Fourth of July, 1834 and the State Rights Association




In 1834, William A. Knight, Levi J. Knight, Hamilton W. Sharpe, John Blackshear, John McLean, John E. Tucker, William Smith led the effort to form a State Rights Association at Franklinville, GA,  then seat of Lowndes County.  Lowndes, at that time included most of present day Berrien County, and the community  settled by Wiregrass pioneer Levi J. Knight  which would become known as Ray City, GA.  The following year, the  citizens of Lowndes again met  to toast States Rights at Franklinville on Independence Day(1835)  In 1836, they would designate their new county seat as Troupville, in honor of “the great apostle of state rights,” George M. Troup.

George M. Troup

George M. Troup

The State Rights Party of Georgia had been launched in 1833 by prominent leaders of the Troup party, including John M. Berrien, George R. Gilmer, William H. Crawford, William C. Dawson, and Augustin S. Clayton. The  State Rights activists were committed to the notion that individual states could exercise nullification of federal laws which they found objectionable, although this doctrine  was condemned by the Legislature of Georgia and other state governments.  Furthermore, according to the State Rights supporters, individual states where bound by the Constitution only to the extent that they found agreeable;  states could secede from the Union  at will.  These ideas emerged in response the Alien and Sedition Acts – a sort of 17th century version of the Homeland Security Act – which the Federalists enacted as war with France loomed on the horizon.

According to the Library of Congress:

Signed into law by President John Adams in 1798, the Alien and Sedition Acts consisted of four laws passed by the Federalist-controlled Congress as America prepared for war with France. These acts increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to fourteen years, authorized the president to imprison or deport aliens considered “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States” and restricted speech critical of the government. These laws were designed to silence and weaken the Democratic-Republican Party. Negative reaction to the Alien and Sedition Acts helped contribute to the Democratic-Republican victory in the 1800 elections. Congress repealed the Naturalization Act in 1802, while the other acts were allowed to expire.”

The infringements of the  Alien and Sedition Acts had prompted   Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to secretly author the Kentucky (1798) and Virginia (1799)  Resolutions which first proposed the argument that state legislatures had the right to nullify Federal statutes.   In these resolutions lay the seeds of disunion which culminated in the Civil War.

The 1834 convening of the State Rights activists in Lowndes County was full of rhetoric over the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, South Carolina’s attempts at nullification, Andrew Jackson’s Nullification Proclamation which disputed a states’ right to nullify federal law, and the subsequent Force Act, which authorized the use of military force against any state that resisted federal law.

 

Georgia Journal
September 3, 1834 — page 3

According to previous arrangement, the citizens of Lowndes county friendly to State Rights met in Franklinville on the 4th of July, for the purpose of forming a State Rights Association – when, on motion, Wm Smith was called to the Chair, and John McLean appointed Secretary.  The object of the meeting was then explained by Hamilton W. Sharpe, Esq.  A committee of five persons, to wit: H. W. Sharpe, John Blackshear, John McLean, John E. Tucker, and Levi J. Knight, was appointed to draft a preamble expressive of the political sentiments of the meeting, and a constitution for the government of the association.

The meeting then adjourned until Friday the 1st day of August.

WM SMITH, Chairman

John McLean, Secr’y

————————–

Friday August 1.

THE STATE RIGHTS PARTY OF LOWNDES COUNTY, met pursuant to adjournment, on the first day of August, when Wm A. Knight was appointed President, Matthew Albritton and John J. Underwood Vice President, and William Smith recording Secretary and Treasurer. A committee of three persons was appointed to wait on the President, notify him of his appointment, and conduct him to the chair, after which he addressed the meeting at considerable length.

The preamble and Constitution being called for, H. W. Sharpe, from the Committee, reported the following, which was unanimously adopted.

PREAMBLE.

Your Committee, to whom was confided the trust of preparing a Preamble and Constitution to be submitted to this meeting, for the formation of a State Rights association in the county of Lowndes, beg leave to submit the following:

This meeting, which is called in conformity to the request of the State Rights meeting which was formed in Milledgeville on the 13th Nov. last, is deemed by your committee to be of the utmost importance, in producing unanimity of action in suppor of these great conservative principles of State Rights hitherto of such great importance in prostrating the approaching spirit of consolidation.  The triumph of those principles so much to be desired, calls loudly for the formation of local and county associations, as the best means of disseminating those great political truths maintained by the illustrious Jefferson, affirmed by the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, and sanctioned by the purest patriots of our country.  The state of political parties in Georgia, and throughout the Union, calls loudly for this concert of action to preserve all that is dear to freemen.

There seems to be a spirit abroad in the land, which is likely to fatal to constitutional liberty, and subversive of the Republican doctrines of ’98 and ’99; and in their place is sought to be established antagonist doctrines, calculated to change our political institutions, & destroy our civil rights.  If these doctrines should prevail, then farewell to freedom and State Sovereignty.  Then will the altar of our political faith be destroyed, and its glories extinguished.

Our opponents, to wit, the self-styled Union party of Georgia, would dissemblingly profess to accord with the views of the illustrious Jefferson, and hypocritically pretend to adopt, as the rule of their faith, the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions of ’98 and ’99.  They must have forgotten that those far-famed resolutions declare: “That there being no common judge, each party has a right to judge for itself, as well as of infractions as the mode and measure of redress.”  Now this is the doctrine which we profess to believe; this then would have been the State Rights doctrine of the Union party, if they had gone no farther; but in a subsequent Resolution, they declare that in case Congress should pass an unconstitutional law, no State has a right to judge any thing about it.  How this last sentiment can be made to agree with the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, we leave our opponents to determine.

It is plainly deducible from the whole tenor of their proceedings, that the ultra-Federal doctrines of the Proclamation of the fatal 10th Dec. 1832, are approved and cherished. The tyrannical and despotic provisions of the Force Bill are sanctioned, its authors and supporters applauded, and the sovereignty of their own State denied.  Then if these doctrines should eventually prove successful, it must result in the final overthrow of constitutional liberty, and the establishment of a consolidated despotism on the ruins of State Sovereignty.

While our opponents are thus actively and zealously engaged in disseminating and circulating these dangerous doctrines, they spare no pains in casting odium and reproach on those of us who are friends to State Rights and State Sovereignty.  The terms “rebel, ”disunionist, ”traitor’ and other opprobrious epithets, are frequently applied to those who would exert their influence to arrest the Federal Government in its march towards absolute power and despotism.  We, as a portion of the State Rights party of Georgia, would cast back these epithets, and say, let posterity judge who are the friends of the Union and liberty, when the transactions of the present day shall become matters of history.

We will now give our opinion of some of the leading political subjects, which seem to be the divisional line between the two parties now in Georgia.

We believe the doctrines of the Proclamation of the 10th Dec. 1832 to be radically wrong, and will have a tendency to destroy the original principles of our government, for it re-asserts the doctrines of the Federalist of former days; “That the States of this Confederacy never had a separate existence; that a State has no right to decide upon the constitutionality of any act of Congress, nor to arrest its progress in its own limits.

It denies the right of secession, even under the most oppressive laws, maintaining that the states have not retained their entire sovereignty, and that the allegiance of our citizens is due to the United States in the first instance, and threatening the employment of the sword and bayonet to coerce a State into submission.

The passage of the Act called the Force Bill to be a high-handed measure, unauthorized by the Constitution. The President, overlooking his former principles, demands of a submissive Congress, their sanction of these extraordinary powers and doctrines, and the means of carrying them into effect.

On no former occasion has the hand of power been exerted over the Constitution of a free country with more daring assumption.

In has, under the pretence of collecting the Revenue, at one fell swoop abolished the State governments, conferred upon the President unlimited powers, and placed at his disposal the Army, Navy, and Militia of the United States, not only to be used at his own caprice, but also authorizes him to confer this power on a deputy Marshall, or whoever he may think proper.  It also give him the power to make a Custom house on a ship of war, and place it at the entrance of any harbor he amy think proper, there to exact at the mouth of a cannon, in the name of duites, the honest earnings of the laboring man, and bestow the money as a bounty upon the lordly manufacturer. The provisions of this act are a disgrace to our Statute Book, and a monumnet of the servile spirit of the 22d Congress, and should be torn from our public archives and consigned to the flames that consumed the records of the Yazoo speculation.

Your Committee, however, can but hope, that there is yet a redeeming spirit among the people of this Government, to check the rapid strides of absolute power which is threatening our institutions with a change from a Republic to a Despotism.

In order that the doctrine of State Rights and State Remedies may be promoted, we, its friends and advocates of the county of Lowndes, think it the utmost importance to organize an Association to act in concert with the Central Committee and all Associations of a similar kind.

Therefore, be it resolved, That it is expedient to form a State Rights Association based upon the doctrines of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of ’98 and ’99, as put foth and contended for by Mr. Jefferson adn other republicans of that day.

In compliance with the duty imposed on your Committee, they would respectfully submit the following

CONSTITUTION

Art. 1. This Association shall be known as the State Rights Association of the county of Lowndes, and have for its object the dissemination of sound political doctrine, based upon the Republican doctrine of ’98 and ’99, as put forthe by Mr. Jefferson and other patriots.

Art. 2. The offices of this Association shall be a President, two Vice Presidents, and a Secretary, who shall also act as Treasurer.

Art. 3. The President shall perform the duties which appertain to such an office in all Associations of a similar kind, and shall call meetings of the Association and appoint Committees; and in his absence, one of the Vice Presidents shall preside.

Art. 4. The Secretary shall keep a correct account of the proceedings of the Association.

Art. 5. Any person may become a member of this Association by signing the Constitution.

Art. 6. This Constitution may be altered or amended by two thirds of the Association, at any annual meeting.

Art. 7. The officers of this Association shall be elected on the 4th of July in each and every year, unless it fall on the sabbath, the the Saturday preceding.

On motion of H. W. Sharpe, Esq. it was

Resolved, That the State Rights papers in Milledgeville be respectfully requested to publish the preceedings of this meeting.

Resolved, That the Editors of the Southern Recorder be directed to print one hundred copies of the Preamble and Constitution adopted by this Association for distributing among the people of this county, and forward their account for payment to the Recording Secretary.

The Association adjourned to meet at Franklinville, on Friday before the first Monday in October next.

WILLIAM A. KNIGHT, President

WILLIAM SMITH, Secretary

From Georgia Journal, Sep. 3, 1834 — page 3

1834 William A. Knight elected president of Lowndes County State Rights Association at Franklinville, GA. Members include Levi J. Knight, Hamilton Sharpe, William Smith, Matthew Albritton, John J. Underwood, John McLean, John E. Tucker, John Blackshear

Georgia Journal, Sep. 3, 1834 — page 3

1834 William A. Knight elected president of Lowndes County State Rights Association at Franklinville, GA. Members include Levi J. Knight, Hamilton Sharpe, William Smith, Matthew Albritton, John J. Underwood, John McLean, John E. Tucker, John Blackshear

1834 William A. Knight elected president of Lowndes County State Rights Association at Franklinville, GA. Members include Levi J. Knight, Hamilton Sharpe, William Smith, Matthew Albritton, John J. Underwood, John McLean, John E. Tucker, John Blackshear

1834 William A. Knight elected president of Lowndes County State Rights Association at Franklinville, GA. Members include Levi J. Knight, Hamilton Sharpe, William Smith, Matthew Albritton, John J. Underwood, John McLean, John E. Tucker, John Blackshear

1834 William A. Knight elected president of Lowndes County State Rights Association at Franklinville, GA. Members include Levi J. Knight, Hamilton Sharpe, William Smith, Matthew Albritton, John J. Underwood, John McLean, John E. Tucker, John Blackshear

 

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Levi J. Knight’s 4th of July Address at Franklinville, GA 1835

The  Independence Day celebration in Lowndes County, GA in 1835 (prior to the creation of Berrien County) was held at Franklinville.  The previous year, Levi J. Knight, pioneer settler of present day Ray City, GA,  had served on a committee that wrote the draft constitution of  the State Rights Association of Lowndes County.  On the Fourth of July, 1835,  Knight gave the keynote address at the Franklinville celebration.  At the time, Levi J. Knight was serving in the Georgia Assembly as state senator of Lowndes County,GA .

Southern Recorder
August 4, 1835

FOURTH OF JULY

AT FRANKLINVILLE, LOWNDES COUNTY

According to previous notice, a large and respectable number of our citizens convened at the Court house at an early hour of the day – when the Rev. Jonathan Gaulden was chosen President of the day and John Dees, Vice President. About half past 12 o’clock, the company was formed at Mr. Smiths’, and marched into the court-house headed by James Williams, Marshal of the day, when a Throne of Grace was addressed by the Rev. J. Gaulden. The declaration of American Independence was then read by H. W. Sharpe, Esq., after which a chaste and patriotic Oration was delivered by Levi J. Knight, Esq., Orator of the day.

ORATION.

Fellow Citizens – We should regard it as an interesting occasion which calls us together. Every association, whatever its character, which sets apart a day for rejoicing and for recollection, consecrates a period when the heart shall go back with memory to revisit the spring time of its existence. On this occasion, as the organ of your sentiments, it is to me a source of singular gratification to reflect upon the nature of the object which has gathered us here. Casting aside our every day occupations and cares of life, we have come up on the jubilee of our country’s liberty, to honor the day that gave birth to the greatest republic in the world. Perhaps the day could not be more appropriately honored, or the hour more agreeably occupied, than by dwelling briefly upon the proud merits of our country.

This day 59 years ago, our chivalrous sires from the then thirteen States, in the burning language which you have just heard read, declared we would be free from the yoke of Great Britain, which at that time hung over us, and to which pledge they bound themselves in the strongest of all human obligations – no less than their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors. It is a theme from which none can turn away; it lays claim to our hearts, not only as a magnanimous people, but as the children of that country which it is a pride and glory to call our own, our native land. No one surveys the physical resources of our country with more gratification than myself. It furnishes me a noble satisfaction to behold its broad lands covered with an vigorous and rapidly multiplying population; to know that the busy h— of civilization and industry is fast invading the stillness of the forest; to view our commerce stretching — white sails over every wave — feel that in the hour of danger, brave hearts and skillful hands are ready to gather beneath the folds of our country’s banner. No one returns from such a contemplations with a higher sense of his country’s excellence and glory, or with deeper gratitude to God, who hath given us such an inheritance, than I do.

There is another circumstance which this view will not permit us to overlook. An immense ocean rolls its waters between us and the old world. We inhabit a continent far removed from the influence of other nations. It is difficult to comprehend the immense importance of this circumstance, or feel and know the force and peculiarity of its results. We can however feel that it promises a lasting and undisturbed operation of our free institutions. Should the political atmosphere of Europe all become poisoned, it dies before it reaches our healthful clime; no breeze can waft it over the rolling waves. Let their lands degenerate into falsehood and crime, till demons occupy and pollute their altars of Christ, their victory closes with their shores; they cannot overleap the mighty barrier which the God of nature hath thrown between us. Did we occupy some portion of the continent of Europe, our juxtaposition to other powers might prove fatal to our liberty. Though their elements of civil society may heave, their systems may totter, the volcanoe may burst forth and flame the heavens; yet we feel not the shock; secure in the distance, we look on and learn wisdom. Who, in the contemplation of such a scene, does not rejoice that providence has cast his lot in this land, in behalf of whose liberty nature itself does battle!
What a beautiful scene does our own State present, of the excellent system under which we live. Over its fertile land there is spread out already an intelligent, noble, and rapidly increasing population. It seems as but yesterday this spot was a wilderness – the forest of centuries waved over it – the only contrast to its unbroken gloom was the glare of the council fire, and the wild song of the Indian. To-day how different! – Beauty, taste, and civilization, here have met to honor the day that gave birth to our liberty. There is another matter I cannot pass silently by – it is education. To this we owe the present greatness of our nation; it is to this we may look for a perpetuation of our institutions. Education alone can render us capable of judging of the abuses of our Government, from whatever source they may emanate. It is ignorance alone that can make a slave. Here, then, let us examine the peculiar influence which our government is likely to exert upon the intellect of the country. It is scarcely necessary to remark, that it is free, essentially free, not in name alone, but in spirit and in action. It throws a broad shield over every citizen, but it leaves each to the exercise of his gifts. It recognizes no established spheres in which men must move, without the hope or power of passing beyond. It throws open wide the great lists of society, and bids all contend for its distinctions, trusting to their own valor and their own skill. It forgets the artificial distinction of birth, and passing by the unworthy descendants of patrician blood, seeks the humblest and poorest of its enterprising sons who have divorced themselves from the obscurity of their origin by the might and grandeur of their intellect. Minds that would sleep cold and silent on the gloom of despotism, start forth into glorious life and power under the light of liberty. I regard the intellectual character of our country is of the greatest importance. The power of political ascendancy is gone by. This is an age in which moral influence is felt. There have been times, when the barbarian trod learning into the dust; when the brutal spoiler overwhelmed the contriver of arts; but the conquest of mind has begun; the dark days of blood have departed, the sun of peace has arisen; never again shall science be chained by despotism; the empire of mind is established, and henceforth nations are to be ranked, not according to their physical but their moral strength. What are bright skies and balmy breezes, when man is crushed by the iron hand of despotism? What inspiration can wake up the genius of him, who lives under a system of government that writes slave on his forehead? It is remarked by distinguished writers, that a nation has no character unless it is free; and indeed the history of mankind would go far towards establishing the assertion, that unless it be free it can have no literature worth the name. It is always satisfactory to be able to try our opinions by the actual experience of others. Free institutions alone present to the mind a fair opportunity for expansion; they do most towards stimulating intellect, and afford man the greatest inducement to exercise his best powers. Let us pass for a moment to other lands, and compare France with her neighbor Spain. Can geographical varieties so slight creat so wonderful a difference in the degree of intellectual development? The one great in every department of learning, the other yet in the gloom of the dark ages and bare of genius. While France can vie with any nation on earth except our own, as to the glory of her institutions, her liberal principles and her proud and lofty intellect, we see Spain enveloped in despotism and superstition. No! not to climate, not to the separation which nature hath placed between the two lands, but to the difference of their political systems, the cause must be traced. What one of our fair guests, but must feel a secret pride and emotion as she looks on her tender offspring, or some one of near relations, and sees a prospect of their enrolling their names on the list of their country’s intellectual excellence. No nation in its infancy has ever done so much in this way. The early history of the most of them is little better than a distinguished detail of petty feuds and bloody contests. But already how much has our country accomplished? What a delightful encomium on our system it must furnish, to visit each State, from the oldest and most established, to the youngest that is just pouring its enterprising population into the bosom of the forest. You pass from the magnanificent city, where the chief objects which meet your glance are temples of worship with their tall spires pointing to heavens, and institutions of learning nobly testifying to the munificence of the government, and your enter the forest, just falling beneath the axe, you find people, though rude and unpretending, who hold it as their first duty to worship God, the very next to educate their sons. Though we have no wealth to pour into the lap of science; though the scholar must content himself with poverty; yet all is not barren. As our country becomes older, and wealth increases, the influence of these causes will outstrip calculation; the grandeur of their results no man conjecture.

My heart swells with a lofty conviction that our political system is the best adapted of any on earth to elevate the character of man, to energize his intellect, and to call it forth in the noblest and boldest shapes, where it dreads no human power. Here It is where opinions may be expressed fearlessly, and where there is nothing to tempt from the pursuit of truth. A free press upon which government lays no fetters, ready to spread their opinions to the world, to detect corruption and applaud virtue – a free people, early taught to think right on all subjects – what may we not hope for? We have an age friendly to intellectual development. Grim visaged war hath smothered his front; ambition of men has assumed a holier aspect; truth has touched them with her wand; they no longer make it their great business of life to marshal victorious hosts upon the tented field or strive for an empire of blood; they have discovered that glory is to be won elsewhere than in the red path of battle; the effort now is to be wise, to be learned, and to be good. Let these things, fellow-citizens, fill us with an ardor in the cultivation of our literature. This only can enable the rising posterity to maintain and hand down to generations yet unborn, our glorious system of government, which is the true desire of a republican people.

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The company then proceeded to partake of a sumptuous dinner prepared by William Smith, Esq.; and when the cloth was removed, the following regular and volunteer toasts were received with the usual good humor and applause. All seemed to go off well, and the jubilee of the day was celebrated with a dignity becoming a free people.

 

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