William Aiken, Governor, S.C. between c.1860 - c.1865. Photographed by Mathew Benjamin Brady. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
(1806-1887) Aiken was born in Charleston to William Aiken and Henrietta Wyatt. Aiken received his early education from private schools in Charleston and was graduated from South Carolina College in 1825. Aiken made a fortune raising cotton and rice and was equally successful in his investments in railroads and other businesses. In 1831, Aiken married Harriet Lowndes, a union that produced one daughter, Henrietta.
Aiken was a member of the S.C. House of Representatives from 1838-1842, when he was then elected to the S.C. Senate where served the next two years. On December 7, 1844, Aiken was elected governor by the General Assembly. As a Unionist, Aiken opposed the radical views which called for secession if Texas was not annexed to the United States as a slave state. Focusing instead on economic development in South Carolina, Governor Aiken placed particular emphasis on railroad expansion throughout the state. In 1845 he called on legislators to convert the state’s surplus revenue fund into a revolving fund to supply capital to private railroad companies. Furthermore, Aiken asked the legislature to purchase stock in railroad companies chartered in South Carolina. The General Assembly proved unwilling to support the ambitious plan during Aiken’s tenure, but approved a similar plan a year after Aiken left office.
On December 8, 1846, Aiken completed his term and retired to his plantation, but he remained politically active. He supported John C. Calhoun’s efforts to establish a newspaper in Washington that would represent among other things, “Southern views on the subject of slavery.” This was accomplished in 1850 with the short lived Southern Press. That year, Aiken was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served from 1851 until 1857.
Although opposed to both nullification and secession, Aiken gave financial support to the Confederacy during the Civil War. On the defeat of the Confederacy, he was arrested and briefly detained in Washington. Aiken was again elected to the Congress. But on presenting his credentials in February 1867, he was denied his seat by northern members. William Aiken, Jr., is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston.