In 1850, Levi J. Knight Opposed Secession

 

 Reynolds's Political Map of the United States Designed to Exhibit the Comparative Area of the Free and Slave States and the Territory open to Slavery or Freedom by the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise with a Comparison of the Principal Statistics of the Free and Slave States, from the Census of 1850


Reynolds’s Political Map of the United States Designed to Exhibit the Comparative Area of the Free and Slave States and the Territory open to Slavery or Freedom by the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise with a Comparison of the Principal Statistics of the Free and Slave States, from the Census of 1850

In 1850 Levi J. Knight opposed secession. Knight, who  was a Whig in politics,  in 1834 had been a leader in the effort to form a State Rights Association at Franklinville, GA,  along with  William A. Knight,  Hamilton W. SharpeJohn Blackshear, John McLean, John E. Tucker, William Smith   Lowndes, at that time included most of present day Berrien County, as well as the community  settled by Wiregrass pioneer Levi J. Knight  which would later become known as Ray City, GA.  In 1835 on Independence Day Knight toasted States Rights at Franklinville, then the government seat of Lowndes County.  In 1836, Lowndes County moved the county seat to Troupville, named in honor of “the great apostle of state rights,” George M. Troup.

An ardent advocate for State Rights, Knight was still opposed to secession in 1850. But on this issue in Lowndes County, his was a dissenting voice. It was a turbulent time in Georgia politics.  In the U.S. Congress, Henry Clay had engineered the Compromise of 1850. Its provisions were these: to admit California without slavery; to permit New Mexico and Utah to settle the question for themselves; to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia; and to re-enact a law compelling the return of escaped slaves…  Georgia’s entire delegation supported the compromise, whigs and democrats uniting. But the secessional fires kindled in Georgia…. were still crackling…

A state convention was called in Georgia to consider the impact on the state’s federal relations. Every county was to elect representatives to this convention. In Lowndes county, the pro-Union candidates were Levi J. Knight and Mills M. Brinson. The pro-secession candidates were William L. Morgan and Dr. William Ashley, All four of the candidates were slave owners.

  • Mills M. Brinson (1812-, prominent planter of Lowndes County; member Salem Primitive Baptist Church; pro-Union Democrat; Chairman, Democratic Party of Lowndes County, 1848; in 1850, owner of 24 enslaved people.
  • General Levi J. Knight (1803-1870), state assemblyman; planter; Indian fighter; member of Union Primitive Baptist Church; in 1850, owner of 6 enslaved people, father-in-law of Thomas M. Ray,; organizer of the Berrien Minute Men, 29th Georgia Regiment.
  • William L. Morgan, Esq. (1811-1862), attorney; resident of Troupville, GA; 1st Lieutenant, Lowndes Hussars, 81st Georgia Regiment, 1848;  pro-secession Democrat; in 1850, owner of 7 enslaved people.
  • Dr. William Ashley, (1824-1863); physician and planter; resident of Troupville, GA; pro-secession; in 1850, owner of 5 enslaved people.

A local history item in the Clinch County News recounted the election of delegates, and the state convention:

Clinch County News
August 2, 1929

Anti-bellum Politics

        Away back in 1849 when California was admitted as a state by Congress, politics seethed and Southern senators thundered forth against the motion. The average book you pick up does not deal with the situation except from a national viewpoint. Few people now living, know that Georgia came near seceding from the Union in 1850. It was due to the level-headedness and cool-headedness of certain state leaders that things were kept in check. The Whig party which was beginning to crumble slowly, used its influence against disunion, and they were aided by some Democratic leaders though most of the Democrats were crying for secession.
       The admission of California as a state was viewed by most Georgia people as simply taking land or territory owned by all alike, slaveholders and non-slaveholders, and then excluding slaveholders from moving there with their slaves, and then admitting it as a state. Our people viewed it further, that it was unfair to other states to take territory that was bought and paid for and set it up as a state equal with other sovereign states; that such territory should never be anything other than property held in common, subject to territorial supervision and management by the United States government; and Georgia democrats openly advocated secession. The Democratic papers boldly demanded “Give us liberty from that infamous pack of states, or give us death.” Democratic congressmen warned congress that it might mean secession in some of the Southern states.
      When the legislature of Georgia met in 1850 things were red-hot and the secessionists were running things then. A pretty strong effort was put forth to get the legislature to declare Georgia free and clear of the United States. They confided their plans then to get other states to follow suit.
      The argument about secession was a subject that consumed most of the attention and time of the 1850 legislature which convened in January. Whig legislators, while deprecating the California occurrences, extolled loyalty to the flag and talked about the glory of the good old U.S.A., and counselled working within rather than without the Union. Democratic speakers answered that they had already tried to get justice with in the Union. Whig speakers rejoined that if the Democrats would step out of the way and turn it over to the Whigs in Washington, they could smooth it out. Thus, it went.
            The resolution favoring secession was referred to the committee on —-of the Republic, and the committee reported out substitute resolution directing the Governor to call a convention of the people to vote upon it. The legislature thus washed its hands of the matter, and —-it on which was probably a —- thing as events finally proved.

.<<|>>.

In Lowndes County, a coalition of Whigs and moderate Democrats met to form a local party supporting election of pro-Union delegates…

Milledgeville Southern Recorder
November 19, 1850

At a meeting of a large portion of the people of Lowndes County, for the purpose of nominating two candidates, for Delegates to represent the county of Lowndes in the Convention to be held in Milledgeville on the 10th of December next, on motion, Messrs. William C. Knight (W.)[Whig] and M. Brinson (D.)[Democrat] were called to preside over the deliberations of the meeting; and Charles S. Rockwell requested to act as Secretary. The following resolutions were adopted:

Whereas a Convention of the People of Georgia has been called by the Governor of our State in pursuance of an act of the Legislature approved Feb. 8th, 1850, and we the People of Lowndes County, believing that no just cause of resistance now exists, therefore resolved:

1st. That we will not support any man as a candidate for the said Convention, who does not pledge himself, that he will commit no act or give his vote for any measure that will tend directly or indirectly to subvert the Constitution of Georgia, or the United States.

2nd. That we believe the people of Georgia may honorably acquiesce in the action of the last Congress of the U. S. in reference to the subject of slavery-

3d. That in supporting candidates for said Convention, we will vote for one man of each political party, provided the above required pledges are given by them.

4th. That we recommend to the members of the Convention, the exercise of “Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation.”

On motion, a committee was appointed by the Chairman, to report the names of two suitable candidates to represent the county of Lowndes in the convention, who having retired for a short time, reported the names of Gen. Levi J. Knight (Whig,) and Miles M. Brinson, (Dem.) The report was confirmed by the meeting. The gentlemen selected by the meeting as candidates then expressed themselves willing to subscribe in full to the foregoing resolutions.

After requesting the above proceedings to be published in the Macon Journal & Messenger, Southern Recorder, and Savannah Georgian, the meeting adjourned.

WM C. KNIGHT.
MILES M. BRINSON }Pres’s
Chas. S. Rockwell, Sec’y

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The 1929 Clinch County News continued with additional history of the state convention…

The election for delegates to the convention was held Nov. 24, 1850, and two delegates for each representative in the legislature was elected.

The convention was to meet Dec. 10, 1850.

In Clinch County, Union men were elected; Ware elected Union men but Lowndes county sent delegates in favor of secession. The candidates and the vote they received, from these three counties, were as follows: Union men in the first column of names and disunion men in the next column or row:

[UNION]

Ware:      James Fullwood   199
               J. Walker             125
Lowndes: L. J. Knight          309
               M. M. Brinson       97
Clinch:    Benj. Sirmans     266
               Jas. W. Staten    155

DISUNION

Ware:       Nathan Brewton    98
Lowndes: W. L. Morgan        321
                W. Ashley            315
Clinch:     Simon W. Nichols 29
               John H. Mattox     20

The result of the election was a great majority for the Union advocates. The total votes cast was 71,115 votes,

The Augusta Daily Chronicle & Sentinel reported that on the evening of December 11, 1850, between sessions of the Georgia Sate Convention, a group of Georgia’s leading Union men met in Milledgeville to organize a Georgia association for a new national political party, the Constitutional Union Party.  Levi J. Knight was appointed as a representative to attend a national convention of the new party. This Grand Union Meeting was to be held in Washington, D. C. on February 22, 1851 but never materialized.

Meanwhile, at the Georgia state convention…

…the Union Men mostly Whigs, had a majority in the state of 22,117, and controlled two-thirds of the convention. Thomas Spalding of McIntosh county, a Union man, was elected president of the convention.The tide had turned -secession was defeated. 

Space forbids more details about this interesting event in our state history, other than to say that [after] several days’ oratory the committee reported out a set of resolutions which condemned the admission of California as a state; condemned the pernicious activities of the Free-soilers or Abolitionists; excoriated the Democratic party for its alleged failures; praised the administration of President Fillmore, and patriotically declared for the Union and eulogized the good old U.S.A.

Thus was averted civil war eleven years before it had to come.

The report of the state convention became known as the Georgia Platform of 1850:

Setting forth Georgia’s strong attachment to the Union, it deplored the slavery agitation, asserted the right of the state to settle this question for themselves, avowed a willingness to accept the compromise measures of Mr. Clay [Compromise of 1850], but declared it to be Georgia’s duty and determination to resist any measure of Congress to disturb the peace or to invade the rights of the slaveholding states…Georgia’s action produced a tranquilizing effect upon other states and…deferred the great Civil War for at least ten years. – A standard History of Georgia and Georgians

In 1860, when the election of Abraham Lincoln was imminent, Levi J. Knight formed a company of infantry called the Berrien Minute Men, which fought with the 29th Georgia Regiment in the Civil War.  In 1861, the 29th Georgia Regiment was detailed to defend the Sapelo Island plantation of Thomas Spalding and the port of Brunswick, GA.

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