Christopher Gustavus Memminger

Christopher Gustavus Memminger (1803-1888), American politician, was a South Carolina legislator and secretary of the Treasury in the Confederate government.

Christopher G. Memminger was born in Würtemberg, Germany, on Jan. 9, 1803. After the death of his father, Memminger and his mother emigrated to Charleston, S.C. When his mother died, he was taken into the home of Thomas Bennett, later governor of the state. After graduating from South Carolina College in 1819, Memminger studied law and then established a successful practice in Charleston.

Memminger wrote a satirical pamphlet attacking the leaders of the nullification movement (to nullify recent Federal tariff acts) of the 1830s. He became a member of South Carolina's House of Representatives in 1836 and, as chairman of the finance committee, began a lengthy struggle to reform state finances and the practices of the banking community. His advocacy of such reforms earned him a reputation as a sound adviser in matters of public finance.

In 1855 Memminger became Charleston's commissioner of schools (a position he held for more than 30 years) and began efforts to create a city public school system. He also served on the board of South Carolina College for 32 years.

Although fully convinced of the righteousness of slavery and apprehensive of the designs of antislavery propagandists, Memminger generally acted with the conservative Democrats of South Carolina. By December 1859, however, he had taken the position that, by seceding by itself from the Union, South Carolina could "break things up" and "drag" others with it. Memminger was an active member of the state secession convention and a delegate to the Southern convention at Montgomery, Ala. He served as chairman of the committee that drafted the provisional constitution of the Confederate States.

Confederate president Jefferson Davis named Memminger secretary of the Treasury in 1861, not so much in recognition of his reputed financial abilities as to give his state a Cabinet position. Although hesitant to employ financial means against currency inflation, Memminger was forced to issue great quantities of treasury notes. Throughout the war he promoted the sale of Confederate bonds in vain, and his attempts at direct taxation, "produce loans," and other funding schemes were mismanaged by the Confederate Congress. Rapid depreciation of the currency was inevitable, and when Confederate credit collapsed completely, Memminger was generally held responsible.

Public clamor forced Memminger to resign in June 1864, and he retired to Flat Rock, N.C. In 1867 he resumed his law practice in Charleston. His chief public service in the postwar years was on behalf of public schools for both races in Charleston. He died in Charleston on March 7, 1888.


Further Reading on Christopher Gustavus Memminger

Henry D. Capers, The Life and Times of C. G. Memminger (1893), contains excellent quotations from many useful documents.