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Monday, June 11, 2012

Contentious Politics


I’ve been looking through several old newspaper clippings this week concerning Douglasville and one thing is clear…..interesting political seasons are nothing new….no matter the office involved.

The following article titled Gartrell at Douglasville…The doughty general refuses to divide time with a political opponent appeared in The Atlanta Constitution on September 21, 1882.   This article or one similar to it would have appeared in the local paper…..The Weekly Star and would then be submitted to the Atlanta paper similar to the way news stories are handed off via the Associated Press today. 

The Atlanta Constitution regularly carried items involving Douglas County and Douglasville back then.   Yes, I know it’s hard to believe since we aren’t mentioned nowadays unless the situation involves scandal, murder, floods,  mayoral vetoes, fires or some other sensationalized story.  

We must remember, however, back in the 1880s the leading movers and shakers in Douglasville were fast friends with Henry W. Grady, the editor of The Atlanta Constitution, and many of Douglasville’s families had close ties to the business elite in Atlanta.   For this very reason alone Douglasville was mentioned…..and mentioned often. 

I’m presenting the contents of the clipping below in italics with my notes of explanation as well to help set the context of the event. 

Yesterday was a lively time in this usually quiet town [Douglasville].  It had been announced for several days that General Gartrell would speak here on his claims to the governorship, and it was also well known that D. Pike Hill, of Atlanta, would be present to reply to him.

The Georgia governor’s race in1882 was an interesting one pitting two former Confederates against one another.

General Lucious Gartrell
What’s interesting regarding this article is the fact that General Gartrell’s actual opponent was not present to counter his remarks.   D. Pike Hill was not running for governor.   He was a well known Atlanta lawyer who was very active in Democratic politics.   I assume he was in Douglasville to represent the Georgia Democratic Party, and to speak for the actual candidate….Alexander H. Stephens, the very well known vice president of the Confederacy.

The newspaper article continues:

The prospect of hearing a lively discussion brought a good crowd to the town, and by 11 o’clock there must have been nearly four hundred people in and around the courthouse.

Those people would have been gathered on the same grounds where the Old Courthouse Museum sits in downtown Douglasville today.   To date I have not located any pictures of the building that would have existed in 1882.   It was constructed in 1880 and is described as a two-story brick courthouse.   The building was abandoned in 1884 and taken down due to faulty bricks and mortar.  Apparently the building was literally crumbling and was a danger to citizens.

The fact that approximately four hundred people had gathered to listen to General Gartrell is interesting since a ride to town wasn’t as easy as it is now.  Even if the majority of the people who had gathered lived in the downtown area this would mean nearly half the town turn out since the population of Douglasville hovered around one thousand people during the 1880s.

 General Gartrell refused to divide time with Mr. Hill, saying he would discuss in this campaign with Mr. Stephens only.  Mr. Hill then demanded that the general should tell the people he meant to speak.  This General Gartrell did, and then proceeded to make his regulation stump speech.  He met with little encouragement, and was rewarded with little applause. 

At first read General Gartrell really comes off as a rude individual, however, I’m sure it was frustrating for him to campaign against a man who decided to run his campaign in what is described by historians as “casual.”

Stephens only spoke in larger cities such as Macon, Columbus, Augusta, and of course…..Atlanta.  He was well known and well liked.   Stephens had served the state of Georgia as a United States Representative prior to the war, and served the citizens of Georgia in Congress during Reconstruction as well.

Alexander H. Stephens
However, for all his frailty Alexander Stephens was considered one of the strongest men in the South mainly due to his intelligence, judgment, and eloquence. 

General Gartrell wa no slouch either…..Prior to the war Lucious Gartrell had served in the Georgia House of Representatives.   He spent his time during the war bouncing between the battlefields and serving in the Confederate Congress.

He helped formed the Seventh Regiment of the Georgia Volunteer Infantry where he saw action at First Manassas.   He was approached as early as 1863 to run for governor, but declined.   After the war….in 1870….Gartrell had his sights on the U.S. Senate, but when he found out Alexander Stephens planned to run for the seat he stepped aside.  Even then he knew Stephens would be a formidable candidate to run against.

When he had finished Mr. Hill arose and said he would say some very plain things about General Gartrell, and was sorry he could not stay to hear them.  The general went outside the courthouse, ….where he lingered about…..  He then came in and heard all Mr. Hill’s speech, which may be termed a “rattler.”  He frequently brought a hearty cheer showing that he had the sentiment of the people with him.  

After he concluded R.A. Massey made a few remarks in reply, but Mr. Hill corrected some of his statements in a very amusing way, and threw in another good stroke. 

R.A. Massey would be Judge Robert A. Massey.   He was involved in politics and business here in Douglasville as an attorney.   By 1888, he was also serving as postmaster.

The crowd then dispersed to discuss the events of the day and the probable majority for Stephens in Douglas.   General Gartrell had some personal friends here, but the mass of the people prefer Mr. Stephens for governor, and will so express themselves on the fourth of October at the polls.

In fact, General Gartrell only carried eleven of Georgia’s one hundred and thirty seven counties that October.   Thomas A. Martin who wrote the book Atlanta and Its Builders:  A Comprehensive History of the Gate City explains, “…Though [Gartrell] felt that  he had little hope of success at the polls, it was an evidence of [a] fidelity to principle that he was willing to oppose such an idol of the people as [Stephens], and he accepted his defeat with heroic  magnanimity, knowing that it was to an appropriate sense of fitness on the part of the people of Georgia that the career of Mr. Stephens should be closed with gubernatorial honors.”

As for Governor Alexander H. Stephens…..he finally succumbed to his frail health and died after being in office for fourth months.

I’ll end with a little interesting fact I picked up from Atlanta and Its Environs……Gartrell had lived since the 1850s in a grand home in Atlanta on Decatur Street between Jackson and Yonge Streets.  In 1893 following Gartrell’s death the home was sold……the new owner was none other than Douglasville’s own Dr. T.R. Whitley who I have written about here and here.

General Gartrell is one of a handful of Confederate generals buried at Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery.

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