Franklin Israel Moses, Jr. (1838 – December 11, 1906) was a South Carolina lawyer and editor who became actives as a Republican politician in the state during the Reconstruction Era, elected as governor in 1872 and serving into 1874. Enemies labelled him as the 'Robber Governor', but a 21st-century biographer suggests his crimes were limited compared to those of later Democrats Wade Hampton III and Ben Tillman, who contributed to murders of numerous blacks.[1]

Although a secessionist before the war, Moses was ready to make alliances in the new society afterward. He served in the state legislature from 1868 to 1872, where he was elected as speaker of the House. He supported integration of the state university, establishing new social programs and public funding of old-age pensions, and created a black militia to help protect freedmen from white paramilitary insurgents. He was also unusual for hosting African Americans socially, both as governor and a private citizen.[1]

When Moses was young, his middle initial was confused for the letter J, and thereafter he became known simply as Franklin J. Moses, Jr.; his father also adopted use of the "J."[2] His father Franklin J. Moses, Sr. was an attorney who served as a South Carolina state senator for more than 20 years; in 1866 he was elected as judge to the circuit court, and in 1868 as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.

Early life and career

Moses was born in 1838 in Sumter District, South Carolina, to attorney Franklin J. Moses, Sr. and Jane McLellan. His father was born and reared in a prominent Jewish family of Charleston of Iberian and German descent; and his Scots-Irish mother was a Methodist. Moses was raised as an Episcopalian and was never affiliated with Judaism,[3][4] but he was widely regarded as Jewish because Southerners placed so much emphasis on paternal heritage; his political enemies tried to promote this perception as a tool against him.[5] He enrolled at South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) in 1855, but was honorably dismissed from the freshman class the same year.

After reading the law, Moses was admitted to the bar in South Carolina. In 1860 he was appointed as the private secretary of Governor Francis Wilkinson Pickens, a supporter of secession, at the outbreak of the Civil War, Moses was commissioned as Colonel in the Confederate Army; he served as an enrolling officer for the Confederate Conscription Acts. Moses claimed to have personally lowered the United States flag from over Fort Sumter in 1861.[6]

Like his father, Moses married a Gentile (non-Jewish) woman, Emma Buford Richardson (1841-1920), on December 20, 1869. They had four children together, Franklin J. III (b. 1860); Mary Richardson (b. 12 Sept 1862); Jeannie McLellan, named for his mother (b. 20 Jan 1867-d. 7 Feb 1938), Sumter, South Carolina; and Emma Buford Moses (b. 21 Nov 1872). From June 1, 1866 to September 26, 1867, Moses was editor of the Sumter News, a Conservative paper.

Political career

In 1868, during Reconstruction, Moses was elected for the statewide office of Adjutant and Inspector General on the Republican ticket. In addition, he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives from Charleston and advanced to the speaker of that body. (That same year, his father Franklin J. Moses, Sr. was elected as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.)

While speaker of the House, Moses organized a statewide militia. This 14,000-man body was composed mostly of freedmen and headed by white officers. He used them to protect black voters during a period of intimidation and violence by the Ku Klux Klan and other white insurgents leading up to the 1870 elections, and was not above trying to disrupt Democratic Party meetings and voters. In this period, as noted by historian Benjamin Ginsberg, 'election outcomes depended as much upon the balance of armed force as upon the distribution of political popularity.'[7]

After the legislature appointed Moses as a trustee for the University of South Carolina in 1869, he expressed his goal to integrate the state university in the face of white opposition. Also appointed as trustees that year were Republicans Francis L. Cardozo, who was of mixed race, born free before the war, and earned college and seminary degrees from Scotland; and Benjamin A. Bozeman. They were the first men of color appointed to the University Board of Trustees.[8] Moses encouraged admission of black students, and the college established a preparatory school and 5-year, pre-freshman program to help blacks make up for having been closed out of formal education.[9]

In 1873 Henry E. Hayne, the Republican secretary of state, was the first black student admitted to the college; he studied medicine. This notable event was covered by national media; the New York Times described the mixed-race Hayne, who was born free before the war, “as white as any of his ancestors” (Hayne was known to be a descendant of a white South Carolina statesman.) His racial status alarmed some faculty sufficiently so that they resigned. Moses arranged for new hires.[9]

After Democrats regained control of the state legislature in 1876, the General Assembly closed the college. In 1877 the legislature passed a law restricting admission to whites and ending the preparatory programs. It re-opened in 1880 as a whites-only Morrill Act land grant college.[8] The legislature authorized Claflin College in Orangeburg to serve as the state's land grant college for students of color.[10] No black students were admitted again to the state's flagship university until 1963,[9] years after the US Supreme Court had ruled in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.

Moses supported social programs and the idea of publicly funded old-age pensions. He organized a state militia, staffed mostly by blacks, that helped protect freedmen in years of growing white insurgency to revive white supremacy.[1]

Moses was reelected in 1870 to the House and continued to serve as the speaker. White Democrats accused the legislature of rampant corruption and bribery, but it was also investing in infrastructure, such as railroads, and public welfare institutions, which the pre-war planter-dominated legislature had neglected. The state debt in 1868 stood at $5,407,306, and by 1872 it had risen to $18,350,000, a tripling of the debt in four years. As historian W.E.B. Du Bois noted in his history, Black Reconstruction (1930), one reason that debt increased in numerous Southern states was that Reconstruction legislatures were investing for public purposes; the planter elite had avoided such actions before the war; all education was private, there were few hospitals or other institutions, and the South was behind in investing in railroad construction to improve regional transportation. Du Bois acknowledged there was corruption after the war, but documented that it was generally within limits of comparable periods and tumultuous social conditions.

When Moses was nominated by the Republicans as the candidate for governor, opponents within the party organized to block his election. But with overwhelming black Republican support, Moses was elected in 1872 as the 75th governor of South Carolina. Biographer notes Moses and African Americans, formerly on the margins, were creating new alliances during this period. Serving with Moses were Francis Cardozo, secretary of state and Robert De Large, elected as state land commissioner and later as US Representative, both of whom were mixed-race sons of enslaved mothers and Jewish fathers.[11]

As Governor, Moses became known for his extravagant use of state money. He spent $40,000 to buy the Preston mansion to use as the official governor's residence. During his two years as governor, with a salary of $3,500, he spent $40,000 on living expenses, which included official entertaining. What really rankled many white Democrats was that he officially entertained black colleagues and politicians at the mansion.

In 1874, Governor Moses was indicted by allies of Wade Hampton III for misappropriation of state funds. Democrat Hampton would run for governor in 1876 and finally win the election, amidst evidence of vote fraud and preceded by numerous violent attacks against freedmen by paramilitary white groups supporting his candidacy. Moses ordered four companies of the militia in Columbia to prevent his arrest by the Democrats. The court ruled that Moses could not be prosecuted while governor and could be charged only through impeachment by the state legislature. (His father Franklin J. Moses, Sr. had served since 1868 as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.)

Historian Benjamin Ginsberg's 21st-century biography notes that Moses also had substantial achievements in civil rights goals for African Americans. He considers Moses to be a forerunner of what became an African-American and Jewish alliances in the 20th century. He believes that as Moses was on the margin of planter society, he chose to ally with the newly enfranchised freedmen in trying to create a new society.[12]

Later life

Upon leaving office in 1874, Moses was chosen by the General Assembly to a seat on the circuit court, but Republican Governor Chamberlain blocked his appointment and it was opposed by many within the party because of his reputation for corruption while governor.

In 1876, the Democrats regained control of state politics in the legislature and with the victory of Wade Hampton III as governor who, even with fraud, won with less than a 1200-vote margin statewide. For example, heavily contested Edgefield and Laurens counties each counted more votes for Hampton than the total number of registered voters. With the withdrawal of federal troops from the state and other parts of the South in 1877, in a compromise supporting Hampton, the Reconstruction era was over. Moses' wife Emma Buford Richardson filed for divorce in 1878, and Moses left the state shortly thereafter.

He had a troubled later life. On September 17, 1878, he was arrested in New York City for forging a note of $316.[13] He was delivered to authorities in South Carolina, who allowed him to escape.[13] He was arrested again for fraud in New York City in 1881, and in Chicago in 1884.[13]

Moses settled in Winthrop, Massachusetts, and became the editor of the local newspaper as well as the moderator of the town meetings. In October 1884, he was accused of swindling $15 from a Rev. E. L. Rexford and, during his imprisonment, tried to hang himself in his cell.[14] He was sentenced to three years in the Massachusetts State Prison in 1885 for committing petty theft and fraud several times.[15] Believing Moses did not have long to live, as his drug addictions had ruined his health, Governor Oliver Ames pardoned the attorney in 1887. In 1902, Moses was sentenced by the Boston Municipal Court to four months imprisonment for larceny of an overcoat.[16] Estranged from his family, Moses died by asphyxiation from a gas stove on December 11, 1906.[17] He was buried in Winthrop.


Enemies called him the Robber Governor.[18]


  1. ^ a b c Ginsberg, 2010, p. 2.
  2. ^ Gregorie, p. 94-95, 326-637.
  3. ^ Elzas, p. 199.
  4. ^ Reznikoff, p. 160.
  5. ^ Ginsberg, 2010, p. 1.
  6. ^ Williamson, p. 374.
  7. ^ Benjamin Ginsberg, The Fatal Embrace-Jews and the State, 1993
  8. ^ a b Henry H. Lesesne, A History of the University of South Carolina, 1940-2000, University of South Carolina Press, 2001, p. 2
  9. ^ a b c '1873-1877, The End of Reconstruction', University of South Carolina, Office of Multicultural Student Affairs
  10. ^ Reynolds, pp. 236-237.
  11. ^ Ginsberg, 2010, p.9
  12. ^ Ginsberg, pp. 4–5.
  13. ^ a b c Byrne, p. 171.
  14. ^ Watchman and Southron, Vol IV, No. 15
  15. ^ Gille, pp. 120-122.
  16. ^,6589366&hl=en
  17. ^
  18. ^ Reynolds, p. 266.


  • Elzas, Barnett A. (1905). The Jews of South Carolina. J. B. Lippincott Company. 
  • Byrnes, Thomas (1969). 1886 Professional Criminals of America. New York: Chelsea House Publishers. OCLC 332364
  • Gille, Frank H., ed. (2000). The Encyclopedia of South Carolina (2nd ed.). Somerset Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-403-09347-3. 
  • Ginsberg, Benjamin (1993). The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State. University of Chicago. 
  • Ginsberg, Benjamin. Moses of South Carolina: A Jewish Scalawag During Radical Reconstruction (Johns Hopkins University Press; 2010)
  • Gregorie, Anne King (1954). History of Sumter County, South Carolina. Library Board of Sumter County. 
  • Reynolds, John S. (1969). Reconstruction in South Carolina. Negro University Press. ISBN 0-8371-1638-4. 
  • Reznikoff, Charles (1950). The Jews of Charleston. Jewish Publication Society of America. 
  • Williamson, Joel (1990). After Slavery: the Negro in South Carolina during Reconstruction, 1861-1877. University Press of New England.