...But while Georgia may have the most slaveholders in the south, it has the most non-slaveholders as well, and the state’s attraction to secession has never attained the white-hot pitch that prevails in its short-fused neighbor to the east. Thus, while Governor Brown and Senator Robert Toombs were laboring mightily for secession, staunch unionists massed in town squares to declare their allegiance. We do not consider the election of Lincoln and Hamlin as sufficient cause for Disunion, was the message from a large crowd in Crawfordsville, according to reports. We are not of the opinion that the election of any man . . . is sufficient cause to disrupt the ties which bind us to the Union, was, reportedly, the view of attendees at a mass meeting in Walker County. “We will never forsake the old `Star Spangled Banner,’’’ wrote one newspaper editor in Harris County, and appended the names of 175 local men who pledged to “preserve the honor and rights of the South in the Union.’’Read the rest here.
Recognizing the strength of the unionists, the ultras tried to persuade the legislature to bypass the people and accept responsibility and pass an ordinance of secession itself. “Come, then, legislators,’’ implored Thomas Cobb in the Milledgeville debates in November. “Represent the wisdom and intelligence of Georgia; wait not till the grog-shops and cross-roads shall send up a discordant voice from a divided people.’’ Said Toombs, more pithily, “I am afraid of conventions.’’ But it was precisely into the hands of that divided people that the legislature passed the decision, calling for a convention to discuss the matter to be held on Jan. 16...
...When the convention came to order on Jan. 16, the delegates constituted — to be sure, this is the opinion of one of the delegates — “the most distinguished body of men which had ever assembled in Georgia . . . . Of the 297 delegates, there were not four whose names were not of pure English, Scotch or Irish origin. It would not have been possible to assemble in one hall, by any method of selection, a more truly representative body of the best intelligence in Georgia.’’
Two days were spent on matters of organization, and then the body got down to business: a separatist resolution favoring secession was proposed. Before action could be taken on that proposal, however, a competing resolution was proposed by the cooperationists that proclaimed Georgia’s attachment to the union and called for Georgia to host a convention of the southern states where they would discuss their relations with the federal government and devise a plan of action that would safeguard the rights of the slaveholding states.
Once again, Alexander Stephens rose to defend the Union. “This step, once taken can never be recalled; and all the baleful and withering consequences that must follow will rest on the Convention for all coming time. When we and our posterity shall see our lovely South desolated by the demon of war which this act of yours will inevitably invite and call forth; when our green fields of waving harvests shall be trodden down by the murderous soldiery and fiery car of war sweeping over our land; our temples of justice laid in ashes; all the horrors and desolation of war upon us — who but this Convention will be held responsible for it?’’
Stephens’s sobering eloquence was admired, but not enough to win a majority in favor of the cooperationist alternative, which lost, 166 to 130. The following day, the separatist proposal passed, 208 to 89, and the convention president, George Crawford, immediately declared Georgia to be an independent nation. As the poet Sidney Lanier put it, “Tears of joy fell from many eyes, and words of congratulation were uttered by every tongue. The artillery from the capitol square thundered forth the glad tidings, and the bells of the city pealed forth the joyous welcome to the new-born Republic.”
At the convention on the following day, a second effort by a cooperationist delegate to obtain from Governor Brown the official vote tallies of the Jan. 2 election was officially defeated.
The tallies have yet to be released. Meanwhile, in Habersham County, one voter is loudly complaining that his delegate to the convention, a preacher named Singleton Sisk, fraudulently declared himself a union man to win election, and then voted with the secessionists. Reports of similar complaints have emerged in a score of other locations.
It is not likely that these objections will be long pursued. At the convention, the secession bloc pushed through a resolution mandating that all delegates, most specifically those who opposed the Ordinance of Secession, affix their signatures to the document as a “pledge of the unanimous determination of this Convention to sustain and defend the State, in this her chosen remedy.’’ As one of its very first actions, the independent republic of Georgia passed a law against treason, an act that includes attesting a continued allegiance to the United States. Disobedience is punishable by death.