1930, 1932), winning election to the nation’s upper legislative chamber once in 1924.

Haley is the seventh female governor nationwide who did not finish her term:

  • Alabama Democrat Lurleen Wallace (1967-1968) died in office
  • Connecticut Democrat Ella Grasso (1975-1980) resigned due to a grave illness and passed away approximately five weeks after leaving
  • Arizona Democrat Janet Napolitano (2003-2009) resigned to become Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Kansas Democrat Kathleen Sebelius (2003-2009) resigned to become Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Alaska Republican Sarah Palin (2006-2009) resigned to work in the private sector
  • New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan (2013-2017) resigned with two days left in her term to be sworn in as the state’s newly elected U.S. Senator

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3 Comments on "Nikki Haley: 1st South Carolina Governor in More Than Half a Century to Exit Early"

  1. At least in the distant past, some governors who were elected to the US Senate have been known to delay their “oath-taking” in order to complete their gubernatorial term. For whatever reason, Hassan did not choose the aforementioned option (Had her colleague, Senator Shaheen, as incumbent governor, first won her seat in ’02, she too would have been faced with said choice).

  2. As a freshman member of the minority party, Hassan likely did not want the loss of seniority that delaying her oath-taking would have entailed.

  3. Hassan should’ve at least finished out her term as NH Governor.

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