Responding to a call from Provisional Governor James Johnson, elected delegates gathered in convention in Milledgeville on October 25, 1865, to develop a new state constitution. On the second day of the proceedings, the body unanimously approved an ordinance repealing the 1861 declaration of secession. The official printer of the convention – The Southern Recorder newspaper – reported the act in their October 31 edition.
To repeal certain ordinances and resolutions therein mentioned, heretofore passed by the people of the State of Georgia in Convention.
We, the People of the State of Georgia in Convention, at our seat of Government, do declare and ordain, That an ordinance adopted by the same people, in convention, on the nineteenth day of January, A.D. eighteen hundred and sixty-one, entitled “An ordinance to dissolve the union between the State of Georgia and other States united with her under a compact of government entitled ‘the constitution of the United States of America’”; also an ordinance adopted by the same on the sixteenth day of March in the year aforesaid, entitled “An ordinance to adopt and ratify the constitution of the Confederate States of America”; and also all ordinances and resolutions of the same, adopted between the sixteenth day of January and the twenty-fourth day of March, in the year aforesaid, subversive of, or antagonistic to the civil and military authority of the government of the United States of America, under the constitution thereof, be, and the same are hereby repealed.
Various newspapers across the nation informed their readers of Georgia’s action, and critical reviews often proved the result, especially among members of the northern press. The Philadelphia Enquirer, in their October 31 edition, criticized the state in a story entitled “Georgia Lags.” The editors pronounced, “Georgia is not coming up to the necessities of the times with the alacrity which was expected from her.” Comparing results in Milledgeville to similar bodies, previously meeting in other states, they did not find favor with the deeds of the delegates. “Georgia follows the lead of South Carolina, and merely repeals [italics in original] that ordinance, thus justifying the argument that it was legal, and that all that was done under it was lawful, and that the same yet remains of binding force in regard to everything not specially declared unlawful.” One week later, the same editors proposed the original act of secession resulted in “Thousands of her sons…slaughtered…the ruins of homesteads within the broad track of SHERMAN [caps in original]…Georgia is a waste and weeping place….”
Continuing the trend of negative comments on the proceedings in Milledgeville, the Albany Evening Journal reported on October 30, “Georgia is even less practicable and loyal than South Carolina in addressing herself to the work of reconstruction.” A reporter with the Boston Daily Advertiser, who traveled to Milledgeville to cover the convention, offered a slightly more favorable commentary in a November 8 story, which recapped several proceedings from the convention. Noting the delegates’ act of passing a constitution abolishing slavery, he closed the account: “So, without a word to warm the blood of friend or foe, the great Empire State of the South took up the banner of liberty and fell into the ranks of progression.”
Looking for some balance in the news emerging from Milledgeville, a reporter with the Macon Daily Telegraph hoped “…the correspondence of the Northern press…will be confined strictly to facts, and the true spirit of the proceedings…my acquaintance with those, already here, leads me to believe this will be the case!” As the delegates worked to complete a new constitution, the citizens of Georgia faced greater difficulty, as the tumultuous period of reconstruction awaited.
Traveling to Milledgeville today, one can tour the building where the convention delegates met and explore the treasures found in the Old Capitol Museum’s collection. For more information, visit http://oldcapitalmuseum.org/.
Michael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.