Who was
Benjamin Tillman?

Governor, Senator, Terrorist

Benjamin Tillman served as Governor of South Carolina from 1890 to 1894, and a US Senator from 1895 until his death in 1918. He was instrumental in the founding of Clemson and Winthrop Universities.

Tillman’s public notoriety started with his involvement in the organized violence of 1876, including the Hamburg and Ellenton Massacres. In this turbulent election year, SC Democrats threatened and murdered blacks and Republicans in order to wrest control from the Reconstruction government. Tillman reflected on these para-military actions of 1876 with fondness and boasted of them throughout his life.

Thomas Nast cartoon in Harper's Weekly which decries the Hamburg Massacre of 1876.

  • As white men we are not sorry for it, and we do not propose to apologize for anything we have done in connection with it. We took the government away from them in 1876.
    Ben Tillman, senate speech in 1900
  • The purpose of our visit to Hamburg was to strike terror, and the next morning when the negroes who had fled to the swamp returned to the town the ghastly sight which met their gaze of seven dead negroes lying stark and stiff, certainly had its effect.
    Ben Tillman, The Struggles of 1876
  • I have told them "we shot them (the negroes), we stuffed ballot boxes,” and did all that was necessary to maintain our hold on the government... Did I misrepresent southern feeling or sentiment when I uttered those words?
    Ben Tillman, The Struggles of 1876

In 1940, the South Carolina legislature erected a statue honoring Tillman on the state house grounds.

It stands there still.

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