Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation




College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Valinda Littlefield


This dissertation reviews the struggle for popular education in Antebellum South Carolina. It contends that the failure of popular education in South Carolina was not a foregone conclusion nor was it mistake by school administration or state leaders, but instead, the failure to provide education for the white majority was the result of an intended goal. This project concludes that South Carolina remained without a system of public schools for the majority of citizens because those who opposed general education firmly believed popular education held the seeds of revolution while ignorance the better tool to perpetuate the status quo.

Chapter one looks to explain the intellectual underpinning that dissenters used to manipulate the Free School Act of 1811, the Free School System, and the cultural perception of the white majority toward popular education. Chapter two not only describes the plan and hope illustrated by the Free School Act of 1811 but also how dissenters used their positions of influence within the legislature to deny a favorable reception of free schools in the popular mind.

Chapter three provides a necessary detour to provide an understanding of how reformers attempted to counter dissenters control over the popular mind toward popular education. It also provides an account of reformers desires for popular education by way of social commentary on Southern society from the 1820s to the 1840s. This chapter serves as one of the fasteners to the project because it gave readers a glimpse into what reformers were fighting for and why dissenters were fighting against.

Chapter four, Southern Dependence and Southern Education, situate how the sectional tension of the 1850s forced Southerners to rethink popular education. Chapter five demonstrated that despite the obstacles facing supporters and reformers of education they did use the opportunity of the 1850s to demand change in the state's educational policy.

Chapter six on addresses the concerns of dissenters and their articulated reasons for rejecting popular education. The final chapter suggests that the ruling class counted on the ignorance of the white majority to protect and govern the South.

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