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James B. Edwards

James Burrows Edwards (born June 24, 1927) is a politician and administrator from South Carolina. He was the first Republican to be elected the Governor of South Carolina since Reconstruction.


Early life and career

Edwards was born in Hawthorne, Florida, and was an officer in the U.S. Maritime Service during World War II. He continued his service in the U.S. Naval Reserve after the war. Edwards received a bachelors degree in 1950 at the College of Charleston where he was a brother of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. He received a D.M.D. in 1955 from the University of Louisville, and did some post-graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Returning to Charleston, Edwards established a dentistry practice in 1960 that specialized in oral surgery. Consequently, he held a variety of positions associated with dentistry in the community.

Political career

In 1970, Edwards was chairman of the Republican Party for the First Congressional District of South Carolina. In that capacity, as a supporter of Republican U.S. Representative Albert Watson for governor, Edwards claimed that Watson's Democratic opponent, John C. West, had worked covertly in 1969 against the nomination of South Carolina's Clement Haynsworth to the United States Supreme Court. The Nixon nominee failed in the U.S. Senate, 55 to 45, on grounds of alleged bias against organized labor. Edwards predicted that West as governor would install "an ultra-liberal, minority-dominated state government," citing West's political ties to Hubert H. Humphrey and Roy Wilkins, longtime executive director of the NAACP.[1]

Edwards first appeared as a candidate himself in 1971, when he entered a special election to fill the vacancy in the Charleston-centered First Congressional District caused by the death of longtime incumbent L. Mendel Rivers. Edwards narrowly lost to one of Rivers' staffers, Mendel Jackson Davis, in what was the first truly competitive race in the district in memory.[2]

Edwards gained enough name recognition from his strong showing in the special election that he was elected to the South Carolina Senate as a Republican from Charleston County. Two years later, he entered the governor's race as a long-shot candidate. However, Edwards upset General William Westmoreland in the Republican primary, and then defeated Democratic Congressman William Jennings Bryan Dorn in the general election, thus becoming the first Republican governor of the state since Daniel Henry Chamberlain in 1876. Edwards was one of the few bright spots in what was otherwise a very bad year for Republicans due to Watergate (and revulsion against the Vietnam War, a factor that may well have contributed to the defeat of Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces during the late 1960s).

Later career

At that time South Carolina Governors were not allowed to serve two terms in succession, so Edwards was unable to seek re-election in 1978. In 1981, U.S. President Ronald W. Reagan appointed Edwards to be the Secretary of Energy. He resigned two years later to serve as the President of the Medical University of South Carolina, a post that he held for seventeen years. In 1997, Edwards was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame. In 2008, Edwards endorsed former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts for his party's presidential nomination.

As governor and thereafter, Edwards developed a close friendship with his Democratic predecessor, John West, whom he had earlier accused of undermining the Haynsworth nomination.

In 2010, the new MUSC dental building and the dental school was renamed in his honor as the "James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine".


  1. Charleston News & Courier, September 25, 1970
  2. 1971 special election results from South Carolina's 1st District

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