Beginning early in the 19th century, Edgefield developed a strong tradition of political leadership, contributing ten South Carolina governors, five lieutenant governors, and seven United States Senators. Many of these leaders practiced law; others were soldiers and planters.
George McDuffie led the state in the nullification movement of the 1820's and 30's. William Barrett Travis and James Butler Bonham led the fight for Texas Independence at the Alamo. Preston Brooks propelled South Carolina towards Secession. Francis Pickens and Milledge Bonham led the state during the War Between the States. Martin Witherspoon Gary and Matthew Calbraith Butler led the 1876 effort to "redeem" the state from radical Republicans. "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman led South Carolina farmers in the 1890 campaign to wrest control of the state from the ineffective "Bourbon" leaders.
In the 20th century, Strom Thurmond established a remarkable record of courageous leadership, spanning an extraordinary period of over three quarters of a century. Educators Benjamin Mays and Charles Gomillion provided key leadership in the civil rights movement.
Lesser known, but equally heroic, were many Edgefield women who contributed significantly to the political-social and religious life of the region.
William Watts Ball, an eminent South Carolina journalist and historian, wrote: "Edgefield has had more dashing, brilliant, romantic figures, statesmen, orators, soldiers, adventurers, and daredevils, than any other county of South Carolina, if not of any rural county of America."