James Henry Hammond was the son of Elisha Hammond and Catherine Fox Spann of Edgefield, Hammond was born on November 15, 1807, in the Newberry District. Educated at home by his father, he entered South Carolina College, at the age of sixteen.
While his academic record was not great, Hammond positioned himself to be president of the famous Euphradian Literary Society where he was able to sharpen his debating skills. After graduating in 1826 he began learning law with William Harper and William Campbell Preston. He was admitted to the South Carolina bar in December 1828.
Hammond matured politically during the nullification crisis as he leaned more to the idea of a state veto of federal laws. In January 1830 he accepted the top position of the Columbia Southern Times, Hammond’s opinionated editorials did not go unnoticed.
Many of South Carolina’s nullifying leaders such as John C. Calhoun became interested in Hammond, they were not only impressed with Hammond’s stand on nullification but also how he dealt with Unionist congressman James Blair and Unionist editor C. F. Daniels. A duel between Hammond and Blair was barely prevented and after trading a series of heated editorials, Hammond was entangled in a public brawl with C. F. Daniels who was the Unionist editor of the Camden Journal at the time.
Hammond was able to gain social respectability which would help his political ambitions when he married a lowcountry heiress Catherine Fitzsimons on June 23, 1831. The marriage to Fitzsimons brought with it a large plantation, Silver Bluff, in Barnwell District where the couple would have eight children.
Hammond rapidly soared to the peak of South Carolina society, but the next few years he began to spend more time at his Silver Bluff plantation as he was having to deal with unmanageable slaves. While being absorbed in his plantation, Hammond lost an election to the state convention that nullified the federal tariff laws of 1828 and 1832.
Hammond was able to bounce back from the loss when President Andrew Jackson proceeded with a proclamation against nullification, South Carolina Governor Robert Y. Hayne appointed Hammond as one of his aides. With Hammond back in the political limelight he was elected to Congress in October 1834. In 1836 he abruptly withdrew from politics because of ill health and went on an extended tour of Europe.
When Hammond returned to South Carolina he began aiming for the governorship. John C. Calhoun’s political machine led by Franklin H. Elmore and Robert Barnwell Rhett supported the former Unionist John P. Richardson to effect a reconciliation between nullifiers and Unionists. Hammond suffered a decisive defeat in the gubernatorial election of 1840 but two years later, in 1842, he was elected South Carolina’s Governor with the support of the Rhett-Elmore group.
Several political failures and personal misdeeds followed Hammond during his time as Governor. His brother-in-law, Wade Hampton II, broke off contact with Hammond when he learned Hammond’s transgressions with his daughters who ages ranged from thirteen to seventeen. Following Hammond’s term as governor he left Columbia when he got word that Wade Hampton II sons had said they would have him horsewhipped if they found Hammond in Columbia.
Catherine Hammond stood by Hammond during this time, in 1849 James and Catherine had their eight child, daughter Elizabeth. The newfound happiness did not last long, in December 1850 Catherine left Hammond because of an affair he was having with a slave named Louisa, whom Hammond refused to give up. After a two year absence Catherine returned to Silver Bluff after Hammond sent Louisa away to Charleston, but a few months later Louisa retuned to Silver Bluff as well.
In 1857 the legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate because of his relative independence from the two opposing factions, the secessionists and the National Democrats, ending his break from state politics. As senator, Hammond alienated secessionists by arguing that the South could dominate the Union through the Democratic Party.
After Lincoln’s election, he resigned from the Senate and supported secession and the establishment of the Confederacy. During the Civil War, Hammond remained committed to the idea of a southern nation and died on November 13, 1864, his body consumed by mercury poisoning.