Georgia's readmission to the Union

 

One hundred and forty five years ago today, on July 15, 1870, Georgia was readmitted to the Union. It was the last of the Confederate states to be readmitted after being the fifth to secede from the Union. While the Confederate States of America was comprised of 13 former Union States, only 11 of those states actually seceded from the Union. Those 11 confederate states were; Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia.

The 11 confederate states did not participate in the 1864 presidential election. Those states had not yet been readmitted when Andrew Johnson took office after the assassination of President Lincoln. All of the former Confederate states except Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia were readmitted to Congress in June 1868.

These former confederate states (not yet readmitted by 1868) did not participate in that election. In 1870 Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia were readmitted. Neither Kentucky nor Missouri actually seceded from the Union but were recognized by the Confederacy as being part of their association. Missouri is a study in itself, operating a government in exile with its capital in Marshall, Texas.

But, was Georgia really readmitted to the Union? The United States Congress had originally readmitted Georgia to the Union in July 1868 after a newly elected General Assembly had ratified the 14th Amendment and Rufus Bullock, a New York native, had been inaugurated as the state's Republican governor. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery in America and the 14th Amendment made all persons born in the United States citizens of this country. The 15th Amendment gave voting rights to all legal citizens regardless of race.

Several Georgia Democrats subsequently denounced post-Civil War Reconstruction policies at a rally in Atlanta. That rally was contemporaneously described as the largest ever held in that state's history. Joseph Brown, Georgia's governor during the Confederacy, stated that Georgia's constitution did not allow blacks to hold office. Brown had become a Republican and served as a delegate to the Chicago convention that nominated Ulysses S. Grant for president in 1868.

In September, white Republicans joined with Democrats to expel the three black senators and 25 black representatives from the general assembly. A week later, in Camilla, Georgia, white inhabitants attacked a black Republican rally. Twelve people died. Then in March 1869, the United States Congress again barred Georgia's representatives from holding office. In December of 1869, federal military rule was again imposed.

The terms of the bargain that had brought Georgia into the Union for a second time in 1870 soon fell apart. Bullock fled the state in order to avoid impeachment. With the voting restrictions against former Confederates lifted, James Smith, a Democrat and former Confederate officer, was elected to complete Bullock's term.

The United States government has never recognized the right of states to secede, and considers the states to never have left the union during the American Civil War. Yet, the states were required to agree to Reconstruction before being permitted to send representatives to Congress again.

In 1851, the United States Congress authorized the transfer of $10 million worth of United States bonds to the state of Texas. The bonds were payable to the state or bearer and were to be redeemable in 1864. In 1862, during the Civil War, an insurgent Texas legislature authorized the use of the bonds to purchase war supplies. Four years later, the reconstruction government tried to reclaim the bonds.

In a lawsuit that was argued before the Supreme Court on Feb. 5, 1869, the question then became: Was Texas a state in the union eligible to seek redress in the Supreme Court? Could Texas constitutionally reclaim the bonds? On April 12, 1869, the Supreme Court decided the case of Texas vs. White.

In a 5-to-3 decision, the court held that Texas did indeed have the right to bring suit and that individuals such as White had no claim to the bonds in question. The Court held that individual states could not unilaterally secede from the Union and that the acts of the insurgent Texas legislature - even if ratified by a majority of Texans - were "absolutely null." Even during the period of rebellion, however, the court found that Texas continued to be a state.

So now my question is how can Georgia (or any of the other states) be readmitted (either once or twice) when SCOTUS (the Supreme Court of the United States) has ruled that these states have never left the Union?

Justice Robert Grier wrote a dissenting opinion "…..The original jurisdiction of this court can be invoked only by one of the United States. ... Is Texas one of these United States? ... This is to be decided as a political fact, not as a legal fiction. This court is bound to know and notice the public history of the nation. If I regard the truth of history for the last eight years, I cannot discover the State of Texas as one of these United States. …"

Is Texas a state, now represented by members chosen by the people of that State and received on the floor of Congress? Has she two senators to represent her as a state in the Senate of the United States? Has her voice been heard in the late election of president? Is she not now held and governed as a conquered province by military force?

The act of Congress of March 2, 1867, declares Texas to be a "rebel state," and provides for its government until a legal and republican State government could be legally established. It constituted Louisiana and Texas the fifth military district, and made it subject, not to the civil authority, but to the "military authorities of the United States."

Justices Noah Swayne and Samuel F. Miller concurred with Justice Grier.

Doc Halliday is an author, columnist and consultant who resides in Marshall, Texas. He may be contacted by mail at: P. O. Box 1551, Marshall, TX 75671; or by email at: w_halliday@yahoo.com

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