[NOTE: A while ago, I offered a post about a frequently overlooked family memoir from antebellum Georgia that offered keen insights into the links between politics and religion during the bitterest era of factional politics in the state’s history. Even as I did so, I began to think about other such stories in primary sources I had scouted out during my research into Georgia political history. These accounts generally produced a three-fold reaction when I encountered them:
- Oh, this is interesting!
- But, wait, this probably didn’t happen the way the source says it did. . . .
- On the other hand, if it didn’t happen that way, it probably should have!
In other words, forewarned is forearmed. (For example, notice how poor John Clark can’t catch a break, since virtually all of the “hairy-dog stories” come from Crawford/Troup partisans. But they’re still fun!) Another thing to keep in mind is that a number of these examples from the nineteenth century have a definite modern resonance to them.]
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According to former Georgia Governor and U.S. Senator Wilson Lumpkin, by the early 1820s he discovered that, as far as the Troup and Clark parties were concerned:
Truly and indeed, [John] Clark and most of his leading friends of that day professed to be, and in many respects sustained well, the character of real Democrats. . . .
[A]lthough we had no Federal[ist] party in Georgia, . . . we had many more Federalists than I had heretofore supposed. And further, that while these Federalists, of the old [Alexander] Hamiltonian stamp, were dispersed and scattered amongst both parties [in Georgia], yet the majority of them were in the Clark ranks. This last fact I regretted, because my personal attachments were every day becoming stronger for this [Clark] party. They were my most devoted friends, and were more congenial to my Democratic feelings than the other party, who embraced the largest share of the aristocracy of wealth. I was not however entirely satisfied with the political complexion of either of these state parties, and after the close of this session [of the legislature] returned to my family, intending to remain in private life. [But, surprise!, he didn’t “remain in private life” for long.]
[SOURCE: Wilson Lumpkin, The Removal of the Cherokee Indians from Georgia (2 vols.; 1907), I: 14; 32-33]
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Former Governor George R. Gilmer, who succeeded to leadership in the Crawford/Troup party after Troup retired, had known John Clark, and in his memoirs offered a description of Clark during a dispute with Governor David B. Mitchell:
General John Scott was the special friend of Gen. [sic] Clark. He found him one day in Milledgeville, preparing himself by getting drunk, for abusing or doing some violence to his enemy, Gen. Mitchel [sic], who was then Governor of the State. To prevent the execution of his purpose, Gen. Scott [sic] endeavored to draw [Clark] away by inviting him to dinner. Gen. Scott lived two or three miles out of town. Clark insisted that [Scott] should go on home, promising that he would follow soon. Scott, knowing that it would be useless to attempt to control [Clark], and that he would only incur his displeasure by offering to do so, went home. He delayed dinner until night. Apprehending that Clark might have become so drunk as to have lost his way, or suffered some other mishap, [Scott] went in search of him, accompanied by many of his negroes [sic], with torches. He found [Clark] asleep upon a log which projected over a precipice, where a turn the wrong way would have precipitated him below, and probably killed him–the recklessness of his temper and his desire to fight Mitchel [sic] having put him into the humor to hunt for danger.
Gilmer also recounted an episode revealing the bitterness of the rivalry between the Crawford and Clark parties:
An ardent Crawford supporter, Baptist preacher Jesse Mercer, delivered a sermon at the funeral of Governor William Rabun, a member of the Crawford party, with newly-elected Governor John Clark in attendance. According to Gilmer, Mercer “enforced the doctrine with great zeal, that when the Lord taketh away a good and righteous man [Rabun], he does it on account of the sins of the people, and will punish them by putting wicked rulers [Clark] over them, and ended by saying Georgia had reason to tremble.”
[SOURCE: George R. Gilmer, First Settlers of Upper Georgia (Reprint; 1965), p. 159;214]
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Augusta newspaper editor Joseph Bevan endorsed George M. Troup for governor in 1821 as follows:
Col. [Troup] commenced his political career under the auspices of Governor [James] Jackson, at the time when the dividing line was struck between Federalism and Republicanism, and at a time too when the state was agitated by the sale of its western territory to the Yazoo Speculators. No wonder then, that he cannot hold communion with those who were opposed to him at that crisis; and small blame to him, if he bares his arm and girds his waist for combat.
[SOURCE: E. Merton Coulter, Joseph Vallence Bevan: Georgia’s First Official Historian (1964), p. 42]
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John Clark did not run for Governor in 1823, leaving that chore to his loyal lieutenant, Matthew Talbot, in what was the last election in which the Governor was chosen by the legislature. Once again, George Troup was the opposition’s candidate, and this time he managed to secure victory for his party, but only by a single vote. When members of the Troup party learned the outcome, their joy was unbounded:
Bedlam broke out and continued for some time. Daniel Duffy, an ardent Methodist and an equally ardent Troupite, ran across the Statehouse Square shouting that “the state of Georgia has been redeemed from the devil and John Clark!” Jesse Mercer, the Baptist divine, was seen running down the street, waving his hat above his bald head, and shouting “Glory, Glory!” until he grew hoarse and disappeared from view over the rugged terrain of Statehouse Square. General David Blackshear, holding his hands in prayer, was heard to say: “Now, Lord, I am ready to die.”
[SOURCE: James C. Bonner, Milledgeville: Georgia’s Antebellum Capital (1978), p.53]
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In the pivotal 1825 gubernatorial contest, the first time in the state’s history the Governor was chosen by popular vote, George M. Troup won a narrow victory over John Clark himself. Over three decades later, Joseph B. Cobb, son of a member of the Troup party, described the parties’ tactics in his memoirs:
Every log had been rolled—every stone had been turned. Obscure, unfrequented county corners had been diligently scoured to swell the voting hordes. The sinks of cities had been ransacked. Cross-road and village drunkards, who had slept for months in ditches or in gutters, and whose sober moments had been as few and far between as angel visits, were assiduously excavated and hauled to the polls. The prison doors were flung open to pining and hapless debtors, who, but for this fierce war of parties, might have languished away the prime of their lives within the gloomy walls of a dungeon. Old men who had been bed-ridden for years, and who had long since shaken adieux with the ballot-box, were industriously hunted up, and conveyed by faithful and tender hands to the nearest precinct. Patients shivering with ague or burning with fever, struggled with pain long enough to cast their votes; and it is within the recollection of many now living, that drooping paralytics, unable to move from the carts or dearborns [sic] which had borne them from their couches, were served with the box at the court-house steps, by zealous and accommodating officers. Nothing, in fact, had been left undone which might contribute to bring the struggle to a decisive and unquestioned issue. Accordingly, when the day arrived, each party, marshaled by its favorite chieftain, was ready for action; and amidst drinking, cavillings [sic], partisan harangues, quarrels, and ring fights, the polls were opened. Every minute of time was wranglingly [sic] contended for in favor of lagging voters—every suspicion was made the pretext for a challenge. But the scrolls soon showed on which side the tides of victory were rolling. The contest resulted in a complete triumph of the Crawford or Troup party, which the Clarkites [sic], chagrined and crest-fallen, acknowledged for the first time that they had been fairly overcome.
[SOURCE: Joseph B. Cobb, Leisure Labors (1858), pp. 141-142]
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Then there was this reaction of “a violent partisan of Troup politics,” Colonel “Phil” Alston, when he overheard a victory celebration of Clarkites in a Milledgeville tavern:
Oh! If I was death on the pale horse I would ride rough-shod over that den, reeking with infamy, when hell should reap a richer harvest than at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
[SOURCE: Garnett Andrews, Reminiscences of an Old Georgia Lawyer (1870), p. 63]
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An early biographer of William Harris Crawford, J.E.D. Shipp, related an anecdote about an Irishman who opened a tavern in Greene County, with the naïve hope of remaining politically neutral so that members of both factions would trade there. He gave up in disgust after a week, because, he said:
As soon as a Crawford man would come in, he would at once inquire if this was a Crawford bar; and, faith, when I told him it was neither, he cursed me for a Clarkite and refused to drink. When a Clark man came in and I told him I was neither, he cursed me for a Crawfordite, and I sold not a gill to anyone. Faith, it pays to be a politician in Georgia.
[SOURCE: Lucian Lamar Knight, Georgia’s Landmarks, Memorials and Legends (1913), p. 23]
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Descriptions of John Clark and his party, from W.H. Sparks, dripping with acid, from his memoir, published a few years after the Civil War:
. . . Every old Federalist in the State who had clung to his principles attached himself to Clark. There were many strong families, wielding a potent influence in their neighborhoods, attached to Federal principles. . . . A press in its support was greatly needed, and was soon established, and given in charge of Cosam E. Bartlett [the Milledgeville Georgia Patriot], than whom no man was better calculated for such a service as was demanded of him.
John Clark was “a man of strong will, without much mind, brave, and vindictive, and nursed the most intense hatred of [William Harris] Crawford constantly in his heart.”
Clark also was “a man of violent passions, and had been, to some extent, irregular and dissipated in his habits. When excited by any means, he was fierce; but when with drink, he was boisterous, abusive, and destructive. Many stories were related of terrible acts of his commission—in riding into houses, smashing furniture, glass, and crockery—of persecution of his family and weak persons he disliked.”
[SOURCE: W.H. Sparks, Memories of Fifty Years (3rd ed.; 1872), pp.82; 78-79]
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For those interested in reading more about Georgia History, here are links to my books on the subject:
Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)