The Civil War in Fifty Minutes, Part 1 (History Lesson Plans, 12)

[Note:  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my approach to the Civil War has had its ups and downs.  By the time the Civil War Centennial opened in 1960, I had become interested in the conflict; so interested that, by the time I graduated from high school in 1962, I was suffering a case of “Civil War burnout.” 

In college, I spent my time trying to learn as much as I could about history worldwide, without actually studying the American Civil War in any detail.  My trip into the past was interrupted by two years of active duty in the U.S. Army following my graduation from college, during what we now know was the turning point of the War in Vietnam (1966-1968).

Then, in grad school, I wound up in a year-long course on the Civil War, taught by a recognized expert in the lives of the war’s common soldiers.  Although it was an interesting course, we didn’t get much beyond the battle of Gettysburg, if memory serves.

Once I began teaching Advanced Placement (and “Regular”) American History at an Atlanta “prep school” in 1973, I had changed my mind about the war that had been, according to my grad school professor, the “watershed” in this nation’s history.  I no longer wished to approach America’s wars from the viewpoint of “drums and trumpets history.” 

What follows is my attempt to teach about the Civil War in my high school American History courses, in the form of a lecture brazenly entitled “The Civil War in 50 Minutes.”  I used it after we had looked in some detail at the history of the United States from the end of the Mexican-American War through the Confederate assault on Ft. Sumter, in Charleston (S.C.) harbor (1848-1861).  My approach to the coming of the Civil War emphasized the role of slavery as the most important cause of the war.]

* * * * *

Comparative Resources in 1861

The number of men available to serve was a definite Northern advantage:  twenty-three Northern states (including Kentucky and Missouri, which were Northern slave states) had a population of 22,000,000; the eleven Southern states had a population of 9,000,000, but of these, 3,500,000 were slaves and another 150,000 were free Negroes. 

The North also had the edge when it came to material resources.  For example, between 1830 and 1860, the North had become more and more industrialized, and so those states were much better prepared for the all-important conversion to wartime production required by the outbreak of hostilities.  5,100,000 urban residents in the North were engaged in manufacturing in 1860.

The South developed a few textile factories, but it had become increasingly committed to agriculture between 1830 and 1860.  As a result, in 1860, only 166,803 urban residents in the South were engaged in manufacturing. 

The North enjoyed a similar edge in the development of natural resources, for the simple reason that the South’s coal and iron deposits were largely untapped by 1860.  Moreover, the nation’s financial resources (money, credit, and banking facilities), were located almost exclusively in the North.  Lacking hard currency, the South had to depend upon paper money, with a few loans.  By the end of the war, Southern currency was almost worthless, with one dollar in paper equal to one cent in hard money.  (By early 1962, both governments had resorted to paper money, though, which meant that the North also worried about inflation.) 

Another Northern advantage was in the naval and merchant marine vessels at its disposal.  The Union navy had seven hundred ships, including shallow-draft gunboats that were supposed to provide effective collaboration with the Union army in the west.  At its peak, on the other hand, the Confederate navy had about forty vessels.  It was obvious that, when war broke out and major European powers recognized the Confederacy as a belligerent, the Union would be required under international law to impose a blockade of the Southern coastline, and the size of the Union navy would give the North an edge.

Yet another Northern advantage was in the area of transportation and communications.  At the outbreak of war, there were 22,000 miles of railroad tracks in the North.  The North also possessed an ample supply of rolling stock (locomotives and train cars) as well as better facilities to repair and replace them. 

In the Confederacy in 1860, there were about 9,000 miles of railroad tracks, but of an inferior quality to those of the Union, and with less rolling stock available.  The sole repair and replacement facility in the South, Richmond’s Tredegar Iron Works, was diverted early on to the manufacture of cannons, iron plate, and munitions. 

The number of trained mechanics in the Northern states far exceeded those in the South.  The Union also had a constant influx of immigrants, including 180,000 males of military age during the war. 

There also was greater diversity of talent among the people of the North.  Not only were there more Northerners with technical and mechanical skills, but there also were more Northerners who were experienced in organization and administration.  Southerners, on the other hand, were mostly experienced in running plantations, few of which were models of organizational efficiency. 

The South did have the advantage of interior lines.  This meant that, to win the war, Union forces would have to invade Confederate territory and defeat Rebel armies, while the Southerners would be able to shift their forces to meet attacks at various points, using their railroads. 

Another advantage enjoyed by the South, at least initially, was in military leadership, especially on the all-important regimental and company levels.  Upper-class Southerners attended the United States Military Academy at West Point in greater numbers than did their Northern counterparts.  Once in the army, Southerners tended to remain longer than did Northerners, who were more likely to be attracted by the alluring prospects of the business world. 

Moreover, the military profession was popular in the South, where there were numerous militia units, not to mention the slave patrols used to restrict the freedom of movement of the region’s slaves. 

Officers of the ranks of colonel and below were elected in both armies.  Those chosen usually had raised and equipped their units.  In the South, these officers tended to be planters or their sons, most of whom were recognized as leaders and possessed at least a modicum of military training.  In the North, on the other hand, officers elected were usually the most prosperous community leaders or the most popular politicians, but they possessed little military experience. 

The odds in 1861 were not so much in favor of the Union as the listing above might indicate.  The South might very well succeed if it could parlay its initial military advantages into early victories on the battlefield, and combine them with diplomatic recognition by one of more of the major European powers.  On the other hand, if the conflict became protracted, for whatever reason, the odds would increasingly favor the North.

* * * * *

Military Campaigns, 1861-1862

The first real battle of the Civil War occurred at Manassas (Bull Run), on July 21, 1861, and it was a Confederate victory.  As a result, Southerners believed that the completion of their drive for independence was within their grasp.  On the other hand, Northerners suddenly realized that war was a serious business. 

In 1862, the war saw initial Union victories in the West, and a standoff in the East. 

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (wikimedia.org)

In the West, the most important development was the rise to command of Union General Ulysses S. Grant, who began with three victories in the western theatre.  In February 1862, a combined land and river force under Grant took Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, which opened a water route into the heartland of the Confederacy. 

On April 6-7, Confederate forces under Albert Sidney Johnston caught Grant by surprise at Shiloh, but the Union commander recovered his poise and succeeded in driving the Confederates from the field.  Total casualties (killed, wounded, missing, for both armies) at Shiloh were over 23,000, exceeding the combined totals of the Revolutionary War, the Mexican-American War, and the War of 1812.  Finally, on April 27, 1862, New Orleans fell to the Union, which gave the Northern forces control of the mouth of the Mississippi River, cutting the Confederacy in two. 

Meanwhile, in the Eastern theatre, a series of hapless Union generals demonstrated a common failing—the inability to defeat the Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

 

Gen. Robert E. Lee (wikipedia)

In June, 1862, Union General George B. McClellan landed forces on Virginia’s James River Peninsula, but suffered defeat in a series of battles known as the Seven Days’, and then returned to Washington, D.C.  McClellan’s successor, General John Pope, lost to Lee at Second Manassas (Bull Run) on August 29-30. 

Following Pope’s disgrace, McClellan returned to command the Union forces in the East.  Although he was lucky enough to obtain a copy of General Lee’s battle plan, the unhappy McClellan could do no better than a draw at Sharpsburg (Antietam) on September 17.  Antietam was the bloodiest single day in the Civil War, with 23,000 total casualties, including  Six thousand American (Union and Confederate) dead, almost as many colonial troops as were killed during the Revolutionary War.

Lee, who had hoped to tip the balance in favor of European recognition of the Confederacy by a strong showing in Maryland, retreated into Virginia.  President Abraham Lincoln used this occasion, which was as close to a victory as his forces would get for a while, to issue the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22.  The final version of the Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, but it only affected slaves in areas still under Confederate control.  This had little immediate effect on Southern slaves.  There was neither a flood of refugee slaves nor insurrections on Southern plantations.

Antietam did deal a permanent setback to the Confederacy’s hopes for foreign recognition, because antislavery feeling was quite strong in Europe, especially in England. 

Then, in December, Union General Ambrose Burnside’s forces were bloodily repulsed by the Confederates of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at the battle of Fredericksburg.

End of Part I

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

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Fourth of July Oratory in Antebellum Georgia, 2 (Thomas U.P. Charlton, Savannah,1815)–In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 35




[Note:  Last year, I offered a “blast from the past” about the celebration of Independence Day in Antebellum Georgia, a summary and analysis of a 4th of July oration delivered in 1838 in the small town of Hawkinsville by Dr. William Germany.  

The Independence Day oration I’m featuring this time is from 1815; the location is the Presbyterian Church in Savannah; and the speaker is Thomas U.P. Charlton.  It is important to put the speaker—and the speech—into historical context.  Thomas Usher Pulaski Charlton (1779-1835), was one of the “children of the Revolution,” youngsters who had grown up in the shadow of America’s War for Independence.  Charlton’s father Thomas was a physician who served the American cause during the war.  Charlton senior died when his son Thomas was young, and in 1791 his widow, Lucy Keenan Charlton, and the boy, moved to Savannah.

* * * * *

James Jackson (1757-1806), Georgia’s first “political boss,” and T.U.P. Charlton’s mentor

Thomas U.P. Charlton was educated in Savannah and always considered it his home. He was admitted to the bar in 1800; elected to the state legislature at age 21; and chosen attorney-general of Georgia at 25. He, along with future governor and U.S. Senator George M. Troup, were important cogs in the political machine that James Jackson  (1757-1806) assembled in the wake of the infamous Yazoo Fraud, to roll back that corrupt transaction and take political control of the state from the speculators and their political allies.

Charlton and Troup, writing as “A” and “Z,” supported Jackson in the press, launching journalistic attacks aimed at those who assailed him.  And, when those ink-stained “assaults” were insufficient, the two young tyros took a whip to an anti-Jackson editor in Savannah. Both Charlton and Troup were rewarded by Governor Jackson for their work on his behalf, serving as military aides during his governorship.  Moreover, Jackson chose Charlton as his literary executor, and this appointment produced, in 1804, the first volume of Charlton’s biography of Jackson.  Volume 2 of the Jackson biography never appeared, but volume 1 remains a useful combination of a sketch of Jackson’s life and a collection of his letters.

Following James Jackson’s death in 1806, Thomas U.P. Charlton delivered a surprisingly even-handed eulogy for the fallen anti-Yazoo leader in Savannah’s Masonic lodge. Charlton asserted that Jackson, “[b]elieving that his political tenets were such which every citizen ought to feel, . . . was impatient under contradictions, and apparently intolerant of his opponents. . . But tho’ [sic] he permitted occasional triumphs of warmth over his real and natural benevolence of character, and though [he was] unbending and impetuous, yet no man possessed a stronger sensibility. . . But if he was warm in his resentments, he was no less sincere, fervid and disinterested in his friendships. . . .”

* * * * *

It is important to remember that the 4th of July 1815 occurred only a few months after Georgia learned of the Treaty of Ghent, the official diplomatic end of the War of 1812.  During that conflict, Charlton had served as chairman of the town’s Committee of Public Safety, charged with defending Savannah against an expected British invasion.

After the war ended, Thomas Charlton left state politics for the law and the bench.  In 1824, he compiled the first volume of Georgia’s court decisions, and, in 1825, he was member of a committee that compiled the statutes of Georgia.  He also served two terms as mayor of Savannah (1815-1817, 1819-1821).]

* * * * *

The account of the day’s festivities in The Republican; and Savannah Evening Ledger, July 6, 1815, provided an overview of events: 

The day was ushered in amidst the roar of cannon; the peal of bells; the unfurling of the star-spangled banner of the country; and the plaudits of those who know to appreciate freedom; and who are ready to defend it.

At 10 o’clock the different volunteer corps paraded, and performed many handsome evolutions thro’ the principal streets in our city—after which they fired salutes in honor of the day.

At 12 o’clock the citizens assembled when a procession was formed[,] escorted by the different volunteer companies, moved from the Exchange to the Presbyterian Church, preceded by the alderman, the president and vice-president of the day, the committee of arrangements and the Orator.  Having arrived at the Church, the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE was read by Levi S. D’Lyon, esq which was followed by bursts of applause.  An ORATION, classical, chaste and excellent, was then delivered by honorable THOMAS U.P. CHARLTON. . . .

The Church was crowded, and the attentive audience of a vast number of ladies was witnessed with peculiar pleasure and interest.

After the Oration, the bells rung a merry peal while the citizens and the military, resorted to their respective places of dining.  The day was closed in “that feast of reason and flow of soul,” so characteristic of freemen—so becoming the important event.

* * * * *

Charlton’s oration on the 4th of July in 1815 was published at the request The Republican’s editor, Frederick S. Fell. [To read the entire address, go here for Part I; and here for Part II]  According to the tradition established early in Georgia’s post-Revolutionary history, Levi S. D’Lyon, an up-and-coming local political figure, read the Declaration; the thirty-five year old Thomas Charlton, by now an experienced politician and jurist, used his oratorical talents to place the Revolution, and the ideals for which it was fought, into a “modern” context:

FELLOW CITIZENS AND COUNTRYMEN!  I never had the honor, if it be an honor, to breathe for a moment the air of monarchy.—Born a citizen of the Republic [in 1779], some years after it had taken its separate station among the powers of the earth,–reared up under the benignant band of liberty,–educated in the principles of ’76, I hope I am not on this occasion an unfit medium to convey the doctrines, for which [General George] Washington unsheathed his sabre [sic], and his heroes combatted.

The “doctrines” for which Washington and other American patriots fought were not the product of ancient Greece or Rome, according to Charlton; rather, the origins of the idea of representative government lay in the “woods of Saxony,” “confined to the imperfect and crude legislation of barbarian hordes.”  Those ideas were carried to England by “her barbarian conquerors,” and eventually they were “perfected in the forests of America,” then worked their way into minds and hearts of  the “ancestors” of those in his audience: “The principle of Equality leaves the post of honor accessible to every citizen of virtue and capability.”  Equality, along with freedom of religion, were “among the primary and fundamental principles upon whose everlasting foundations are erected the proud temple of our National Liberty.

Yet, according to Charlton, even after the country had won its Independence, the former Mother Country would not leave her alone to enjoy it:

She stole our citizens,–plundered our property,–under unrighteous expositions of national law, interdicted our commerce,–and insultingly repeated, as far as she was able, the injuries and wrongs proclaimed in the declaration of Independence.

Delighting in the realms of peace and Liberty our government was unwilling to breast the tumults of war. . . . It feared many of those evils which had been predicted.  It forbore as long as its dignity, its honor and insulted pride would suffer it to forbear. . . .At length, the Republic was compelled to acknowledge its fear and imbecility, or meet again in battle the haughty monarchy of Britain. . .When this was the alternative, the Republic did not hesitate to buckle on its armour [sic].—

Thereafter, Charlton launched into several lyrical paragraphs recounting the glories of American arms during the War of 1812.  He argued that, when the war opened, there were no George Washingtons to protect the Republic, but that, before the war was over, American

Heroes and chieftains accordingly sprung from the bosom of ensanguined conflicts, and amazed the veterans of Europe, by their skill, their enthusiasm and their Victories. . . .

The scene closed and left the proud banner of ’76 floating in pristine renown o’er the sacred principles of the Revolution. . . . May those principles be eternal!  May the Almighty ruler of the universe continue to shed his benediction on this great and favored people!  May the accursed murmurs of faction be hushed in the louder acclamations of patriotism!  May we ALL as friends and Fellow Citizens feel that we have a country entitled to the warmest affections of our heart; may we ever hail with joyous burst of exultation this memorable Jubilee,–is the fervid prayer of the Citizen, who has the honor to address you, and to thank you for your indulgence and your patience.

* * * * *

Thomas Charlton was a relatively young man when he delivered this address, but he had already enjoyed a successful political career in Georgia.

Charlton admitted that he was not a member of the “Revolutionary generation,” but he was well aware of the work he had done in Savannah during the War of 1812. To him, the message to be emphasized was that “The scene closed and left the proud banner of ’76 floating in pristine renown o’er the sacred principles of the Revolution.”  There was no doubt that Britain was the villain of the morality tale Charlton told. 

The treaty ending the war reached the United States on February 11, 1815, and was unanimously ratified by the Senate four days later. Yet, the Treaty of Ghent merely restored the status quo ante bellum, a sort of half-baked attempt to end hostilities but to set aside lingering problems for later resolution. Thus, Charlton was addressing an audience that knew the war was over but was still unsure of what that meant.

* * * * *

Two other points about the oration deserve mention.  First, “equality,” by Charlton’s reckoning one of the two great principles for which the American Revolution (and the War of 1812) had been fought, only applied to white male citizens in 1815. No one at the time could know how long it would take for the ideal of “equality” to be extended to other Americans.  In fact, slavery was not mentioned.

In Georgia, the War of 1812 ushered in a period when bickering Yazoo factions would, for a variety of reasons, be replaced by personal political factions, one headed by William Harris Crawford and George Troup, who had cut their political teeth in James Jackson’s anti-Yazoo movement; the other by General John Clark. These rising political leaders and their partisans would bring a renewed bitterness to state politics and produce Independence Day orations that concentrated less on the abstract principles of the Declaration of Independence and more on showing how one group of Georgia politicos embodied what made the nation great, while the opposing “party” had abandoned the ideals of the Revolution for corruption and personal power.

So much for the idea of the “Common Good,” which lay at the heart of the “republicanism” that had sustained the American cause before the outbreak of war in 1775.  The political system bequeathed to Georgia by the War of 1812 would make the state’s politics an enigma to non-Georgians for the next generation (see here, here, and here). 

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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

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To Ben on Father’s Day, 2021

[Note: In honor of Father’s Day, I wish again to recognize Ben Lamplugh, whose story has occupied so much of this blog over the past couple of years (20192020). Here I combine lightly edited excerpts from the “Introduction” to the series and the final episode, to provide both an overview of his life and some sense of our relationship.]

* * * * *

Here is a quick sketch of my father, Ben Lamplugh.  He was stocky, red-headed, usually quiet, and skilled with his hands.  He might, or might not, have graduated from high school. One of his children remembers hearing that Ben was a “lapsed Catholic,” but the others are not so sure.  Ben was a member of “The Greatest Generation,” who did his duty during World II but never saw combat, though not for lack of trying. 

After the war, Ben took advantage of the G.I. Bill, apprenticing as a carpenter at a boat-building firm near Baltimore, Maryland, the first step in what became a long career as a blue collar laborer. His upbringing had not prepared him well for fatherhood, but he did the best he could to keep his growing family fed, clothed, and housed, trying to fulfill the one role in life he seemed sure of, that the husband was the “head of the house,” and, thus, by definition, the “breadwinner.” 

Ben was not, at first, prepared gracefully to accept his wife Betts’ desire to return to the workforce once their three children were in school, but the family’s perilous financial situation—not to mention Betts’ insistence that she would go back to work, no matter what he thought—apparently combined to win his grudging assent.  

Because of the demands of his various jobs, Ben was a distant father.  He’d arrive home late for dinner many nights, then fall into his recliner, with a beer and a cigarette, and nod off to sleep before the television set.

The family owned one car, which Ben needed when his part-time jobs required him to work on weekends, as they frequently did. Family vacations were few, but Ben occasionally could be persuaded to drive the family somewhere (anywhere!), to visit our grandparents in Delaware, for instance, or to have a picnic along a Maryland highway.

Ben loved his family as much as he was able, and he tried to fulfill his role of father, and “head of the household,” in the 1950s.  Still, Ozzie Nelson (of “Ozzie and Harriet” fame) or Jim Anderson (“Father Knows Best”), sitcom symbols of Fatherhood in post-World War II America, Ben was not.  He also didn’t relish his role as disciplinarian that Betts sometimes required when her efforts to bring order to the household fell short of success.  In frustration, Betts would warn us kids, “Just wait until your father comes home!”  When Ben arrived, Betts dumped the disciplinary issue de jour into his lap and left him to settle it.  We could tell just by looking at him that Ben would rather have been anywhere else at that moment! 

Our parents’ marriage hit the skids in the summer of 1964, and divorce soon followed.  Ben spent the next twenty-two years as a single man, though he did not always live alone.  He died on December 23, 1986, a few weeks short of his sixty-sixth birthday.

* * * * *

Ben and I seldom seemed to hit it off.  When we first met, at the end of World War II, he looked at me in my crib, and I, having up until then been raised in an apartment full of women, promptly hit him in the head with a plastic toy.  But that wasn’t the worst of it.  As I grew up, Ben had a definite idea of what a son should be like–and, more often than not, I didn’t seem to fit that mold.

I was both overweight and introspective, neither athletic nor particularly social, and Ben had trouble understanding why that should have been so.  What I wanted to do, or was good at doing, seldom seemed to be what he had in mind, at least in my memory.  Yet, according to my brother Rick, Ben actually told him more than once that he was proud of me, though I don’t recall Dad saying that in my hearing when I was growing up. In fairness, though, I do remember that, late in his life, during our infrequent telephone calls, Ben might tell me that he loved me, to which I reciprocated as best I could.

Perhaps Ben gave up on me, or maybe I turned my back on him, or both.  Whatever the cause(s) of our estrangement, I regret it still, especially because, in my brother Rick’s words, Ben Lamplugh “might not have always been the father we wanted, but he was the only father we had.”  And Ben tried–God knows he tried!– to be a good father to us. I know that now. I only wish I had grasped it earlier. . . .

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY, BEN!

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Blogging Through the Pandemic: “Retired But Not Shy” at Eleven

[Note: Funny thing:  I’ve been feeling trapped in “writer’s block” for the past year, even recording my supposed plight a couple of times in my journal.  And yet. . .  Looking back at the blog posts I’ve put up since June 1, 2020, the start of the eleventh year of “Retired But Not Shy,” maybe I’ve been exaggerating the whole “writer’s block” thing. Let me explain.]

* * * * * 

When I launched this blog in June of 2010, I decided that one post a month would be my limit, and for the first few years that worked. Then, as my confidence grew that I could produce sufficient material to go beyond that initial goal, I began to build a collection of “future blog posts,” which enabled me, once I converted my notes into deathless prose, to put up two per month, between 2014 and 2018. Then, sanity reasserted itself, and I cut back to a single post a month, a plan I’ve followed pretty regularly.

When Year Eleven began, I had only four posts remaining in that “future file,” two on my favorite “Dead Georgian,” John Wereat; the others on factions and parties in Georgia from 1807 to 1845, which would complete my blog history of political party development in Georgia between the Revolutionary Era and the eve of the Civil War.  I was concerned at the outset that I would use those four posts early on and be at a loss for the rest of the year, but fortunately that did not happen.

* * * * *

Year Eleven began June 1, 2020, with the annual “birthday post,” followed two weeks later by a Father’s Day post honoring my father, Ben Lamplugh, “Ben as Dad,” whose history had consumed large chunks of 2019-2020 at “Retired But Not Shy.” In July, my yearly homage to the nation’s birthday took a different form:  rather than simply link readers to an earlier offering about how the Fourth was celebrated in Antebellum Georgia, I offered instead an edited transcript of an Independence Day address offered in the small Georgia town of Hawkinsville in 1838, along with commentary.

August’s post grew naturally out of the searing debate about the fate of Confederate monuments in the modern South in the era of “Black Lives Matter” that was roiling the state and the country. This essay was heavily informed by things I’d seen and heard on the Internet over the previous few months.  The idea for the post came just when I needed it, and I was pleased with the result.

Last Fall, “Retired But Not Shy” devoted three posts [go here, here, and here] to a comparison and contrast of two books I’d read about the impact of the Vietnam War on American culture(s), published a generation apart, in 1985 and 2015.  The series was an itch I had wanted to scratch since publishing “Growing Up with Vietnam,” in Year One, between December 2010 and March 2011. And, as was the case with the various posts put up in June, July, and August of 2020, the Vietnam Era essays were newly-written, not drawn from what remained of the “future posts” I’d been nurturing for several years.

I ended 2020 and opened 2021 with two posts on my historical “bro-mance” with Georgia’s John Wereat, whom I’d grown to know while in grad school and continued to find fascinating as I considered his role in the American Revolution and later in Georgia’s infamous Yazoo Land Fraud.  The two-part Wereat series [go here and here] gave me a chance for closure–farewell, Mr. Wereat. . . .

The post in honor of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in January 2021 was a change from previous MLK entries, offering “A Prayer for Our Country” from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer—and an explication, by yours truly—against the backdrop of the tumultuous events between election day in November 2020 and the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

February’s post , an essay on the art of the book review, used two reviews of the same work, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, one by my friend Joe Kitchens, the other mine.  In March, I finally was able to post an appreciation of a great book—one of my favorites—Melton McLaurin’s memoir, Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South—which I had referenced numerous times over the years but had not found time to review. 

Then, in April and May, Year Eleven drew to a close with the posting of the two-part study of factions and parties in Georgia between 1807 and 1845 that had been in the offing since I published a book on the topic in 2015. And these posts stripped my WordPress “dashboard” of the last completed “future posts” in the backlog.

* * * * *

So, does this mean that I’m in trouble? Not really, at least not yet. I already know that the June 2021 post, the first in Year Twelve, will be the annual “birthday post,” i.e., the one you’re reading now. And the July post will be yet another visit to the Fourth of July in Antebellum Georgia, using excerpts from a holiday oration published in the state press.

All of which means that, if Year Twelve of “Retired But Not Shy” is to flow as smoothly as the previous eleven years, I must return to my bulging folder of notes for “Future Blog Posts” and whip them into “post-able” shape, to carry the blog through at least May 2021. Please stay tuned. . . .

* * * * *

Next, we turn to a series of “top-ten” lists, statistics, provided, as always, by wordpress.com.

All time (2010-2021) [Excludes “Home Page/Archives” and “About”]:

Teaching Prep School With a PhD: Is It For You? | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Getting Reacquainted With Georgia Governor Wilson Lumpkin,1831-1835 (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 4) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Teaching History “Backwards” (History Lesson Plans, 1) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Son House–Preacher, Killer, “Father of the Delta Blues” (Blues Stories, 10) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Blues Theology, Part 1: The “Devil’s Music” (Blues Stories, 15) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Mississippi John Hurt, The Yoda of the Blues (Blues Stories, 11) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

The Voice of the Urban Blues–Bobby “Blue” Bland,1930-2013 (Blues Stories, 13) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Georgia’s Notorious Yazoo Land Fraud and Its Consequences, Part 1 (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 27 ) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

The Chitlin’ Circuit: Life, Death, and a Musical Revolution (Blues Stories, 14) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

On the Trail of Blind Willie McTell (Blues Stories, 24) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Year Eleven–2020-2021 [Excludes “Home Page/Archives” and “About”]:

Teaching Prep School With a PhD: Is It For You? | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Blues Theology, Part 1: The “Devil’s Music” (Blues Stories, 15) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

The New South: Myth and Reality (Teaching Civil Rights, 9) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Georgia’s Notorious Yazoo Land Fraud and Its Consequences, Part 1 (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 27 ) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Reckoning with “The Dispossessed Majority,” 1989 (Adventures in Interdisciplinary Land, 9) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

[Note: The sudden popularity of this post in 2020-2021 took me aback. It concerns a purported survey of “American history,” The Dispossessed Majority, written by a white nationalist. In 1989, my older son was taking New Testament in summer school, when free copy of this volume in question arrived at our house–and at the homes of the other members of the rising senior class. My son’s Bible teacher asked if I would talk about the book, and I readily agreed. The Dispossessed Majority interpreted the nation’s history through the warped lenses of a white nationalism, racism, and anti-Semitism; thus, it had almost nothing to recommend it.

Yet, three decades later, those same ideas reappeared, during the latest phase of the “culture wars” in the U.S., and this led me to post my review, in February 2018. It was not until 2020, though, that the number of readers visiting that post really took off. And I wonder why. Were some visitors fans of the work? Were they just curious about the title? Ah, the joys of hosting an Internet blog. . . .]

Mississippi John Hurt, The Yoda of the Blues (Blues Stories, 11) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

On the Trail of Blind Willie McTell (Blues Stories, 24) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

[Note: This post’s recent burst of popularity also puzzled me, until I realized that the surge coincided with McTell’s birthday. Thank you, Blind Willie fans!]

Son House–Preacher, Killer, “Father of the Delta Blues” (Blues Stories, 10) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Skip James, “Emotional Hermit” of the Blues (Blues Stories, 27) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Howlin’ Wolf,1910-1976: His Life, His Times, His Blues (Blues Stories, 28) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

New Posts, Year Eleven–2020-2021 [Excludes “Home Page/Archives” and “About”]:

The Vietnam War and American Culture(s), Part 1 | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Growing Up White in the Segregated South: A View from North Carolina (Teaching Civil Rights, 14) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

The Vietnam War and American Culture(s), Part 2 | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy”: Two Reviews | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Jim Crow and his Minions–the New South, the Lost Cause, and Confederate Monuments: a Review | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

A Post for the Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday, 2021: “A Prayer for our Country” | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

The Vietnam War and American Culture(s), Part 3: “Passionate Historians,” and Selected Sources on the Vietnam War | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

John Wereat and Georgia, 1775-1799, Part 1 (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 33) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1807-1845, Part 1 (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 34) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

The Year of Ben (2019-2020); and a decade of “Retired But Not Shy” (2010-2020) | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

Let me end by calling attention once again to the enduring popularity of this blog’s posts on the Blues. Six of the ten most popular posts since 2010 come from the “Blues Stories” page; the same percentage holds for the top ten posts in Year Eleven that come from years one through ten. In Year Eleven, however, there are no new Blues among the top ten, but that’s because I did not put up any new “Blues Stories” this past year. Gotcha! Oh, and thanks to all those Blues fans out there for finding this blog and continuing to visit it. I don’t know where I’d be without you!

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in American History, Historical Reflection, History, History Teaching, Research, Retirement, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Teaching, Uncategorized, Year in Review | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1807-1845, Part 2 (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 34)

john-quincy-adams-picture

[Note: This is the second of two posts on the evolution of political parties in Georgia from 1807 to 1845 (for the first, go here).

Between 1831 and 1837, the tariff issue became increasingly divisive in Georgia. Some members of both the Troup and Clark parties were lured by the siren song of John C. Calhoun’s Nullification scheme. Yet, each party continued to operate as though nothing new had happened, until that blinkered vision proved impossible to sustain. The turning point came in December 1832, when President Andrew Jackson issued his Proclamation to the People of South Carolina, terming Nullification unconstitutional and its ultimate step, secession, as treason.

John C. Calhoun

Jackson’s Proclamation resounded like a thunderclap throughout the South; in Georgia, it sparked a political reorganization. The Clark and Troup parties dissolved, re-forming on the basis of support for, or opposition to, Nullification. Most Troupers, and some Clarkites, organized the State Rights Party, which favored Nullification; most Clarkites, along with some Troupers, opposed to the Carolina doctrine, formed the Union Party.]

President Andrew Jackson

* * * * *

The newly-organized parties slugged it out for political supremacy, with the Union Party in control over much of the next decade, primarily because it proved adept at “waving the bloody shirt” of support for the Union and President Jackson. Consequently, the State Rights Party began to distance itself from Nullification, though without much success at first. What ultimately helped resolve the issue was the formation in Congress of an anti-Jackson party, the Whigs.

Georgians opposed to Andrew Jackson, strongly influenced by Congressman (and later, Governor) George M. Troup’s doctrine of state rights and Calhoun’s theory of Nullification, initially were reluctant to adopt the Whig name because of the influence of strong Unionists like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and former President John Quincy Adams among its members, but they still gravitated towards the new party because it opposed the President. Consequently, politics in Georgia continued to baffle uninitiated observers.

President Martin Van Buren

The State Rights Party recouped some of its fortunes after the Democrats nominated Martin Van Buren as Jackson’s successor in 1836, a decision that went to the heart of a key event in the history of the Clark party (which formed the core of the Union Party). In 1824, Van Buren had been campaign manager for Georgian William H. Crawford, the bitter rival of John Clark, when Crawford unsuccessfully challenged Adams, Calhoun, Clay, and Jackson for the Republican presidential nomination. Consequently, many former Clarkites in the Union Party, now Jacksonian Democrats in all but name, were reluctant to support Van Buren in 1836, even though he was Jackson’s hand-picked successor. Eventually, the State Rights Party backed Hugh Lawson White of Tennessee, one of the Whigs’ regional nominees. White carried Georgia with support from many “Clark Union men,” although Van Buren, supported in Georgia by the Union Party, won the presidency.

* * * * *

Elias Boudinot, Cherokee Editor

Georgia’s dealings with the Cherokees were increasingly strained in the 1830s. According to critics, Georgia opposed Nullification in response to the protective tariff but practiced it by refusing to recognize the jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court in cases involving Cherokee affairs, and there was some truth to that charge. Meanwhile, the Cherokee Phoenix, founded in 1828 by Elias Boudinot, presented the Cherokee case to a wider public. Boudinot’s eventual decision to support Cherokee removal, despite principal chief John Ross’s continuing opposition, led to his resignation as editor in the summer of 1832.

Trail of Tears

Boudinot’s successor, Ross’s brother-in-law Elijah Hicks, enlisted the Phoenix for Whig presidential candidate Henry Clay in 1832, in a final, desperate effort to block Cherokee removal, but to no avail. The Phoenix folded in May 1834, and the so-called “Treaty Party,” including Boudinot, Major Ridge, and John Ridge, signed the Treaty of New Echota in December 1835. The “Trail of Tears” in 1838 put paid to the issue, and white Georgians at last controlled all the former Native American lands within the state’s boundaries.

* * * * *

During the 1820s and 1830s, Georgia congressmen became ever more defensive about attacks on slavery, especially those launched from the Northeast, home of the dreaded Abolitionists. The situation was further complicated by publication of David Walker’s Appeal (and its role in the ouster of Elijah Burritt as editor of the Milledgeville Statesman & Patriot, which was succeeded by the Federal Union as the leading organ for the Clark/Union Party); and by the Nat Turner revolt in August 1831. Georgia congressmen became favorite targets of Massachusetts Representative (and former President) John Quincy Adams and his abettors, who fought to secure repeal of the hated Gag Rule. Like many southerners, Georgians saw attacks on slavery hidden in every political disagreement, from the protective tariff to the annexation of Texas, and efforts to mollify them inevitably failed.

In the late 1830s, the Union Party nearly imploded over Federal Union editor John Cuthbert’s attack on Georgia’s Central Bank, whose board was chaired by Tomlinson Fort, the wizard behind the curtain of the Union Party and owner of the Federal Union. Ultimately, this vendetta cost Cuthbert his post at the Union, but before he left Georgia he repaid the Union Party’s leadership in spades, publicly supporting the State Rights Party’s George Gilmer in the 1837 gubernatorial election, which was won by Gilmer.

Mark Anthony Cooper, State Rights Democrat

Thereafter, the Union Party evolved into the Democratic Party, while most members of the State Rights Party, eventually joined by a few disgruntled Union Democrats, embraced the Whig label, though with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The Georgia Democracy was increasingly influenced by Troup’s doctrine of state rights, aided by the migration to its ranks of former State Rights/Whig Party members Mark Cooper, Walter Colquitt, and Edward Black, who claimed to be so steeped in the principles of state rights that they could stomach neither Whig policies nor their presidential candidate in 1840, William Henry Harrison. The Democrats welcomed them with open arms, and Cooper, Colquitt, and Black soon acceded to prominent positions in the party hierarchy, much to the chagrin of some long-time members.

The irony was striking: Georgia Whigs had evolved out of the anti-Jackson State Rights Party yet, in the end, defended the Union; Georgia Democrats, whose party had developed from the pro-Jackson, anti-Nullification Union Party, became ardent champions of state rights in the 1840s.  Once again, outside observers trying to understand Georgia’s party politics scratched their heads in stupefied wonder.

John M. Berrien, Georgia political chameleon

The pull of state rights and Nullification became so pervasive among Georgia Democrats that most of their editors worked for John C. Calhoun’s nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate in 1844. Whigs, on the other hand, although reminding voters of their State Rights Party roots and their continuing belief in that party’s doctrines, began to speak in terms of what was good for the nation as a whole rather than for the South or Georgia. Even John Berrien, who had boxed the political compass from Federalism to the Democracy (including a post in Andrew Jackson’s Cabinet), State Rights, and finally, the Whig Party, began to sound like a national statesman compared to increasingly angry, provincial state rights Democrats like Cooper, Colquitt, and Black, and later, Absalom Chappell.

* * * * *

One of the most important aspects of political party development in Georgia in the first decades of the nineteenth century was the spread of newspapers and the work of skilled editors in setting the political agenda, ushering in another era of bitter partisan journalism. No longer were editors merely artisans skilled in setting type; most were attorneys by training, adept at interpreting current events through the prism of ideology, and supported by increasingly sophisticated organizations. They played active roles in party affairs, developing campaign strategy, participating in public meetings and debates, occasionally even running for office themselves.

Most often, however, it was the steady stream of editorials explaining the political world through the lenses of partisanship that made local editors indispensable. In Milledgeville, Seaton Grantland founded two papers, the Georgia Journal and the Southern Recorder, which, over time, gravitated from the Crawford/Troup party to the Whigs. Elijah Burritt created the Statesman & Patriot for John Clark, and, after Burritt’s disgrace and flight from the state, John G. Polhill, in conjunction with John A. Cuthbert, established the Federal Union to echo the views of the Clark faction of the Union Party. Thomas Haynes moved the Standard of Union from Sparta to the capital, where it became the mouthpiece of Troup Union men.

Michael Kappel was instrumental in setting up pro-Clark papers in Milledgeville and Savannah. Myron Bartlett founded the Macon Telegraph and made it successively the voice of the Clark, Union, and Democratic parties in middle Georgia, while his peripatetic brother, Cosam Bartlett, had a hand in founding Clark, Union, and Democratic papers in Milledgeville, Macon, Columbus, and Savannah. Albon Chase steered the Athens Southern Banner from the Troup party to the Union party during the Nullification Crisis, and to the Democracy thereafter. In Augusta, P.C. Guieu made the Constitutionalist the staunch Union/Democratic voice of the upcountry, despite angry protestations from his neighbor, Augustus Longstreet, at the State Rights’ Sentinel. The voice of the State Rights/Whig Party in Columbus, the Enquirer, continually struggling for its financial life, was kept afloat thanks to energetic, articulate editors like R.T. Marks, Samuel Flournoy, and James Calhoun, as well as their frequently harried financial backers.

During the presidential election campaign of 1840, each party published a separate newspaper dedicated to its presidential standard-bearer. And, in 1844, when the staunchly pro-Van Buren Macon Telegraph refused to join the Milledgeville Federal Union in singing the praises of John C. Calhoun, the Carolinian’s middle Georgia supporters bankrolled the establishment in Macon of the American Democrat.

Political organizations also became tighter.  Each party gathered in the capital when the legislature met, and later in Athens at the state college graduation, to hash out pressing issues and nominate candidates. In response to the political excitement of the late 1830s and early 1840s, parties emphasized personal contacts between candidates and the electorate through various “public discussions,” debates, meetings, and conventions.

Even if those contacts were sometimes more apparent than real, the net result was that voters were energized and trooped to the polls in large numbers. Both parties also replicated tactics originally developed by the Whigs in 1840 to attract voters: parades, festive meals, drinking parties, “liberty poles,” special election-season newspapers; you name it, one or both of Georgia’s parties trotted it out, beginning in 1840.

* * * * *

In the decades after James Jackson’s death (1806), in other words, Georgia politics evolved from a personal operation to one based more on issues, from “men to measures,” with the rise of Nullification the catalyst for the establishment of the State Rights and Union parties. The final steps came between 1843 and 1845: another political reorganization produced two parties that mirrored, at last, those on the national level. The 1844 presidential campaign sparked impressive efforts by both parties to attract voters, this time without confusion or evasion about party names, although some uncertainty about party principles remained. This movement climaxed in 1845, when each gubernatorial nominee ran as a candidate of one of the national parties, with no ifs, ands, or buts.

By the end of 1845, then, political parties in Georgia finally had adopted national party names as their own and begun to reshape their principles accordingly. Georgia politicians had been declaiming for decades that their supporters adhered to “principles, not men,” but this became a reality only because of the Nullification Crisis. Moreover, which men believed what principles was not always clear, especially on Nullification. Eponymous labels (Troup/Clark), those indicating support for a key issue (State Rights/Union), and those combining the two (Troup Union/Troup Nullifiers, Clark Union/Clark Nullifiers) became things of the past.  After more than half a century on the periphery of political developments in the United States, Georgia was, at long last, floating in the mainstream.

* * * * *

Unlike modern historians, antebellum Georgians could not know what would happen later, cataclysmic events like the Compromise of 1850, for example, and how that would affect political parties in the state.  Perhaps it’s just as well. The effort in Georgia to support the Compromise of 1850 would lead to yet another party reorganization, with the Whigs and Democrats breaking up and reforming into the Constitutional-Union (pro-Compromise) party and the Southern Rights (anti-Compromise) party.

In the end, the Constitutional-Union party triumphed: Georgia supported the Compromise, but warned the nation that the state considered the Compromise the “final solution” to the question of the expansion of slavery.  And yet, the efforts of Howell Cobb, the leader of the Constitutional-Union party, to drag Union Whigs into the ranks of a moderate Democratic Party in the wake of the Compromise, failed. According to a veteran Democratic operative, this was because party names meant everything in Georgia politics by that point.  Former Whigs who supported the Union would willingly have joined a permanent Constitutional-Union party, but were unwilling to follow Howell Cobb into the national Democratic Party

By 1845, though, Georgia’s political parties finally bore the names of the national ones, even if their principles made less than perfect sense in historical context, their enmities remained “rancorous,” and their partialities “blind.” Hezekiah Niles would have been proud.

[Note: The author apologizes for the sweeping nature of this two-part post, but, since they summarize Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1807-1845, in four thousand words, that is perhaps to be expected. Anyone interested in learning more about the events, individuals, and (especially) the “hairy-dog stories” treated in these posts, please check out the book (see below).]

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in "Cherokee Phoenix" (newspaper), American "republicanism", American History, Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Removal, Chief John Ross (Cherokees), Creek Indians, Elias Boudinot, George M. Troup, George R. Gilmer, Georgia History, Historical Reflection, History, John Clark, John Cuthbert, Nullification, Research, Retirement, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Uncategorized, William Harris Crawford, Wilson Lumpkin, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1807-1845, Part 1 (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 34)

john-quincy-adams-picture

[Note: Between 1807 and 1845, the political system in Georgia underwent a reluctant, clumsy, and—to outsiders—baffling evolution. Georgia politics seemed so bizarre that Baltimore editor Hezekiah Niles was wont to look down his increasingly Whiggish nose and mutter something along the lines of, “We know not what they differ about, but they do violently differ.” Of course, Niles made almost no effort to try to understand Georgia politics; it was easier, and perhaps more satisfying, to publish yet another scathing criticism about how things were done by those Georgia bumpkins. Yet, as was the case for Georgia’s previous political generation, it is possible to understand what Georgians “differed about” in the first half of the nineteenth century, even if one must agree with Niles that, no matter why Georgians “differed,” they continued to do so “violently.”]

* * * * *

When Georgia’s first “party boss,” James Jackson, died in 1806, there was a Republican consensus, thanks to Jackson’s skill at yoking avid support for Thomas Jefferson with angry opposition to the role of Senator James Gunn and other prominent Georgia Federalists in the infamous Yazoo Land Fraud. Although Georgia historians have long argued that leadership of the state’s Republican interests passed smoothly to Jackson’s designated political heirs, the story is more complicated.  John Milledge, long a Jackson lieutenant, and Governor of Georgia in 1806, was elected to fill the remainder of Jackson’s Senate term and subsequently won a full term for himself. However, he resigned the seat because of his wife’s health and retired from politics.

David B. Mitchell

Once Milledge left the stage, Georgians were divided between two more-or-less “Republican” factions:  one was headed by a rising upcountry politician, William Harris Crawford, and by Jackson’s low-country protégé, George M. Troup; the other by General John Clark, an adamant foe of Jackson, Crawford, and Troup but a self-proclaimed “republican” nonetheless, even if his foes believed he was a Federalist.  Yet, Crawford was already launched on a career of national significance and Troup was occupied in Congress, so the real leader of the “Crawford [or Jeffersonian Republican] party” in Georgia was David Mitchell. Mitchell fought a defensive, rear-guard action, as prominent supporters, for various reasons, sought greener pastures in Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida, even as John Clark successfully extended his “party” across the state.

The Yazoo Fraud, which had dominated Georgia politics during the final decade of James Jackson’s life, continued to roil those waters after his demise. Although transferring Georgia’s Yazoo lands to the national government in the Compact of 1802 was supposed to settle the long-simmering controversy over the state’s western territory, it did not. To most white Georgians, the key to future growth lay in the national administration’s willingness to compel the Creeks and the Cherokees to surrender their claims to Georgia lands as provided in the 1802 agreement.  Yet, the government in Washington proved unable, or unwilling, to do that, at least at a pace satisfactory to land-hungry Georgians.

* * * * *

The original Yazoo purchasers disposed of their lands to reputedly “innocent” buyers, who demanded that the national government satisfy their claims. Aided by Virginia’s John Randolph, a vocal cadre of Georgia congressmen, led by George Troup, opposed the new purchasers and pressured Washington to live up to the 1802 agreement. Despite determined opposition from Randolph, the Georgians, and their allies, Congress finally reached a compromise with the “innocent” Yazoo purchasers in 1814, but echoes of Yazoo continued to bubble up from the state’s political memory during campaigns into the 1840s, a rhetorical gift that kept on giving.

George M. Troup

In the context of defending Georgia against pressure from Yazoo purchasers, Congressman George Troup honed a state rights philosophy that would become his trademark in the 1820s. Rather than satisfy the demands of corrupt land speculators, Troup thundered, the general government should eliminate Native American land claims in Georgia, as provided in the Compact of 1802; but, if Washington were unwilling or unable to do that, then Georgia must act unilaterally, he argued.

Peter Early

Most Georgians strongly opposed settling “corrupt” Yazoo claims, but the state’s “Republican” consensus divided bitterly over two other issues. The first was the enactment by the state legislature, in 1808, after passage of Jefferson’s Embargo by Congress, of the Alleviating Act.  This measure was intended to ease credit terms for planters driven into debt by American attempts to use commercial pressure instead of warfare to settle disputes with Britain and France. Georgia Republicans supported this concept in 1808, 1809, 1812, and 1813, despite increasingly angry opposition from creditors. In 1814, however, Governor Peter Early, who had signed the 1813 measure, vetoed its successor and was denied a second term, then watched, with other Republicans, as the Crawford party was damned by irate debtors, and its members ousted from office.

As if Crawford Republicans were not in enough trouble, several members dealt the party another blow in 1816, when they supported the Compensation Act, which altered the method of paying members of Congress from a flat annual rate to a per diem basis. This change unleashed a storm of criticism of this supposed “salary grab,” cost William Bibb his Senate seat, and evicted most of the state’s congressmen as well. By 1816, the Crawford party was reeling.

* * * * *

John Clark

The bitter climax of the David Mitchell-John Clark rivalry came after the War of 1812, when Mitchell resigned as Governor to serve as American agent to the Creeks, just as the “Clark party” emerged as Georgia’s dominant Republican faction. Agent Mitchell became involved in a slave-smuggling scheme, and Clark, elected Governor in 1819, grimly pursued allegations against him and publicized the results. Clark’s determined campaign, bolstered by his political alliance with Andrew Jackson, sparked an investigation by the Monroe Administration and led to Mitchell’s removal from office in 1821, further embarrassing the Crawford party.

The collapse of the Crawford Republicans was halted—and, to some extent, reversed–by the fiery George Troup, who returned from Congress to assume leadership of the organization, soon referred to as the “Troup party.” Troup and John Clark opposed each other for Governor three times between 1819 and 1825, with Clark winning in 1819 and 1821 by joint votes of the legislature. Troup defeated Clark lieutenant Matthew Talbot on a joint legislative ballot in 1823, and faced Clark again in 1825, when Georgia voters first elected a Governor directly.

Ironically, in 1825 “the people” chose the more “aristocratic” Troup, not the supposedly more “democratic” Clark, with Troup’s rapidly evolving “state rights” stance seemingly the deciding factor. As Governor, Troup used the national government’s apparent reluctance to fulfill the Compact of 1802 as a whetstone, further honing the aggressive state rights philosophy he had developed in Congress, and, perhaps unwittingly, helping lay the groundwork for acceptance by many in Georgia of John C. Calhoun’s doctrine of Nullification in the 1830s.

Chief William McIntosh

Exploiting his relationship with his cousin, Chief William McIntosh, Troup secured remaining Creek lands in Georgia through the Treaty of Indian Springs (1825). When the new John Quincy Adams administration disavowed that agreement on the grounds of corruption, Troup sparked an angry confrontation that, although it seemed at first to threaten civil war, eventually secured Creek lands for Georgia peacefully, thanks to two additional treaties (Washington, 1826; Fort Mitchell, 1827). With the Creeks finally divested of their Georgia lands, a Milledgeville editor smugly noted, the turn of the Cherokees had come, and the even uglier process of Cherokee removal began.

END OF PART I

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in American "republicanism", American History, Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Removal, Creek Indians, George M. Troup, Historical Reflection, History, James Gunn, John Clark, Nullification, Research, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Uncategorized, William Harris Crawford | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Growing Up White in the Segregated South: A View from North Carolina (Teaching Civil Rights, 14)

A Review of:

Melton A. McLaurin, Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South (2nd ed.) Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1998.

[Note: Regular readers of this blog will remember that near the end of my career as a History teacher at an Atlanta prep school (referred to here by its nom de blog, Atlanta’s Finest Prep School, or AFPS), I inherited a one-semester, junior-senior course, the History of the Modern Civil Rights Movement. In revising the course, I decided that it must begin with a substantial unit on “The Age of Jim Crow.”  I believed this background was essential if my students were to understand the magnitude of what the modern civil rights movement had accomplished.

One of the supplementary texts I selected was by Melton McLaurin, Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South. Although I’ve read other accounts of growing up White in the Jim Crow era over the past decades I haven’t found a more engaging account than this one, or one more suitable for classroom use.]  

* * * * *

In September 1953, in the small town of Wade, North Carolina, seventh-grader Melton McLaurin began working at his grandfather Lonnie Mack’s store, located on the boundary between the White and Black communities. In retrospect, McLaurin describes Wade as “an almost perfect microcosm of the rural and small-town segregated South.” (3)  McLaurin’s generation of White children would be the last to come of age in the segregated South, yet even after the U.S. Supreme Court’s epochal 1954 decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, residents of Wade “remained convinced that the South would find an acceptable method of circumventing it.” (4)

Wade was a mill town surrounded by small farms owned mostly by Whites but worked by Black and White tenants and field hands. There were few college-educated Whites in Wade; White high school graduates usually found jobs with the local railroad.  Although residential segregation in Wade was not rigidly enforced, everyone knew the rules of Jim Crow and followed them—or else.  Melton McLaurin’s father, Merrill, was a member of the town’s small middle class, having begun as a barber and then become an insurance salesman; but for young Melton, his grandfather’s store was the center of the world:  he worked there every summer and most school holidays between seventh and twelfth grades. 

McLaurin described his grandfather as an “indomitable little man, taught by experience to stifle any expression of feeling, to be emotionally tough and to cloak his caring with blunt speech and a hard, cold demeanor calculated to keep everyone at a safe distance.” (18)  Lonnie Mack was a hard taskmaster, both to his grandson and to his customers, because he took seriously his self-appointed role as the town’s “fixer,” for some Whites of course, but especially for his store’s many Black customers.

And it was these people, especially the African Americans, that Melton McLaurin served in the store during a formative period in his life.  He believed that the “association with blacks [sic] had also forced me to make some difficult moral judgments about racism and segregation” that most Whites in Wade did not make, which  would “further alienate me from the society in which I came of age.” (26)

* * * * *

To explain how this happened, McLaurin presents a series of sketches of the most memorable Black residents of Wade whom he encountered at his grandfather’s store.  Each of them managed to call into question, in various ways, the values and beliefs of the White society in which McLaurin had grown up, and these encounters helped determine the man he became. The stories McLaurin tells are arranged in roughly chronological order, and the people featured in each chapter also helped frame McLaurin’s assessment of how Jim Crow shaped Southern society at ground level.

Bobo, a young Black man McLaurin’s age, from a poor family, lived in a constricted world where rules were spelled out by Jim Crow and enforced using the power of White paternalism, or, if necessary, violence. For Bobo’s parents, this meant leaning on the generosity of “Mister Lonnie” when they needed money or credit and being sufficiently grateful if their request was granted, as it usually was.  Young Melton’s reckoning with this elaborate system of white noblesse oblige came one afternoon during a pick-up basketball game near his grandfather’s store, when he suddenly realized that the needle he needed to re-inflate the communal basketball had previously been in Bobo’s mouth.  To regain his place as a member of the “superior race,” McLaurin was reduced to a mild act of violence, which “for the first time raised questions in my mind about the institution [of segregation], serious questions that adults didn’t want asked and, as I would later discover, that they never answered.” (41)

Street, an older Black man who lived in a cave near Wade filled with books, magazines, and religious pamphlets, struck Melton as one of the most intelligent people in the village, as well as the best read, and both these qualities ran counter to the doctrine of white supremacy.  Young McLaurin saw Street as “the freest man in Wade,” as well as, in a sense, his mentor.

Betty Jo, a Black teenager McLaurin met while waiting on her at his grandfather’s store, reminded him how “interracial sex,” or even the thought of it, “became the ultimate temptation and the ultimate taboo, a symbol of both the reality and the futility of segregation.” (65)  Although white supremacy kept young Melton from going beyond the minimum contact he had with Betty Jo in the store, he came to believe that “she was really no different from the white girls [he] dated.” (85)

The figure of Sam, a mentally challenged young man of McLaurin’s acquaintance, comes across as a Black version of Harper Lee’s character Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird.  In retrospect, Sam came to personify for Melton the White stereotype of African Americans.  It was fine to taunt Black people for whatever reason, McLaurin had assumed, but, when he joined several White friends in making fun of Sam one memorable summer night, he was unable to forget the incident.  This encounter only deepened his feelings of guilt about the power of segregation.

In the story of Granddaddy and Viny Love, McLaurin’s grandfather Lonnie Mack takes center stage, when his role as “the Man” in the village seems (to him) to have been called into question by a bureaucrat in the local welfare office.  Viny Love, a hard-working Black single mother whose only child suffered from cerebral palsy, came to Granddaddy asking him to intervene with the welfare department so that she could receive financial benefits to which she was entitled, to help her son.  Lonnie Mack agreed to help her, and, when he learned that his aid had been of no avail, he blew a gasket.  He was a racist, as were most of the Whites in Wade, but his “help” was intended to keep Wade’s African American population loyal to the system. When his effort to help Viny Love was challenged by the local welfare official, Granddaddy took action in an unforgettable fashion that won plaudits from local Blacks and from his own family, especially from his grandson.

In his reminiscence of Jerry and Miss Carrie McLean, Melton McLaurin once more was brought face-to-face with the differences between White stereotypes of Black people and how Whites interacted with them on a personal level.  Miss Carrie was a retired schoolteacher, the only Black woman he knew who was addressed by Whites as “Miss.”  Her husband Jerry was a man of mixed race who made a living doing odd jobs for Whites and had built with his own hands the home where he and Miss Carrie lived.  When he was seventeen, McLaurin was invited by Miss Carrie to join her and Jerry to eat pie in her kitchen.  Knowing how well thought of the couple were in Wade, Melton went to their home expecting to find a house up to White middle-class standards, but he was shocked to see that the McLeans had so little.  In retrospect, McLaurin believed this episode “made inevitable my final rejection of the segregated South.” (154) 

* * * * *

Melton McLaurin grew up to become a historian of the South, spending most of his career at the University of North Carolina branch in Wilmington.  Not only is he an engaging writer, but his historical training has also enabled him to place his personal story of growing up in the Jim Crow South in the proverbial “larger context.”

In the book’s Epilogue, McLaurin recounts a visit home for Christmas in 1984, when he accompanied his father to the home of Dora Lee to drop off some lard as a gift, a visit that enabled him to see his father at his paternalistic best:  “He remained, spiritually, emotionally, a resident of the Wade I had left and to which I could never return. . . . And so, aware of and linked by our separate pasts, we rode toward home and the celebration of a family Christmas.” (164)

In an Afterword added to the second edition of the book, McLaurin focuses on events in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he had spent most of his teaching career. He reviews the “revolt” of Wilmington’s Whites in 1898, during which they ousted the leaders of the local Populist/Republican ruling clique, in a “stridently racist campaign portraying blacks as the rapacious destroyers of white civilization, as an insidious evil against which the whites [sic] of North Carolina could be protected only by Democratic leadership.” (167)  Building on this success, Democrats recaptured control of the state government in 1900, disfranchised Black voters, and imposed legal segregation.  A century later, Professor Melton McLaurin worked to create a commemoration of that 1898 racial violence campaign in Wilmington that would enable both races to understand the consequences of that event and work for the common good of the city’s residents.

In December 1997, McLaurin again returned home for Christmas. He used that opportunity to talk with Allen Smith, whose father had received some attention in this book, about the importance of race in modern Wade.  According to Mr. Smith, despite undeniable progress in race relations over the previous four decades, “[Racism] is in you, and it’s in me, and that’s the truth, down there inside us. That’s just the way it is.”  (176)  This conversation filled McLaurin with “a deep, sorrowful anger,” and he drove home “to continue to struggle with the difficult necessity of confronting our separate pasts.” (176)

* * * * *

Melton McLaurin’s Separate Pasts:  Growing Up White in the Segregated South is a great book. It is a subtle, but deep and powerful treatment of his coming of age in a small southern town in the 1950s, engagingly written and accessible. Drawing on his memories, McLaurin paints an unforgettable picture of life in Wade, and he situates his memories firmly in the historical context.  Available at amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle editions, Separate Pasts belongs on the e-readers and bookshelves of anyone interested in the history of the South.

Melton McLaurin

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in Age of Jim Crow, American History, Civil Rights Movement, Education, Historical Reflection, History, History Curriculum, History Teaching, memoir, Prep School, prep school teaching with a PhD, Retirement, Southern History, Teaching | 4 Comments

J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy”: Two Reviews

[Note: In 2016, J.D. Vance published Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir of his growing up as a child in a later, Appalachian white, version of the “Great Migration,” a youngster who accompanied his mother and her extended family from a “holler” in Kentucky to Middletown, Ohio, in search of work and a future.

Vance’s book appeared just as Donald Trump had begun his ascendancy in the quest for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. And, as events unfolded, members of the “commentariat,” well-educated, well-paid, and generally cocksure newspaper columnists, tried to steer their readers in the proper, anti-Trump, direction, but there was a problem: those “in the know” kept missing what was going on, and Trump’s candidacy continued to gain strength, despite the efforts of op-ed writers nationwide to make it go away.

Vance’s book became a hot item, a volume recommended as at least a partial explanation of Trump’s candidacy. And yet, those who specialized in American politics continued, despite Vance’s views, to misunderstand the Trump phenomenon. Yes, lots of writers cited Vance’s work, but once Trump was elected in November 2016, where Hillbilly Elegy fit into the political debate no longer seemed important, at least until the 2018 midterm elections.

Vance himself made the rounds of television interviewers, even gave a TED Talk, obviously enjoying his moment in the sun, regardless of whether people actually understood his book. And then, perhaps inevitably, came a movie version of Hillbilly Elegy (2020), directed by Hollywood notable (and veteran of “The Andy Griffith Show”) Ron Howard, which earned lukewarm reviews, perhaps saved from disaster by the bravura performance of actress Glenn Close as Vance’s grandmother.

Yet, although Vance’s book fell from the lofty heights it had occupied on the New York Times–and other–best-sellers lists after Donald Trump entered the White House, some observers continued to read–and review–Hillbilly Elegy.]

* * * * *

Reviewing books is an art, not a science, and how one does it depends upon both the genre to which the book belongs and the audience for which it is being reviewed.

This post offers reviews of Vance’s book by two historians who approach the memoir from different perspectives but still try to give readers an idea of both the book and the larger context in which it fits.

First up is Joseph Kitchens, who spent a good part of his career doing “public history” after a stint teaching history in a college classroom. Joe recently retired from the directorship of the Funk Heritage Center at Georgia’s Reinhardt University, a jewel of a museum that emphasizes the impact of the Creeks and the Cherokees on Georgia, and vice versa.

Joe’s approach, in a post at his blog, Longleaf Journal (August 2020), is to review Hillbilly Elegy, but also to enmesh the book in a broader historical context, ranging from colonial Georgia to the election of Donald Trump. It’s a difficult feat to pull off, but I think Joe does a fine job with it:

While you’re visiting Joe’s blog, “Longleaf Journal,” I invite you to explore other posts there. Dr. Kitchens is a skillful writer of “Southern stories” with a vivid imagination and a great sense of humor, as a trip through his blog’s archives reveals.

My review of Hillbilly Elegy, originally posted on this blog in August 2017, focuses on the memoir, but also attempts to place the volume in the context of the 2016 presidential campaign:

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Hillbillies | Retired But Not Shy (georgelamplugh.com)

* * * * *

[Note: It is important to keep in mind that these reviews of Hillbilly Elegy were published in a blog, not in a historical journal or a newspaper. What that means is that the authors of those notices–and, as it happens, the creators of those blogs–could set whatever length they wished for the reviews.

Normally, a book review in a historical journal is limited to somewhere between 250 and 750 words, and the reviewer must adhere to that standard. In “Retired But Not Shy,” the upper limit I set for each post is around 2000 words. This allows me to examine a subject at greater length, but it also risks boring a reader whose interest in a particular book might not be as strong as that of the proprietor of the blog. In the case of Vance’s book, though, each reviewer believes the volume was important enough to merit extended consideration, even if their emphases differed.]

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Post for the Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday, 2021: “A Prayer for our Country”

[Note:  A year ago, I reflected in this space on the play of “light” and “darkness” in the rhetoric of Dr. King, drawing on remarks by the late Georgia Congressman John Lewis and Republican columnist Michael Gerson.  I ended by confessing that I could not imagine what Dr. King would make of the state of our union in 2020.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

Since that post, we’ve had the worsening of the Covid-19 pandemic, the presidential election that would not die, and, between November and early January, the eyes of the nation were fixed on my home state of Georgia, where two–count ’em, two–seats in the U.S. Senate were at stake.  And, son of a gun, the Democrats won both seats!

BUT, just when a few optimists thought that the bad times were over and a brighter future beckoned this battered country, our incumbent President refused to accept the outcome of the presidential race and then tried to “fix” the results of the Georgia senatorial election because control of the Senate hung on the outcome.

Bad, right?  But it got worse:  On January 6, 2021, the incumbent President encouraged several thousand of his supporters, who had made the trip to Washington because he promised that things would be “wild,” to march on the Capitol, at the very time Congress had assembled there to count ritually the presidential votes from the states in the Electoral College.  The President promised he’d be with his supporters on their march, but of course he wasn’t; instead, he was hunkered down in the comfort of the White House watching everything on television that he’d set in motion, no surprise given his conduct over the past four years.

And the results of that “march” by “patriotic” followers of a defeated President yielded only chaos, including five deaths.  The new President, former Vice-President Joe Biden, is to be inaugurated on January 20.  Problem over, right?  No!  Rumors reported by the FBI warn of the possibility of gatherings by the defeated incumbent’s supporters, not only in the Nation’s Capital (again) but also in state capitals. 

Oh, I almost forgot:  our lame-duck Commander-in-Chief has now been impeached by the Democratic-controlled House, for the second time, for inciting the riot that led to the invasion–and brief occupation–of the Capitol by his fan club. Of course, he escaped conviction by the Republican-controlled Senate almost a year ago, and whether he’ll be convicted by the soon-to-be Democratic-controlled Senate this time, after Biden is inaugurated, is up in the air.]

* * * * * 

So, what in the world can I say on this King holiday that will bring comfort, or be even the least bit celebratory?  I thought I’d try something different this year. 

I am an Episcopalian; central to our worship is the Book of Common Prayer (hereafter BCP), a volume of nearly 1000 pages, with roots in the English Reformation, that guides our modern worship services, religious rites, and private devotions.  What some say about us is almost literally true, “You Episcopalians have a prayer for everything!”  (To which I invariably respond, “Not quite, but close.”)  And today I offer an example, a “Prayer for our Country.”  Believe it or not, this is one of at least three such prayers for the nation in the BCP, and is the most complete and detailed petition.  Moreover, the words seem to me to “speak to our condition” in this perilous moment: 

Almighty God, who has given us this good land for our heritage:  We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.  Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way.  Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.  Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.  In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  (BCP, p.820)

* * * * * 

The prayer’s first two sentences seem to embody “American exceptionalism,” the idea that, to put it colloquially, “God is an American.”  Thereafter, though, comes recognition that our history always has been messy and will continue to be, followed by a plea for national unity.  Interestingly, this plea is based upon the notion that we are “a nation of immigrants,” at a time when immigration policy is a “third rail” in American politics.  There follows a request for wisdom on the part of those who govern and–believe it or not–that, by our obedience to law, we may set an example for the rest of the world.  The concluding sentence has haunted me since I first encountered this prayer:  “In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail. . . .”

* * * * * 

As I type this, I have no idea how things will turn out between now and January 20.  I simply offer the “Prayer for our Country” for those of you who, like me, are uneasy about our nation’s immediate future and pray for better days ahead.  Let’s hope that, a year from now, we can face the future with renewed confidence and energy, as we continue working to achieve Dr. King’s goal of the “beloved community.”

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

Posted in American History, Books, Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Education, Episcopal Church, Georgia History, Historical Reflection, History, History Teaching, Interdisciplinary Work, Martin Luther King, memoir, Popular Culture, Retirement, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

John Wereat and Georgia, 1775-1799, Part 2 (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 33)

[NOTE:  This is the second, and final, post about John Wereat, who turned up at almost every crucial event in Georgia’s history between the outbreak of the American Revolution and his death in 1799 Part 1 followed him from his arrival in Savannah from England through the end of the War for Independence. This installment traces Mr. Wereat’s role in Georgia’s post-Revolutionary history until his death in 1799.

For Part 1, go here.  A list of sources is appended to this post.]

* * * * *

John Wereat (Wikipedia)

In 1783, after the end of the Revolutionary War, John Wereat served as Auditor-General of Georgia, charged with the unenviable task of putting the state’s war-shattered finances on a sound footing.  That he was re-elected annually by the legislature for a decade testified to the esteem in which his efforts were held.

Wereat was the natural choice for this arduous post: as Georgia’s continental agent during the Revolution, he had demonstrated an impressive grasp of finance, earned a reputation for probity, and, not least important considering the state’s tangled obligations to Congress, had made a number of influential friends in Philadelphia.

Further evidence of the respect Wereat commanded in Georgia came in December 1787, when he was chosen president of the state convention that unanimously ratified the newly written Constitution of the United States.  As the session concluded, delegates voted Wereat their thanks “for his able and impartial conduct in the chair.”

* * * * *

Georgia in 1790

Once the new national government began to function, Georgia’s tangled financial obligations to the federal government required attention.   Perhaps not surprisingly, in December 1790, the legislature unanimously elected Auditor-General John Wereat as its agent for settling Georgia’s outstanding financial claims with the new United States. Wereat remained at his post in Philadelphia until early August 1793.  His long stay in the temporary national capital meant that his funds would be exhausted before he could conclude his business.   Moreover, Wereat, his daughter Nancy, and his granddaughter arrived in the city during an outbreak of smallpox and promptly joined others in seeking refuge in New Jersey.

To ensure the continued operation of the state auditor’s office during his absence, Wereat appointed his nephew, Thomas Collier, to act for him in Georgia.   Unfortunately, Collier’s high-handed conduct during his uncle’s absence created ill-feelings towards Wereat.  Either because of this, or because Wereat had had all the fun he could stand trying to resuscitate the state’s finances,  he was not re-elected auditor in 1793.

At least partly as a result of Wereat’s efforts as the state’s agent in Philadelphia, the national government agreed to assume $246,030 of the debt Georgia had contracted during the Revolution, out of the $300,000 maximum permitted by law.  Moreover, the final report of the federal board of commissioners ruled that the national government still owed Georgia $20,000.

* * * * *

Following his retirement from politics, John Wereat, his financial situation ravaged by the War and by the unstable economic conditions before ratification of the new federal Constitution, engaged in land speculation.  On November 12, 1794, he made the first bid to the state legislature to purchase a tract of Georgia’s western territory, the so-called “Yazoo lands,” on behalf of three wealthy acquaintances in Pennsylvania.  When his offer was rejected, Wereat joined three other Georgians to form the Georgia Union Company, which hoped to purchase the Yazoo lands desired by the Georgia and Georgia Mississippi companies, but, because the rival companies had swept the state clean of hard currency, Wereat and his associates were unable to raise sufficient funds to convince the legislature of the sincerity of their bid.

Yazoo Land Grants, 1795

Nevertheless, Governor George Mathews vetoed this Yazoo Act.  Wereat briefly thought that the proposal of his Georgia Union Company might have another chance, but that was not to be.  Instead, the General Assembly passed a revised version of the law, and the successful purchasing companies greased the measure’s passage by distributing money and lands to pliant legislators, public officials, militia officers, and newspaper editors, virtually every person of influence in the state who could keep the lid on popular discontent over the Yazoo sale.

During the ensuing controversy over the so-called “Yazoo Fraud,” the successful Yazoo companies impugned the motives of Wereat and other organizers of the Georgia Union Company, accusing them of trying to torpedo the sale after the legislature had rejected their inferior bid.  Wereat responded that, “As the [Yazoo] Act has doubtless been obtained by corruption and fraud, will not the [state constitutional] Convention who are to meet in May [1795] have it in their power to declare it null and void?”

Mr. Wereat’s prominence in that May 1795 state constitutional convention, which ordered anti-Yazoo petitions transmitted to the next session of the General Assembly, lent credence to the successful purchasers’ accusations against Wereat and the Georgia Union Company. Nevertheless, using anti-Yazoo petitions and other evidence of corruption accompanying the law’s passage, the legislature in 1796 passed the Rescinding Act, nullifying the sale.

* * * * *

Following the Yazoo controversy, John Wereat retired to his home in coastal Bryan County, but his hopes for peace and tranquility were short-lived. He soon found himself embroiled in a bitter family squabble that forced him once more into the public eye and dragged on for nearly six years after his death.

The disagreement erupted after Wereat announced that he was offering for sale five-hundred acres of land that had once belonged to his brother-in-law, the late Reverend John Collier.  Collier’s son, Thomas, who had served as deputy auditor under Wereat and been disgraced by accusations of corruption during his tenure, promptly inserted a notice in the press asserting that those lands were not Wereat’s to sell.  According to Thomas Collier, the lands should have passed to his brother John Collier, Jr., and, when his brother died, to Thomas himself.  Instead, Thomas Collier argued, “Mr. Wereat, administrator of the estate, thereby obtained possession, and still retains them; whether fraudulently or otherwise must be determined by a jury of Chatham County.”

Wereat replied a month later, charging that Thomas Collier’s publication had been intended to injure his reputation.  He termed Collier’s assertion that he had “obtained possession of certain papers as administrator of your brother’s estate,” a “base falsehood,” and claimed to welcome the investigation into the matter promised by his nephew.  Wereat added that “any further publication you may think proper to make will be treated with silent contempt.”  Collier fired another shot in this newspaper war, maintaining, among other things, that Wereat consistently had practiced “dissembling flattery. . . [for plunder] towards me and your sister’s family.”  True to his word, John Wereat remained silent, even after Thomas Collier sued to recover the disputed tract of land.

Although he had chosen to ignore his nephew’s accusation in public, Wereat drew up a new will on April 1, 1798, following the death of his daughter.  The new document provided that, upon Wereat’s death, Thomas Collier was to receive but “One Spanish milled dollar.”  Moreover, Wereat vowed that, even if his chief beneficiary, his granddaughter Elizabeth Fishbourne, died before reaching the age of twenty-one, “Thomas Collier shall receive no more than his dollar.” Collier’s suit against Wereat was taken up by Collier’s sister and her husband, Jacob Isaacs, after both Collier and Wereat died. It was finally dismissed by the courts in 1805.

* * * * *

John Wereat died at his Bryan County home on January 25, 1799, at the age of sixty-five.

His death deprived the state of one who had served Georgia well from the outbreak of the American Revolution until his retirement from the Auditor-General’s post in 1793.  A reluctant leader of the conservative Whig faction during the war, Wereat had helped the fledging state grapple with the manifold financial problems accompanying independence.   While it is tempting to describe him as an eighteenth-century bureaucrat, Wereat saw the matter in a different light: to him, his career was neither a “profession” nor a “job,”  but instead, it was “the duty of every good Citizen.”

John Wereat’s involvement in the Yazoo sale, which was motivated by friendship, personal connections, and a desire for financial gain, was unsuccessful.  However, his opposition to the corrupt purchasers eventually redounded to the state’s benefit, though perhaps at some cost to Wereat’s reputation.

Although unsuited by temperament for the rough give and take of Georgia politics, John Wereat nevertheless proved himself a capable, conscientious public servant.  Quiet and reserved by nature, Wereat preferred to avoid controversy; ironically, he found no peace short of the grave.

* * * * *

Wereat Estate Records (excerpts)

Wereat’s Will, dated April 8, 1798—His daughter, an only child, had just died, so Wereat made changes in his will.  His major beneficiary was now his granddaughter, Elizabeth Fishbourn. His daughter Ann (Nancy) had married Dr. Michael Burke after Benjamin Fishbourn’s death.

One odd provision: Wereat awarded his nephew, Thomas Collier, “one Spanish milled dollar (was his mother alive I would give her a good many). . . .”  Wereat added that, if his granddaughter did not live to reach age twenty-one, “Thomas Collier shall have no more than his dollar, nor have I any other relation by blood in America.”   

Wereat listed his estate as follows:

Plantation and tract of Land on the river Ogeechee in Chatham County;

Unimproved tract of Land in Bryan County called Pengathly;

Four lots in the township of Hardwick, in Bryan County;

1400 acres of land on the Great Satilla River;

Two tracts of land in Burke County of five hundred acres each;

Tract of land near Augustine’s Creek;

A confiscated estate in Columbia County called Daverill [?]—three tracts of land, along with sixty adjoining acres;

House and lot in the town of Savannah;

Also in Savannah, a lot fronting St. James’s Square, for use of granddaughter Elizabeth Fishbourn.

Wereat transferred his Columbia County plantation, Mount Hope, to his son-in-law Dr. Michael Burke.

Appraisal of John Wereat’s personal property, dated Hardwick, March 1799:

56 Negroes                                                                    $14,000

30 Head black cattle                                                            150

6 Horses                                                                                 480

50 Head of sheep                                                                 100

2 Feather Beds & bedding                                                  100

6 Chairs, Crockery ware, & household furniture             60

Plantation Carpenters & Blacksmith Tools                      60

1 Sulkey & Harness                                                               40

1 Gun                                                                                       12

__________

$14,922

* * * * *

SOURCES

George R. Lamplugh, Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (Newark, DE, 1986).

______________, “‘To Check and Discourage the Wicked and Designing’:  John Wereat and the Revolution in Georgia,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 61 (Winter, 1977): 295-307.

______________, “‘The Duty of Every Good Citizen’:  John Wereat and Georgia, 1782-1793,” Atlanta Historical Journal 27 (Spring, 1983): 87-94.

______________, “John Wereat and Yazoo, 1794-1799,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 72 (Fall, 1988): 502-517.

______________, “John Wereat,” Kenneth Coleman and Steve Gurr, eds., Dictionary of Georgia Biography (Athens, GA, 1983).

______________, “John Wereat,” John Inscoe, ed., New Georgia Encyclopedia (https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/john-wereat-ca-1733-1799).

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

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