Dear Old Days

The Weekly Constitution
Atlanta, Ga.
March 14, 1893

A Word or Two About The Capitol At Milledgeville.

Georgia's First General Assembly - It Was Held in Savannah One Hundred and Forty Years Ago -- Memories.

Time may roll on with all its telling changes and ages to ages may yield, but never will the memories that cluster about the historic old Georgia state house at Milledgeville lose their luster on the pages of Georgia's history, or fail to inspire the Georgia heart with patriotism and pride. There, in those ancient halls today one finds the spot that comes nearer being the living, throbbing heart of the south's proud Empire State than any other, for there is the spot where still centers the sentiment of state loyalty, dignity and love of country.

Where is the Georgian whose heart does not go out upon the memories of Milledgeville in caressing meditation when he sits him down to think? Where is he to walk over the green lawns around the old state capitol with no feeling of pride for what is past? Where is he to speak and find no sound in the echo of those time-worn halls to tell of a final triumph over the "Yazoo frauds." of peaceful treaties with hostile Indians when the nineteenth century was but "a babe int he arms of time;" of the happy growth of Georgia, the young state, as she doffed her swaddling clothes of infancy and grew to the age of mature statehood, and of the final climax that day when Bob Toombs stood there in those same halls and fired men's minds tot he rightful realization of secession? Ah, yes - the old gray stone building towering upon its verdant slopes at Milledgeville, and almost ready to crumble beneath the touch of time, is bound to Georgia by a thousand ties. Since the state moved its throne of power from Milledgeville to Atlanta the old statehouse has been used as a college building for the service of the students of the Middle Georgia Agricultural and Military college. This is well. What better altar at which to lay the flower of the land? What better fountain source for the inculcation of pride and patriotic fervor?

In this busy day and time people say they have not the time for sober reflection on the past, for cultivating the gentler sentiments that come with a study of those chains of historic incidents that have built states and founded splendid governments. For this very reason, the story of Georgia's political government has a weirdness about it "in the fatness of these pursy times" that makes it look like the white shadows of a ghost dance in the columns of a modern newspaper - so strange and uncommon.

One hundred and forty-two long weary years ago the first general assembly ever called to meet in Georgia said its prayers and began work in a shabby little shanty of a house in the town of Savannah - what more? That sentence alone has a ghastly echo in it; what weirdness would it convey were the members' names - mere shadows now - given to weight the statement down with a historian's accuracy. Who in Georgia would care to read those names now?

Oglethorpe as governor of Georgia as a colony had control for ten years after the settlement was finally established. In 1741 there were two counties in Georgia, each of which had a president and several counsellors. The counties were united in one executive in 1743, so history relates, the president of Savannah county having charge of the whole till 1750.

It was on the 15th day of January, 1751, that the first general assembly met in Savannah as mentioned above. Francis Harris was speaker of the concern and the following districts were represented: Savannah, Augusta, Ebenezer, Abercorn, Goshen, Joseph's Town, Vernonburg, Acton, Little Ogeechee, Skidaway, Midway and Darien.

The democratic caucus committee engaged very unlike the first general assembly, was held in Savannah January 7, 1755. There were three brances of the legislature as there is to be the legislatures of the present day practically speaking, governor, council and commons. Thus the political history of Georgia began to build itself around its nucleus. Here it may be interesting to note while passing how the list of governors of the state runs up to the present day:

Governors of Georgia.
The first governor of Georgia was James Edward Oglethorpe, who was elected 1732. He was followed by William Stephens in 1743; then came Henry Parker, 1751; John Reynolds, 1754; Henry Ellis, 1757; James Wright, 1760; James Habersham, 1771; William Erwin, 1775; Archibald Bullock, 1776; Button Gwinnett, 1777; John A. Treuitlen, 1777; John Houston, 1778; John Werriatt, 1778; George Walton, 1779; Richard Howley, 1780; Stephen Heard, 1781; Nathan Brownson, 1781; John Martin, 1782; Lyman Hall, 1783; John Houston, 1784; Samuel N. Elbert, 1785; Edward Telfair, 1786; George Matthews, 1787; George Handley, 1788; George Walton, 1789; Edward Telfair, 1790; George Matthews, 1793; Jared Irwin, 1796; James Jackson, 1798; David Emanuel, 1801; Josiah Tattnall, 1801; John Milledge, 1802; Jared Irwin, 1806; David B. Mitchell, 1809; Peter Early, 1813; David B. Mitchell, 1815; William Rabun, 1817; Matthew Talbot, 1819; John Clark, 1819; George M. Troupe, 1823; John Forsyth, 1827; George R. Gilmer, 1829; Wilson Lumpkin, 1831; William Schley, 1835; George R. Gilmer, 1837; Charles J. McDonald, 1839; George W. Crawford, 1843; George W. Towns, 1847; George W. Towns, 1849; Howell Cobb, 1853; Herschel V. Johnson, 1856; Joseph E. Brown, 1857; J. Johnston (provisional), 1865; Charles J. Jenkins, 1866; Rufus D. Bullock, 1868; Benjamin Conley, 1871; James M. Smith, 1873; Alfred H. Colquitt, 1877; Alex H. Stephens, 1882; James S. Boynton, (president of Senate) 1882; Henry D. McDaniel, 1883; John B. Gordon, 1886; William J. Northen, 1890.

From Savannah to Augusta.
The capitol was moved from Savannah to Augusta and was kept there for many years. The state conventions and sessions of the legislature were held int he old town hall in that city which, while nothing like the statehouse of later years, was a spacious and comfortable hall comparatively speaking for those days. It was while the legislature sessions were being held in Augusta that General George Washington, while president of the United States, visited Georgia.

The legislature was then in session and there is on the pages of the journal of that city's work a record of the adjournment in honor of the distinguished president of these United States.

Washington came to Georgia in his own private carriage, so the story goes, and a committee from the legislature went out about ten miles to meet him - how like the courtesy and hospitality of Georgians even now! George Washington stepped from his carriage and rode with his escort horseback into the city of Augusta. The next afternoon, the record shows, he attended a great dinner, which was given by citizens of Augusta, who chipped in so much a plate, just as we do now-a-days to compliment a distinguished visitor.

Next to Louisville.
After Augusta, Louisville was the next capital city of Georgia.

Louisville is now a thriving, prosperous little town of middle Georgia between Augusta and Milledgeville. It has just begun to hold up its head again after the collapse it felt years ago, when the capital was again changed; this time to Milledgeville.

There were some stormy times and exciting scenes in the legislative sessions at Old Louisville. The "Yazoo frauds," as they were called, aroused no little interest just about that time and political affairs began to warm up to red and white heat in Georgia. There is a great book of laws passed by the Georgia legislature in session at Louisville in print, which is a curious copy to be sure. It contains some very amusing acts, and yet some very wise and circumspect measures even up to this day.

Baldwin county was mapped out and the town of Milledgeville chartered and soon the legislature determined to build a handsome statehouse there. A committee was appointed with a Howell Cobb and a John Rutherford -- familiar names in Georgia even now -- among the others to select a site for the capitol and arrange for the building of it in Milledgeville. The committee made a report at the next session of the general assembly.

The Milledgeville Statehouse.
Thus it was that the statehouse at Milledgeville came to be built.

It was made the throne of Georgia in 1803. The building cost the state $115,000 and the construction was under the guidance of General Thomas.

The building is on a high slope on the western side of the city of Milledgeville, and is surrounded by a great beautiful green lawn and shadowed by stalwart oaks all around. It is certainly a charming location for a state capitol, and the gray, castle-like walls of the building touch off with becoming contrast the green of the campus and the dense foliage of the giant trees in summer time. It is a peculiar style of architecture but a style withal that smacks of the southern idea of such things in that day and time, and for that reason the building is all the more a study.

It was while Governor John Milledge ruled over the state that the capitol was built, and the city of Milledgeville chartered. The place was named after the distinguished governor of that day who was so largely instrumental in securing the new building of state and who was the first governor to pitch his official tent beneath its rooftree.

The building was large enough for a senate chamber, a hall of representatives, offices for the governor and several other state officials with a few rooms remaining for the committees of the legislature and for other purposes. The legislature allowed the court of Baldwin county to be held in the statehouse for several years, but there is a law on record, forbidding this after 1805. In those days the state capitol was regarded as one of the finest buildings in this whole region of the south, so the traditions and stories run, and the people of Georgia were very, very proud of it.

Beyond all shadow of doubt the most eventful period of the entire history of the state of Georgia was that which marked the time when the capitol of the state was at Milledgeville. The seat of power was taken to Milledgeville just at the time when the colonial days had passed over, the war of the revolution smoothed down and the country building up and prospering like the proverbial rose. It was a bright and sunny period in the growth of Georgia. The State university at Athens had just been founded and happy days of enlightenment seemed to be dawning upon the expanding settlements despite the frequent troubles with the Indians.

Soon afterwards the war of 1812 came on and this kept things lively at Milledgeville in a political sense. The Indian wars, too, were not well calculated to allow men's minds to grown lethargic. All these things were matters of great importance in the state's history -- matters the like of which no legislature has to wrestle with these days at the splendid new capitol in Atlanta.

And last of all came the civil war -- that long and trying conflict between the states, the cruel ravages of which are yet being smoothed down. If nothing else had ever happened in the old Milledgeville capitol than the memorable secession convention of Georgia it would be the most consecrated spot on Georgia soil. All the lions of state at once seemed to have been turned loose in the old building. The flush of war was on from the blue mountains to the sea and the oily eloquence of Toombs and the rest poured out such sentiments of patriotism and pride that the convention hall and all Milledgeville went wild with excitement, when the day's business was done and the state of Georgia had burst loose from the ties that bound her to a government that had become oppressive. What a day that was in Georgia's capitol let aged statesmen tell! Bells sounded the glad tidings far and near; old men whose hairs were white with the frost of years shouted and screamed with rapture and delight almost akin to wildness, throwing their hats high in the streets and falling pell-mell over each other here and there.

There will never be another war between the states and hence there will never be any more such scenes at a Georgia statehouse. But while there is much cause for thankfulness on this score, the day will come slowly indeed, when the memories of Milledgeville shall fade from the minds of Georgians.

Remsen Crawford.

File contributed for use by Linda Blum-Barton