The Georgia conventions of 1850 and 1861: a comparative study .



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Purpose: The purpose of this thesis was to ascertain and compare certain aspects of the Georgia Conventions of 1850 and 1861 in order to obtain information regarding the nature and extent of changes in Georgians’ attitudes toward the union during the interval between these two conventions. A number of factors have been considered, including conditions existing during the pre-convention periods, local leadership, the extent of voter participation in the election of delegates, the size of the popular majorities, the policies proposed during the conventions and the vote on these proposals. While the comparative study required an extensive investigation of these factors in regard to the Convention of 1850, the primary objective of this thesis has been to provide information concerning the secession of Georgia in 1861. Methods: A major portion of this thesis was based on information derived from primary sources. The use of secondary sources was, for the most part, confined to the more general survey of the pre-convention periods, although journals of the Georgia General Assembly as well as the published speeches and private correspondence of various individuals were also utilized. The remainder of the study was based almost exclusively on reports of county meetings and election returns published in contemporary newspapers and on the proceedings of the two conventions. The convention journals and compiled reports of meetings held in various counties prior to the conventions were used in surveys of several categories of local leaders active during both periods. Regional and, to some extent, statewide patters of continuing leadership were determined on the basis of these surveys. The returns in five elections were utilized in the study of voter participation in the election of delegates in 1850 and 1861. The vote in each of the two convention elections was expressed as a percentage of the vote in immediately preceding elections. Thus the total vote in each county in 1850 was calculated as a percentage of the vote cast in these countries in the gubernatorial election held in the fall of 1849. Since two general elections were held just prior to the elections of 1861 (the gubernatorial election of 1859 and the presidential election of 1860), the 1861 vote was expressed as a percentage of the average vote cast in these two elections. The percentages of voter participation in the elections of 1850 and 1861 obtained in this manner wee compared on both a state and regional basis. The study of the popular majority of 1850 was based on the highest vote cast for a unionist candidate and a resistance candidate in each county. The 1861 study was based on the highest vote for a secessionist candidate and a co-operationist candidate in each county. However, in some instances 1861 votes were probabilities projected on the basis of known county majorities or minorities, the known average vote in the county in preceding elections and the average regional percentage of voter participation in the election of 1861. The popular majorities in 1850 and 1861 were expressed as percentages of the combined total of the highest vote cast for the two categories of candidates and compared on both a state and regional basis. Findings: Basic similarities in the more radical of the two policies proposed in the Convention 1850 and the more conservative of the two policies proposed in the Convention of 1861, both of which were rejected, indicate a definite change in the attitudes of most Georgians between 1850 and 1861. This is confirmed by evidence indicating that only a limited number of individual leaders and county electorates demonstrated a consistent attitude by support resistance in 1850 and co-operation in 1861. As a general rule, former union leaders active in 1861 tended to favor co-operation, while former resistance leaders were more inclined to favor secession. Since former unionists made up a large majority of the known continuing leadership, this was, on the whole, a relatively conservative group. However, although former unionists also dominated the known continuing leadership elected in 1861, a majority of these delegates were secessionists. Changes in the relative size of the conservative popular vote were less pronounced than the delegate vote in the two conventions would seem to indicate. This is largely the result of the exaggerated impression of unionist strength conveyed by the overwhelming majority in the Convention of 1850. The unionist majority in this convention was 89 percent as compared to a 64 percent popular majority in the election of delegates. The 55 percent secessionist majority in the Convention of 1861 was also slightly larger than the probable 52 percent popular majority for secession. The actual popular majority for secession in 1861 cannot be determined as a result of the abbreviated form in which the official returns were presented and the incorrect classification of a number of co-operationist delegates in these returns. The probable secessionist majority of 52 percent determined in this study is a downward revision of that cited in the official returns. All four regions in the state show unionist popular majorities in 1850. In 1860 three recorded popular majorities for secession, and one had a co-operationist popular majority. However, the radical percentage of the popular vote increased in all four regions in 1861. Average percentages of voter participation in 1850 and 1861 were similar in the state as a whole; however, the regional analysis revealed significant differences. Increases in average percentages of participation were observed in two regions. Although the average in a third region decreased from 100 percent in 1850 to 91 percent in 1861, voter participation was extremely high in both instances. Moreover, this region made up of only six counties had relatively little effect on the statewide average. The average percentage in 1861 was significantly lower in only one region, the large cotton belt, where the weather was apparently a limiting factor. The results of the regional study as well as increases in the average percentage of participation in counties where candidates were unopposed tends to indicate that voter interest was higher in 1861 than in 1850 but was not fully expressed as a result of a non-political factor.



Georgia Conventions, attitudes toward union, local leadership, secessionist, unionist