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Rembert Coney Dennis papers

"He walked with and was one of the giants in the South Carolina Senate, and when he left the Senate, it was truly the end of that era." Thus, Isadore Lourie characterized the passing of Rembert Coney Dennis (1915-1992), who served in the South Carolina House from 1939 to 1942, when he was elected to represent Berkeley County in the Senate. He served in the Senate from 1943 until 1988, and became one of the most influential legislators of his time.

Rembert Dennis was born in 1915 in Pinopolis to Edward James and Ella Mae Coney Dennis. He graduated from Berkeley High School and while in school worked for three years as a Senate page. He graduated from Furman University in 1936 with a B.A. degree. At Furman, Dennis was elected president of the student council, played football, and ran track. He took a job with the U.S. Maritime Commission in Washington after graduation and began law school at Georgetown. In 1940 he received his law degree from the University of South Carolina. Upon his election to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1938, Dennis became the third generation of the Dennis family to represent Berkeley County in the General Assembly.

In 1942, Dennis sought and won election to the South Carolina Senate, following his father and grandfather before him. Conscious that his action opened him to criticism as a slacker, Dennis, in a taped interview with historian Dale Rosengarten, recalled—"I had a burning desire to fill the seat that my father had lost by assassination and my mother had lost because it was too early for women to be accepted for higher office....It was my feeling that I was going to be severely criticized for running for political office when I was of the age that I was expected to be in military service....I decided I would run and abide by the results and publicly stated that it was their [the public's] decision and I would be a volunteer for service if I didn't win."

Dennis was an able legislator, a coalition builder who promoted fiscal conservatism yet social progressivism. Between 1943 and his retirement in 1988, he ascended to lead the Senate, succeeding Edgar Brown as chairman of the Finance Committee in 1972, and in 1984, following the death of his close friend Marion Gressette, as president pro tem of the Senate.

In recalling his ambition, Dennis commented that, during the early 1950s, "I wanted to be governor, and then United States Senator. I thought I was a good candidate then for anything, but maybe President. But as I served I learned. The more I learned, the more I found out the less I knew....I thought, when I got to be Chairman of the Finance Committee, with my years of seniority, I was getting along about as good as the governor, but I had a desire to get into the national picture. I gave it up quickly when I got so busy as Senator, and Chairman of the Finance Committee."

Ill health forced Dennis to retire from public life in 1988. He suffered a heart attack in 1976 and was involved in serious automobile accidents in 1984 and 1985. He died in 1992 at the age of seventy-six.

The papers of Rembert C. Dennis, ca. 1938-1992, consist of seven and a half linear feet of personal and public papers arranged in six series: General, Speeches, Topical Files, Audio-Visual Recordings, Clippings, and Scrapbook Material. Unfortunately, the bulk of Dennis' papers were destroyed in a 1985 fire that devastated his home.

General files include personal and public correspondence and press releases. Of particular interest is Dennis' 1978 handwritten memorandum "Legislative Priorities and Pending Legislation for the Coming Session." Material from 1984 includes letters to Dennis on his selection as President Pro Tempore and a copy of his acceptance speech before the Senate. Papers from 1988 document his decision not to seek re-election.

Topical files contain notes and interview questions of historian Dale Rosengarten for her extensive oral history with Dennis and the edited and verbatim transcripts of that interview. Editing was performed by South Caroliniana Library graduate assistant Colleen Bradley in partial fulfillment of Master's degree requirements. Audiovisual materials include photographs and the cassette recordings of the Rosengarten interview. Scrapbook material includes clippings, invitations, programs, and awards assembled by Dennis, his family, and staff.

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