Significance: Because of his experience in legal matters, Smith was offered the appointment of associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1829 and again in 1836. He declined on both occasions.
Smith graduated from Mount Zion College at the age of eighteen, adopted law as his profession, and studied in a law office in Charleston, South Carolina. He was admitted to the bar in 1784. From 1802 to 1808 he served in the South Carolina senate. Smith was then elected judge of the South Carolina circuit court and served in that capacity until 1816. On December 4, 1816, he was chosen to fill an unexpired term in the U.S. Senate, and he continued there until 1824. He was again elected to the Senate in 1826, serving until 1831. Smith twice served as president pro tempore of the Senate. A strong supporter of President Andrew Jackson, Smith was rewarded with a presidential nomination to the Supreme Court in 1829, but he declined, hoping instead to run for the vice presidency. Believing in a strict construction of the Constitution, Smith firmly opposed the national bank, internal improvements, and protective tariffs. He was one of the first to defend slavery as being positive. In 1836 President Jackson again offered Smith an associate justiceship in the Supreme Court, but he declined the position for a second time.