Portraits of Thomas Cooper, James H. Thornwell, Francis Lieber, and John LeConte

Slavery at South Carolina College, 1801–1865:

The Foundations of the University of South Carolina

Names on the Landscape

Many of antebellum South Carolina’s prominent men were associated with South Carolina College as students, professors, or presidents. Not surprisingly, the institution of slavery often dominated their conversations, whether the topic turned to politics, economics, law, or religion. These men expressed a variety of viewpoints about the institution. Some, like John and Joseph LeConte, defended it on paternalistic grounds, while others, like Thomas Cooper, insisted that the nineteenth-century economy demanded an efficient, inexpensive labor force. A few South Carolinians, like Henry DeSaussure, dissented from these arguments, viewing slavery as a necessary evil that was eventually doomed. Only a handful openly identified themselves as abolitionists; Francis Lieber was one. The visible influence these men exerted on intellectual thought in the state, both at the college and in public life, stands in stark contrast to the seeming invisibility of the slaves they regularly interacted with at the college. Profiled on this website are only a handful of these figures. All are remembered today through the campus buildings that bear their names.