Note: This article was originally written in April 2015. As the county prepares for a July 4th celebration which features the July 4, 1945, “reentry” into the Union, this tale bears repeating.--DMS
E. Merton Coulter, famous Georgia historian and author of an article about the State of Dade being a myth, would be dancing on his own grave if he knew what Ken Pennington found in an innocent internet search of old newspapers. Ken called me a couple of times and was urgent that I contact him. I was busy working on some legal matters, so returning his call was not as quick as he wished. He was excited and he wanted to share what he had found. I now understand his desire to share the big find. When we finally met to have a conversation, I became as excited as he was.
“What,” you inquire, “has made you, Ken and a long deceased historian, so excited?” We finally found the missing link.
No, not the one from Africa, but the one that has plagued Dade County since the Civil War. I have been on two television shows (one by PBS and one on the History Channel) proclaiming that there is no evidence to be found that Dade County seceded from Georgia in 1861, before the Civil War, because of slavery or for any other reason. Based on what Ken found, that still appears to be true. At least it is true for the 1860s.
But it does appear that there really was a serious movement to secede. It was not found because those of us who have looked and looked and looked were looking in the wrong decade. There was a movement to secede—but it was in 1851, not 1861.
I don’t want to bury the lead with the facts, so here goes. We found enough evidence to say that Dade County did threaten to secede from Georgia in 1851 if Governor McDonald seceded from the United States and rejoined England. It was reported in quite a few newspapers including: Savannah Republican via Atlanta Republican, New Hampshire Sentinel via New York Express, Cabinet (Schenectady, N.Y.), Augusta Chronicle, Rome Courier, and the Cassville Standard between September 1851 and March 1852. An article explaining the origin of the State of Dade was printed in the Macon Telegraph in 1877.
If you studied English at Dade High from Betty Lamance or Pat Taylor or several other great teachers, then you know what a thesis statement looks like. The one that I found at the Georgia Archives explains the background better than I could (and in fewer words).
The event was called the Georgia Platform and a handwritten and then printed Journal of the State Convention of 1850 was kept. While called to meet in November, it actually happened from Tuesday, December 10, through Saturday, December 14, 1850. Here is a summary of what caused it and what happened.
The Compromise of 1850, dealing with territory acquired during the Mexican War, had numerous critics despite its passage by Congress. Southerners were upset by the admittance of California as a free state, which gave free states a majority of votes in the U.S. Senate. Northerners protested the inclusion of a tough Fugitive Slave Act, designed to appease Southerners. Several Southern states, including Georgia, had highly vocal secessionist movements calling for immediate secession. The Georgia General Assembly authorized a call for a state convention to determine the state's course. Howell Cobb, Alexander H. Stephens, and Robert Toombs, who represented Georgia in Congress, wielded their influence in Georgia in support of the Compromise. Of the 264 delegates elected to the special convention in November 1850, 240 were Unionists. A Committee of Thirty-three drafted a response adopted by a vote of 237 to 19. In it, Georgia gave a qualified endorsement to the Compromise so long as the North complied with the Fugitive Slave Act and ceased to attempt to ban the expansion of slavery into new territories and states.
I read the whole journal a couple of times and it was an exercise close to torture because I was looking for details. I was looking to see how the Dade County delegates to the Convention voted. John McKaig and Gallatin Stephens were our delegates. They voted with the 237 on the last vote, but that was not always true. Sometimes one or the other was not in the room for a vote or division of the house forgot to include their names. There were two delegates named Stephens, Alexander H. and Gallatin. They were listed as Stephens of Dade and Stephens of Taliaferro. If you are reading this and are related to either Gallatin Stephens or John McKaig, then please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org because I am almost certain that each has descendants still living here.
The tales of threats of secession were printed in the Alexandria Gazette (VA) on 8 October 1851 and is printed in its entirety.
The State of Georgia is passing through a severe political contest at present, Gov. McDonald representing the secessionists and Mr. Speaker Cobb being the candidate of the Union men, without distinction of party lines, for the office of Governor. Mr. McDonald is strong upon the disunion side that he says if South Carolina shall secede and join England he will not consent to coerce her. The citizens of Dade County, Georgia, acting upon the example of their most excellent disunion Governor, at a late meeting, resolved that if Georgia secedes from the Union, they will secede from Georgia. Their resolution reads thus:
Resolved, That the County of Dade, as a sovereign county, in the event that Charles J. McDonald is elected Governor, and that the State should secede from the Union, will, in the exercise of her sovereignty, absolve herself from all connexion (sic) with said State, and annex herself to the State of Tennessee.
The merit of the resolve is mostly contained in the fact that Dade County is naturally separated from the rest of Georgia by a range of mountains, and her citizens could annex themselves to Tennessee, upon which state they border, without any difficulty whatever.
There are several other articles that I will share, and I will continue writing about this saga later. Comparing the words used in the 1850 and 1877 articles with the legend that we quote from 1945 is something that could be interesting. The comparison may add clarity to our understanding of what happened, real and perceived.
At any rate, the legend is at least 10 years older than we knew and the threat to withdraw from Georgia seems to be an ongoing theme. Following the noisy voice of the late C.M Smith after the flood in the 80s washed his house away along with much of Dade County, maybe we just ought to attach ourselves to Tennessee.
NOTE: The DC HistoricalSociety will meet on Saturday morning, June 16, at the Dade County Public Library. The meeting will convene at 10:30 a.m. and will be followed by a genealogy workshop which should last from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. All interested parties are invited. Also, we encourage anyone interested to become a member for $10 per year. If you need assistance with your family tree research we would love to assist. The library has some great equipment to help with photographs
and all of the Dade County newspapers have been digitized and have an index program to enhance your research. Bring a lunch or snack and plan to stay from 10:30 until 1:30.