The wreck of the Civil War submarine Hunley (which I found in 1970 and donated to the State in 1995) has been described by government officials as the greatest underwater archaeological discovery of the twentieth century. As such, it is clearly worth being preserved. But at what costs? Numerous articles in South Carolina papers have put a focus on spending, giving the potential financial costs as high as $100,000,000. There have been articles both pro and con for spending the money. However, I believe they have missed an important and salient fact. The control of the wreck was placed under the South Carolina Hunley Commission, but that was done at at another expense, that expense being the sacrifice of important principles and rights guaranteed under South Carolina’s Constitution.
Article 1, Section 8 of the South Carolina Constitution states: In the government of this State, the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the government shall be forever separate and distinct from each other, and no person or persons exercising the functions of one of said departments shall assume or discharge the duties of any other.
This has not been followed in the case of the Hunley. When the Hunley Commission was started, it was actually created as a committee of the General Assembly. By law, all commissions report annually to the Secretary of State. The Hunley Commission never has. Both Attorney General McMasters and the very language of its creation say that the Hunley Commission is a committee. With its mandatory makeup of one-third of its membership appointed from the House and one-third from the Senate, the Hunley Commission was clearly meant to be controlled by General Assembly (i.e. the Legislative Department) not the Executive Department. But the law that created the Commission, Section 54-7-100 of the South Carolina Code, gives the Hunley Commission the exclusive right to exercise the applicable duties and responsibilities of the State Archaeologist and the Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology, (which are offices of the Executive Department) as listed under Article 5, Chapter 7, of Title 54.
It should be clear to the Governor, the Attorney General, all the State’s judges, and every member of the House and Senate, that the Hunley Commission has been created and operates in direct violation of Section 8 of the State Constitution, and is therefore unconstitutional.
Now that the Hunley Commission’s original chairman, Glenn McConnell, has lost that position due to a Constitutional requirement that he give up his Senate seat (and with it his powerful position as Senator Pro Tem) to assume the seat of the Lt. Governor, who was forced to resign due to ethics violations, I suspect McConnell will suddenly “see the light” and support legislation placing control of the Commission under the Executive Branch and in particular under the direct supervision and control of none other than himself, as Lt. Governor. There is already talk of legislation that would accomplish that.
Based on South Carolina’s Constitution, control of the Hunley does belong under the Executive Branch, and I think it should be there. But I think it would be a real travesty to place it back under McConnell’s control after his using his power in the Senate to usurp the Executive Branch’s rights and powers (relative to the Hunley) from 1995 through 2012. If the Governor and/or the legislature allows that, they will simply be showing that South Carolina’s Constitution has never mattered and that the people who violate it should be ultimately rewarded, not censured. As a Lt. Governor, McConnell is effectively out of real power, lets not return any of his former power to him. Instead, lets comply with the Constitution and try to insure that the Hunley’s story is told accurately and properly, and in a way that is realistic and truthful, and limits the costs, all costs.
Final Note: Despite my personal interest in the Hunley, I do not think that the South Carolina’s taxpayers should bear the burden of funding its ongoing preservation and future museum display. As the world’s first successful submarine, the Hunley is a historical and archaeological treasure, and as such should be funded nationally (or even internationally), but not solely through tax dollars. I think the majority of the funding should come from private donations and paid admissions. And, in any case, the Hunley should not become a monument to the Confederacy or to any politician’s inflated ego.
Senator McConnell’s Change in Political Office Bodes Well for Hunley at https://hunleyfinder.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/senator-mcconnells-change-in-political-office-bodes-well-for-hunley/ and see:
“The Discovery of the Hunley by Dr. E. Lee Spence” or, “Who found the Hunley first, Spence or Cussler?” (https://hunleyfinder.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/the-discovery-of-the-hunley-by-dr-e-lee-spence-or-who-found-the-hunley-first-spence-or-cussler/)