Rutledge was first elected to the First Continental Congress in July 1774. In August that same year, at age 26, he became the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence.

In 1779, he was appointed a Lieutenant Colonel in the Charleston Battalion of Artillery, and he served under General William Moultrie in the victory over the British forces under Major Gardiner, driving them from Port Royal Island in the Battle of Beaufort. A year later he was taken prisoner during the British siege of Charleston on May 12, 1780. Rutledge was held in a prison off the coast of St. Augustine for 11 months and was exchanged in July 1781.

Rutledge served in the South Carolina State House of Representatives from 1782 to 1796. From 1796 to 1798 he was elected as State Senator and in 1798 was elected as Governor of South Carolina. Rutledge voted in favor of ratification of the U.S. Constitution in South Carolina’s Constitutional Convention in 1790–1791. During his time in the legislature Rutledge drew up the act which abolished primogeniture, worked to give equitable distribution of the real estate of intestates, and voted against opening the African slave trade.

Rutledge died in Charleston on January 23, 1800, while still Governor and was buried in St. Philip’s Churchyard Cemetery. In 1969 a historical marker was installed at the entrance to St. Philip’s Churchyard by the South Carolina Daughters of the Revolution honoring both Edward Rutledge and Charles Pinckney.