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One of his legacies was South Carolina's 1895 constitution, which disenfranchised most of the black majority and ensured white rule for more than half a century.Before Tillman Sr.'s death from typhoid fever in 1849, he had killed a man and been convicted of rioting by an Edgefield jury.
He returned to Bethany in 1864, intending a final year of study prior to entering the South Carolina College (today, the University of South Carolina).The South's desperate need for soldiers ended this plan, and in June 1864, still not yet 17, he withdrew from the academy, making arrangements to join a coastal artillery unit.These plans were scuttled as well when he fell ill at home.During his four years in office, 18 African Americans were lynched in South Carolina—the 1890s saw the most lynchings of any decade in South Carolina.Tillman tried to prevent lynchings, but spoke in support of the lynch mobs, stating his own willingness to lead one. Tillman was known as "Pitchfork Ben" because of his aggressive language, as when he threatened to use one to prod that "bag of beef", President Grover Cleveland.Gary and Butler deemed compromises with black leaders to be misguided; they felt white men must be restored to their antebellum position of preeminent political power in the state.
They proposed that white men form clandestine paramilitary organizations—known as "rifle clubs"—and use force and intimidation to drive the African American from power.
As African Americans generally favored the Republican Party at the time, that party controlled the biracial state legislature beginning with the 1868 elections.
In 1873, two Edgefield lawyers and former Confederate generals, Martin Gary and Matthew C.
The first federal campaign finance law, banning corporate contributions, is commonly called the Tillman Act.
Tillman was repeatedly re-elected, serving in the Senate for the rest of his life.
He was initially unsuccessful, though he was instrumental in the founding of Clemson University as an agricultural school.