Hiram Parks Bell:  Secession and Reconstruction


The following is Chapter 7 from Hiram Parks Bell’s Men and Things, published 1907:


            “On the 16th day of January, 1861, the people of Georgia, by their chosen delegates, assembled in convention at the capitol in Milledgeville.

            “This was perhaps a body of the ablest men ever assembled in the state.  The magnitude of the issue to be considered and determined induced the people to select the men supposed to be best qualified to determine wisely.

            “The people were prosperous; many of them rich; all of them peaceful and happy.  They owned African slaves, numbering hundreds of thousands.  Their barns were crowded with fullness and plenty.  They exhibited the finest type of society civilization ever presented.  This prosperity had been achieved in the Union, under the protection of the Constitution of the United States.  The practical nullification of the fugitive slave provision of the Constitution, by the hostile legislation in 14 states, and the election of a President by them from one section of the Union, upon the issue of hostility to the institution of African slavery as it existed in the Southern States, convinced a majority of the convention that their safety and preservation of their rights could only be secured by dissolving their relation with states thus faithless to constitutional obligations.  Three days after the convention met---on the 19th of January, 1861---it adopted, by a vote of 166 yeas to 130 nays, the Ordinance of Secession, and thus withdrew from the Union, in the exercise of the right of self-government asserted in the Declaration of Independence.  This opened ‘Pandora’s box,’ and a tragedy was enacted that General W.T. Sherman rightly named ‘hell.’

            “On the 25th of October, 1865, another convention of the people assembled at the same place.  The environments were different.  The slaves had been freed by force; the barns were empty; the fields, gardens and orchards had been trampled down; dwellings robbed; cities sacked and burned; livestock slaughtered or stolen; mills and factories demolished; churches profaned and cemeteries desecrated; the flower of Southern chivalry dead; the land groaning in poverty, widowhood and orphanage; and crushed by the iron heel of a military despotism; the people put under the government of military satraps.  This convention, like the former, was composed of able and patriotic men.  Herschel V. Johnson presided over its deliberations and Charles J. Jenkins led them upon the floor.

            “President Johnson had adopted his plan of readjusting the seceded states in their relations to the Union.  James Johnson, an able and conservative citizen of the County of Muscogee, had been appointed Provisional Governor, and the convention assembled for this purpose.  The Ordinance of Secession was promptly repealed by a unanimous vote, the payment of the war debt prohibited and the emancipation of the slaves expressly recognized.  The presidential program of reconstruction was literally carried out.  A state constitution was adopted in conformity to the Constitution of the United States.  A general election for Governor, members of Congress and members of the General Assembly was held.  Charles J. Jenkins was elected Governor.

            “‘The pure of the purest,

            The hand that upheld our bright banner the surest.’

            “The legislature assembled on the 4th of December and unanimously ratified the thirteenth amendment to the Federal Constitution, prohibiting the existence of slavery.  Charles J. Jenkins was inaugurated Governor on December 19, 1865, and Provisional Governor James Johnson relinquished the conduct of state affairs to the authorities thus constituted.  The legislature elected Alexander H. Stephens and Herschel V. Johnson United States Senators.  The people supposed that constitutional civil government was restored, that military domination would cease, and that they could pursue their avocations in peace and hope, if in toil and poverty, but this was a mistake.  The legislature met on November 1, 1866.  The fourteenth amendment to the Constitution had been submitted to the state for ratification.  The legislature declined to ratify by a unanimous vote in the senate, and by a vote of 132 to 2 in the house.  Major General John Pope assumed command in the third military district, containing Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, on April 1, 1866.  Civil government having been restored and in successful operation in the state, Governor Jenkins made an effort to bring the question of the constitutionality of the reconstruction act before the Supreme Court for adjudication.  This effort failed.  The State of Georgia presented the anomalous spectacle of being under two governments---a civil government under constitutional law administered by Governor Jenkins, and a military despotism, in violation of law, enforced by Major General John Pope.

            “On the 6th of January, 1868, Major General George G. Meade assumed command in the third military district.  Congress had repudiated the presidential scheme of reconstruction and adopted that provided in the several reconstruction acts; and impeached the president.

            “On January 11 the state officers were admonished under color of authority not to interfere with the exercise of military authority in the states composing the third district.  Governor Jenkins and State Treasurer Jones were ordered to pay out of the public treasury the public money, under military order, which they declined to do for the reason that they had taken an oath to support the constitution, which provided that ‘No money shall be drawn from the treasury of this state except by appropriations made by law.’  Whereupon General Meade issued the following order: ‘Charles J. Jenkins, Provisional Governor, and John Jones, Provisional Treasurer, of the State of Georgia, having d****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************ssued the following order:  ‘Atlanta, January 8, 1870.  In pursuance of the Act of Congress (to promote the reconstruction of the State of Georgia), approved December 22, 1869, it is ordered that J.W.G. Mills, Esqr., as clerk pro tem will proceed to organize the Senate.  He will call the body to order at 12 o’clock M., on Monday, the tenth instant, in the Senate chamber.  The names of the persons proclaimed as elected members of the Senate in the order of General Meade dated “Headquarters, Third Military District, Department of Georgia, Florida and Alabama, Atlanta, Georgia, January 25, 1868, General Order 90.”  As each name is called, the person so summoned will, if not disqualified, proceed to the clerk’s desk and take oath or make affirmation (as the case may be) prescribed in the said act, before Judge Smith, United States Commissioner, who will be present and administer the oath.  When the oaths are so executed, they will be filed with the Honorable, the Secretary of State, or his deputy, who will be present; when all the names mentioned in said order of General Meade, have been called as before provided, such of the persons as shall be qualified will thereupon proceed to organize by the election and qualification of the proper officers.”  (Signed) Rufus B. Bullock, Provisional Governor.’

            “On February 15, 1870, the General Assembly proceeded to elect three United States Senators, after having already elected two---Messrs. Hill and Miller, who were in life, had not resigned, were at Washington applying for their seats, and whose term of service had not expired.  But, of course, official oaths and constitutional obligations were cobwebs with the majority of the Legislature.  Foster Blodgett was declared elected for the term of six years, to commence on March 4, 1871.  Henry P. Farrow was declared elected for the term expiring on March 4, 1873, and Richard H. Whitely was declared elected for the term expiring on March 4, 1871.  Georgia had seven Senators in life, elected---not one of whom had been permitted to qualify and take his seat.  The patriotic members of the Senate entered upon the journals their indignant protest.  But Provisional Governor Rufus B. Bullock had the protection of Brevet Major General Alfred H. Terry, commanding the military district of the State of Georgia.

            “On July 18, 1870, the Provisional Governor informed the General Assembly that he had secured unofficial information of the passage of an act to admit the State to representation in Congress, and adding that he was informed that ‘the general commanding will make no objection to the General Assembly proceeding with legislation.’ The Governor and Treasurer, presented against each other, respectively, charges of high crimes and misdemeanors, which were investigated by a joint committee of the two houses of the General Assembly during the months of May and June, 1870.  The evidence, and the report of the committee, which appears on the journal of the General Assembly, establish the guilt of both.  Reconstruction in the seceded states was a reign of falsehood, lawlessness, robbery, and despotism.  It is due to a few able and patriotic members of that historic Legislature, to say that they made a manly and gallant stand for constitutional liberty and common honesty, for which the country owed them a debt of gratitude it will be difficult to discharge.  Finally the state was allowed representation in Congress.   Governor Bullock found it necessary to his safety to retire from the state before the expiration of his term of service.  A new election installed an honest democratic administration.

            “In 1877, the people of Georgia held a constitutional convention, over which that incorruptible statesman and patriot, Charles J. Jenkins, presided; and established a Constitution that secured white over black domination and restored the supremacy of the civil over the military authority.

            “The men who invoked, imposed, and enforced Congressional Reconstruction upon a brave and patriotic people---defeated in war---in the anguish of grief and thralldom of poverty, sacrificed honor, race and liberty for power and plunder, and have gone to history, embalmed in infamy.”