Secession Debated in the Athens Press

Southern secession from the United States was not a foregone conclusion with the election of Abraham Lincoln as president on November 6, 1860. The state had already endured previous secession crises, most notably in 1850.  The Compromise of 1850 averted secession for a decade, as did the state’s issuance of the Georgia Platform, which affirmed Georgia’s commitment to the Union, with the insistence that Southern rights remained protected. With Lincoln’s election, however, Southerners who wished to extend slavery into new territories and enforce the Fugitive Slave Law felt once again that their rights and values were under threat. Lincoln was openly hostile to slavery, and insisted it should not be allowed to expand (though he had also insisted that he had no right or intention to interfere with it where it currently existed). To many Southerners, his victory signified that the only recourse to protecting their rights was to secede. But many others still believed compromise was possible, and wanted to wait and see what Lincoln would do once he took office before making any decisions on leaving the Union.

The debate over secession took place on many fronts–both in politics and in the press. The Georgia legislature, then in session in Milledgeville, hosted a series of speeches in the evenings presenting both sides of the secession controversy. A similar, albeit less wordy and formal, debate took place in the Athens, Georgia press during the time between Lincoln’s election and Georgia’s secession. The city’s  Southern Banner advocated immediate secession, while the Southern Watchman took a more conservative wait-and-see approach. The debate began shortly after the election; the Watchman urged its readers to “Keep Cool,” while the Banner argued that “Delay is Submission.”

The debate continued with some name quoting; the Watchman printed editorials using the terms “Precipitators” and “Submissionists,” and insisted that those who wanted to wait (like themselves) were not submitting to anything. The Banner responded by insisting that they were not being “rash” by wanting to escape a falling house, and and equated the circumspection of those who wanted to “be calm” with staying in a burning house.

The editors of the Southern Watchman weren’t the only people who believed in a cautious approach; one of the most vocal and eloquent proponents for this policy was the man who would become vice president of the Confederate States of America,  Georgia native Alexander Stephens. The Watchman praised an argument he raised against immediate secession in a Milledgeville speech; their editors agreed that such action should be considered only as a “last resort.” The Banner, on the other hand, printed a special issue with a lengthy argument advocating secession; the introduction mentioned the ominous term “Civil war.”

The two newspapers used  similar wording in the titles of two mid-December editorials, but with very different meanings. The Watchman reported that the movement to cooperate within the Union was gaining strength, while the Banner rallied for secessionists to vote in an election that would send delegates to Georgia’s state convention on January 16, 1861, where secession would be deliberated.

The first state to secede from the Union was South Carolina, on December 20, 1860. Response to this momentous event was different in the two Athens newspapers. The Watchman reported the information more objectively as a news event; the same issue also included an editorial piece rejecting accusations of submission to Northern enemies. The Banner, on the other hand,  reported enthusiastically about a “Great Secession Jubilee” after South Carolina’s news reached Athens.

As the year 1861 dawned,  Georgia elected its delegates for the state convention which would consider the matter of secession. The Banner reported with glee when secessionists won the local elections, opining that Clarke county had “covered herself in glory.” The Watchman countered with a lengthy piece which argued that disaster was hovering over the entire country.

As Georgia’s secession convention met on January 16, 1861, the two Athens newspapers again expressed differing viewpoints. The Watchman acknowledged that secession was likely, but felt “gloomy” about the nation’s prospects. The Banner‘s response was just the opposite; their editors rejoiced in the prediction that Georgia would soon be out of the Union, along with all the other slave states to follow.

Three days later, Georgia adopted an Ordinance of Secession on January 19, 1861.

For more articles like these, and many covering other subjects, visit the Athens Historic Newspapers Archive.

For more on the events leading to secession, and the Civil War in Georgia, visit This Week in Georgia Civil War History.


The Georgia Gold Rush

Miners panning for gold in a sluice flume. From the "Thar's gold in them thar hills": Gold and Gold Mining in Georgia, 1830s-1940s Collection.
August 1, 1829 article from the Georgia Journal documenting the discovery of gold. From the Milledgeville Historic Newspaper Archive.


++++No one knows for sure when the nugget that initiated Georgia’s gold rush was found, but the existence of gold in Georgia was first documented in 1829. An article from the Georgia Journal (above) verifies that the veins of gold found in North and South Carolina stretch into north Georgia. It goes on to warn that the consequences of mining this gold would be significant, severe, and should even be prohibited.

However, these words could not stop the thousands of miners that inhabited a section of Hall County (now part of modern-day Lumpkin County), fueled by a thirst for gold. By the late 1830s, almost  six thousand people had settled there, many of them in the county seat of Dahlonega. Pictured above are two men engaging in deposit mining (panning). Later, as more and more people settled and the gold rush was in full swing, hard-rock mining (which involved drilling directly into the gold veins) would become the favored method. These migrations were not without consequence: the arrival of  these miners displaced thousands of Cherokees from the northern part of the state. Dubbed the “Great Intrusion,” this dismissal of native people preceded the Cherokee Removal, where  four thousand Cherokees from southern states died as they were forced by Army troops to relocate to Oklahoma during the winter of 1838-1839.

Hydraulic mining. Image from promotional material given to potential investors in the Dahlonega Consolidated Gold Mining Company, 1899. From the From the "Thar's gold in them thar hills": Gold and Gold Mining in Georgia, 1830s-1940s Collection.

The gold rush died down in the 1840s, when the remaining hard-rock gold veins became more difficult and dangerous to mine. Miners could no longer expect to make a decent living deposit mining, and, beginning in 1849, many relocated to California to seek their fortune. However, some mining continued until the turn of the century, and mining companies such as the Dahlonega Consolidated Gold Mining Company would continue to seek community investment as they employed hydraulic mining techniques that their colleagues brought back from California.

Hydraulic mining proved to be less profitable than the mining companies promised, and they soon went out of business. Although financial hardships emptied the mines, gold mining in Georgia was not forgotten. Modern-day gold-related tourism remains a staple for the city of Dahlonega, which hosts an October festival marking the glory days of the miners, and the dome of the Georgia state capitol building in Atlanta is crowned with locally-mined gold.  Though the gold rush lasted only fifty years, it made its mark on both Georgia history and in the imaginations of those who have ever dreamed of striking it rich in the north Georgia mountains.

The Dahlonega Consolidated Gold Mining Company, between 1899-1906. From the Vanishing Georgia Collection.

To find out more about the gold rush in Georgia, you can view the Digital Library of Georgia collections “Thar’s Gold in Them Thar Hills”: Gold and Gold Mining in Georgia, 1830s-1940s, the Milledgeville Historic Newspaper Archive, and the entry “Gold Rush” in the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Additional images of gold and gold mining are available from the Vanishing Georgia collection, which can be viewed at the Digital Library of Georgia and at the Georgia Archives websites.