John Gardiner Richards, Jr.

66th Governor of the State of South Carolina 1927 to 1931

Date Born: September 11, 1864

Date Died: October 9, 1941

Place Born: Liberty Hill, SC

Place Buried: Liberty Hill Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Liberty Hill, SC

Residence: Kershaw County, SC

Occupation: Lawyer, Farmer, Lt. Colonel in SC Militia

Bingham Military Institute, North Carolina

South Carolina House of Representatives: 1898-1910

South Carolina Railroad Commissioner: 1910-1918, 1922-1926

1926 - Richards was elected without opposition, receiving 16,589 votes.

Governor Richards was the first governor to be elected under the amendment to the state constitution that set the length of the gubernatorial term to four years

May 9, 1930 – WCSC in Charleston, the state's first radio station, went on the air

Born in Liberty Hill, Kershaw County, on September 11, 1864, John Gardnier Richards, Jr. was the son of John Gardiner Richards and Sophia Edwards Smith. According to one scholar, Richards experienced “a relatively serene childhood” and enjoyed such genteel pursuits as lancing tournaments and fox hunting. He attended the common schools of Liberty Hill and spent two years at Bingham Military Institute in Mebane, NC, before returning home at age nineteen to manage the family farm.

In June 1888, John Gardnier Richards, Jr. married Bettie Coates Workman. The couple had eleven children.

In 1890 Richards supported “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman in his agrarian crusade against the conservative leaders of the Democratic Party, the so-called “Bourbons.” Tillman triumphed and Richards became a Kershaw County magistrate and served for eight years.

In 1898, John Gardiner Richards, Jr. was first elected as one of two men to represent Kershaw County in the House of Representatives of the:
- 63rd General Assembly that met from 1899-1900
- 64th General Assembly that met from 1901-1902
- 65th General Assembly that met from 1903-1904
- 66th General Assembly that met from 1905-1906
- 67th General Assembly that met from 1907-1908
- 68th General Assembly that met from 1909-1910

Over these twelve years, Richards championed agriculture, conservative budgets, public education for whites, and liquor control. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Richards was a staunch advocate of prohibition.

After an unsuccessful bid for the governorship in 1910, Richards was appointed to the SC Railroad Commission, where he sat for twelve years between 1910 and 1926. During that time, he shifted his political allegiance from Benjamin Ryan Tillman to Coleman Livingston Blease, the victor in the 1910 gubernatorial election. Richards failed to succeed Blease as governor in 1914, and lost a third run for the office 1918. Finally, in his fourth attempt, Richards won the governorship in 1926.

In office, Richards declared war on the board of public welfare, evolution, and the highway and tax commissions, proclaiming the latter “a veiled effort to establish an obligarchy.” He urged strict adherence to the Ten Commandments and ordered the state constabulary to close businesses that violated the Sabbath and even arrested golfers for ignoring state Blue Laws.

Appalled, the New York Times editorialized in March of 1927 that “There is another sport in South Carolina which is not seriously interfered with. This is lynching.” A month later, a Columbia Record poll revealed 249 respondents favored the governor’s position on Sunday activities while 3,943 opposed his interpretation of the Ten Commandments. The state legislature and the state supreme court responded by curtailing Richards’ authority, while popular opinion rejected his actions.

By 1928, Gov. Richards had abandoned his persecution of golfers and concentrated on rallying support for a $65,000,000 road construction project and the upgrading of public schools. Both of these endeavors were tremendously successful under Richards’ stewardship, but were overshadowed by his zealous moral crusade. By the time he left office in 1931, South Carolinians enduring the Great Depression were far more concerned with obtaining the basic necessities of this life than with the narrow moral code of their governor.

Retiring to his farm in Liberty Hill, Richards remained a loyal Democrat and supported Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential campaign, although he simultaneously led opposition in the state to the repeal of national prohibition. John Gardiner Richards died on October 9, 1941, and was buried in the Liberty Hill Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

John Gardiner Richards, Jr. was born in Liberty Hill, SC. Educated at Bingham Military Institute in North Carolina, he was a member of the South Carolina Military Board for four years, and having served with the South Carolina Militia, he retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was a magistrate from 1892 to 1900 and a member of the SC House of Representatives from 1898 to 1910. Richards was also a farmer and a railway authority. A SC Railroad Commissioner from 1910 to 1918 and again from 1922 to 1926, he chaired the Executive National Association of Railways and served as President of the Southeastern Association of Railroad Commissioners. He was a member of the SC Council of Defense during World War I and a SC Tax Commissioner. After waging three unsuccessful gubernatorial campaigns, he was victorious in the election of 1926. During Richards’ administration, the first woman was elected to the state Senate and the legislature authorized a $65 million bond issue to finance highway construction. Richards also was governor when the Great Depression began. He ordered strict enforcement of Sabbatarian laws dating back to the 17th Century, making games and other forms of entertainment illegal on Sunday. The Supreme Court ruled Sabbatarian laws illegal and the state legislature passed a law liberalizing them, but Richards vetoed the bill. He also vetoed legislation making school attendance compulsory. He was responsible for passage of the Forestry Act and legislation enabling acceleration of rural electrification. After leaving office, he served as Chairman of the South Carolina Natural Resources Commission.

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