Representative Men of The South.
GOVERNOR COLQUITT, Georgia.
ALFRED Holt Colquitt was born in Walton Co., Ga., April 20th, 1824. His grandfather, Henry Colquitt, a farmer, was a native of Virginia, and moved into Georgia about the year His father, Walter T. Colquitt, a lawyer of Columbus, Ga., was, take him for all, perhaps the most brilliant man Georgia ever had: Judge of the Superior Court for over ten years, Member of Congress and United States Senator, his versatility was something wonderful. His mother was a Miss Lane, and her ancestors were of old Virginia stock, tracing their descent back to the time when Virginia was a colony. Peyton Colquitt, the brother of the subject of this sketch, was Secretary of the State Senate in 1856 and 1857, and during the war a Colonel in the Confederate army: he was a strikingly handsome man, and had a brilliant future before him, when he was killed at the battle of Chickamauga. Governor Colquitt's sister married Colonel Orlando B. Vickling, at that time a member of Congress for Illinois.
Alfred H. Colquitt was prepared for college by Carlisle P. Beman, a distinguished scholar of his day, and entered Princeton College in 1842, and having joined an advance class, graduated thence in 1844. Among his classmates were Rev. Dr. Schenck; Professor Walling, President of Columbia College, Washington, D. C. ; H. C. Chambers, of Mississippi, afterwards a member of the Confederate Congress; and John H. Thomas, now a prominent lawyer of Baltimore. He studied law under his father at Columbus, was admitted to the bar in 1845, and commenced practice at Macon, where he remained until the outbreak of the war with Mexico in 1847, when he received the appointment of Paymaster, with the rank of Major in the Staff Department. He served on the line of operations occupied by General Zachary Taylor on the Rio Grande, and as volunteer aide-de-camp to General Taylor participated in the battle of Buena Vista. On the termination of that war his was made an appointment in the regular army, but he resigned in 1848 and returned to the practice of his profession in Macon. On May 15th, 1848, he married Miss Dolly Tarver, daughter of General H. H. Tarver, an old militia officer of Twiggs Co., Ga. About this time he commenced planting on a large scale in Baker Co., S. W. Georgia, and afterwards became one of the planter princes of the State, having produced from his different plantations in one year no less than 1200 bales of cotton. In 1852 he was elected to Congress from the Second Congressional District, and relinquished the practice of the law: having served one term, he was unanimously renominated in 1854, but in consequence of the death of his wife and father declined the nomination. In 1856 he was elected a delegate to the Democratic Convention at which James Buchanan was nominated, and in 1860 was a delegate to the Democratic Convention, held at Baltimore, that nominated J. C. Breckenridge; he was also a Breckenridge elector. When the war broke out he entered the Confederate army as Captain of the Sixth Georgia, and was afterwards elected its Colonel. He was present with his command at Yorktown, Va., and participated in all the battles of the Seven Days' Fight around Richmond, during which he was made Acting Brigadier-General in command of General Rains' brigade. He took .part in the first campaign into Maryland, and was ordered to reinforce General J. E. B. Stuart, then at South Mountain, near Boonsboro. General McClellan was at that time making his move through Frederic towards Antietam, and his presence at that point was so unexpected by the Confederates that Stuart had left when the Federal forces came up. The first notice of the approach of McClellan's army was conveyed to General Lee by General Colquitt, and with one brigade of infantry and a battery of artillery he confronted for twenty-four hours the Federal forces as they came up by detachments until the Confederate army could be brought up. At the sanguinary battle of Sharpsburg which followed, he had his horse shot under him, and after the battle was made Brigadier General. He was engaged in all the battles of the Army of Northern Virginia, until the commencement of the Pennsylvania campaign, when he was ordered to Charleston. In one of the fights at battery Wagner he had a narrow escape from being shot, the ball passing through the crown of his hat. In Florida, at the battle of Olustee or Ocean Pond, he distinguished himself greatly, and by his successful generalship completely defeated the Federals, and thus terminated their occupation of that part of the country, and saved Florida and the lower part of Georgia from devastation. His; illantry in that memorable fight obtained for him the title of the "Hero of Olustee:" he seemed to bear almost a charmed life as he rode on his white horse, a conspicuous object for the enemy's fire, and a Federal officer afterward stated that the soldiers' attention was specially directed to him, and that whole platoons fired at him at a time; he escaped unhurt, however, although his horse was wounded. Returning to Virginia with General Beauregard, with whom he was a great favorite, he commanded a division at Drewry's Bluff. When General Grant transferred his forces from the north to the south bank of the James river, with the view of investing Petersburg, General Colquitt's troops, with those of General Hagood, of South Carolina, were hastily moved to protect that city. The two Generals in their reconnoissance found no organized Confederate force between the city and General Grant's advance guard, and at night, without any knowledge of the surrounding country, seated in a ditch to escape observation, they, with the assistance of an old map and by the light of a candle, laid down the lines of defence and stationed their troops, Colquitt on the right and Hagood on the left. These afterwards became the permanent lines of fortification around the city, and that point became a noted position, and was known as "Colquitt's Salient." In recognition of his distinguished valor and meritorious service he was recommended for the appointment of Major-General; but though it is understood that his commission was issued, in the confusion incident to the last days of the Confederacy it never reached his hands.
After the war he returned to his plantations in Baker county, and being very popular with the colored people, their altered condition interfered but little with the regular work, most of his former slaves retaining their old positions, as many still do to this day. In 1868 he was a delegate to the Democratic Convention held at New York at which Horatio Seymour was nominated, and was afterward a Seymour elector. In 1870 he was elected President of the State Democratic Nominating Convention, and on the same day, a totally unprecedented honor, was elected President of the State Agricultural Society, the most coveted position next to that of Governor in Georgia; holding that office for six successive years, until he was elected to the Gubernatorial chair. In 1872 he was elected a delegate-at-large to the National Democratic Convention held in Baltimore at which Horace Greeley was nominated. In the fall of 1876, after having repeatedly declined the honor previously, he was nominated for Governor to succeed Governor James M. Smith. Several names were canvassed and urged for nomination in opposition to him, among them Hon. Herschel V. Johnson, previously Governor for two terms, United States Senator, candidate for Vice-President on the Douglas ticket, and Confederate States Senator; Hon. Thomas Hardeman; General L. J. Gartrell ; and John H. James, the well-known banker. The feeling in favor of General Colquitt, however, was so strong as to overcome all opposition, and the names of the other candidates having been withdrawn, he was nominated unanimously by one of the largest and most influential Conventions ever held in the State. He was elected by the unprecedented majority of 82,000, by far the largest ever cast for Governor in Georgia.
In October, 1877, President Hayes visited Atlanta, and Governor Colquitt's eloquent address of welcome elicited the highest encomiums, not only in Georgia, but all over the North and West; it was reproduced in the journals of every section with the most unstinted. praise for its admirable taste and high ability, being cordial without fulsomeness, hospitable without sycophancy, and manly without brusqueness. It fairly and justly represented the hospitality of a generous people, and yet in no way transcended the bounds of the most refined good taste. Secretary Evarts was heard to remark just after the Governor had closed his address of welcome—"I have not felt as happy in fifteen years." He said: "Mr. President, in behalf of the people of Georgia I bid you and your companions who are present a cordial welcome. We are in the habit of opening our hearts and our gates to strangers who come among us from beyond our borders, and to us the virtue of hospitality is its own exceeding great reward. Under any circumstances the hospitality of which we trust Georgia may justly boast would make the President of the United States heartily welcome upon our soil. But you, sir, come into our midst not as a President only. The vast interests over which you preside, the stupendous power which you wield as Chief Magistrate, the dignity with which your name is invested by that power, are not the sole ideas which move us in this greeting to-day. But that which is most prominent in our minds, higher and greater than every other distinction, is the character you have illustrated—that of peace-maker between brethren estranged. It is enough to fill the measure of the loftiest ambition to remove fear and suspense from the hearts of twelve millions of people—your fellow-citizens—and restore to them a sense of repose and security. If the agencies which lately brought forty millions of people into fearful and unhappy conflict excited the attention of the whole world, the moral purpose, the firm will of the fortunate magistrate who is first to control and calm the spirit which raised this mighty strife, will attract the admiration and plaudits of the good everywhere on earth where good-will to man prevails. How strange—how passing strange—that men, brethren of the same political heritage, can differ or doubt as to the beneficial effect of so holy an undertaking! We invite you, Mr. President, to the closest scrutiny. We are not mistaken, we do not deceive ourselves, we do not intend to deceive ourselves, when we say we mean peace, we mean union, we mean good government—we mean to give a helping hand to any and to all who shall honor, bless and dignify the common country. The great moving cause of these hearty demonstrations which have greeted you since you touched Southern soil is to be found in the generous confidence you have extended to our professions. We know, Mr. President, that you believe what we say, and your magnanimous trust exacts no cringing, no servile guarantees. Differ though we may in party affiliations, yet without thinking of complications or caring for them, we can assure you of the sympathy and support of this good old commonwealth in all your efforts in behalf of constitutional government and the complete restoration of good-will and fraternity between the States of this Union. Again, sir, let me assure you of the pleasure which your presence here to-day gives us, and of our ardent desire to make your visit, and that of your companions, pleasant while you stay with us. In this spirit, and in the name of the people, I bid you and your noble wife, these gentle ladies and honored gentlemen, a most cordial welcome." In April, 1878, the meeting of the International Sunday School Convention was held at Atlanta, and was one of the ablest bodies of men that ever assembled. Their meetings were held in the First Baptist Church. Governor Colquitt was selected as the President of the Convention and delivered the address of welcome. His speech on taking the chair made a deep impression, completely capturing the Convention, and his admirable tact and dignity during the entire week in which he presided over that body augmented the favorable opinion of the members to a perfect enthusiasm. It was something unusual that a public man in high office should so ardently identify himself with religious missions, and the members showed their sense of his zeal by electing him the permanent presiding officer of the body. The selection of the Governor of Georgia for that position was a great compliment as well to him personally as to the State ; notwithstanding his official duties he was present at every session of the Convention, and received the delegates in the Executive Mansion with a warmth and heartiness which characterize Southern hospitality. Thirty-four States, two Territories, and the Canadas were represented at this meeting, and the statistics showed that at that time there was 7,651,696 members in the Sunday schools of the United States and Canada alone. A visitor who was pr;sent thus wri es to his friends: "A brave and honored leader in the field in a cause in which he sincerely believed, now devotes is energies with equal sincerity and fidelity to the work of building up again. He accepts the new order of things, and, though Governor of Georgia, he does not deem it beneath his position to be found frequently preaching the word in the colored churches in Atlanta." The friends which the Governor made in that Convention embraced names among the most distinguished in the several religious denominations, both in the United States and Canada.
On April 30th, 1878, the annual celebration of Memorial Day, he laid the corner-stone of the Confederate Monument to be erected by the Ladies' Memorial Association at Macon, Ga., and in an earnest and eloquent speech, the noble and patriotic sentiments ofwhich made a deep impression, he said: "The South went to war for principle, and not from disgust or enmity to the old order of things; for the Constitution as interpreted by the fathers, for the Constitution with its checks and balances, for the Constitution with its restraints upon power, its protection of the weak, its traditions and memories, every Southern heart would have imperilled its life-blood. The war as made by the South was but a struggle to preserve the principles of that Constitution. . . . The day is fast approaching when men who once faced us with muskets in their hands will clasp us fraternally and admit that our hearts were right, and if we erred it was because we loved the rights of the State too sensitively and too well. From this point of departure let us take up the great and good work. With that sincerity and earnestness of soul which has ever marked our history in the midst of strong public interest let us prosecute the task of a complete restoration of peace. We will honor our dead—we will gather annually around their graves with a tribute of tears and flowers—we will cherish their memories and defend their names against the assaults of false accusers—we will raise monuments to transmit their fame to ages to come—this will we do in love for them and for the cause which perished with them. But we owe a debt to the living. The future as well as the past demands our concern. This is our country, here are the graves of our fathers, here will we be buried, here are our homes, here are our children. Let us seek to make the country a land of peace—to make our homespeaceful and permanent, and our children happy, buoyant and hopeful. There should be no further strife between the sections. I will not believe that a people so committed to each other by the terms of a great compact, so bound to each other by moral and religious ties, will ever consent to see a part of this grand sisterhood of States only tolerated in its freedom, or bowed down in the shame and humiliation of unjust bondage. Let men who desire this have a care. Let the cruel and arrogant giant think a moment how long life can be endured if he is chained indissolubly to. a dead carcass. My friends, if you could prove unfaithful to the duty you owe to our common country in defending and perpetuating the rights of freemen, then of all men you will be the most culpable and the most miserable. The men whose memories we cherish by the noble monument you this day begin to erect, laid down their lives as they firmly believed in defence of that interpretation of freedom under our Constitution which was a tradition with us. All they hoped to accomplish by war was the preservation of such rights as the Constitution guaranteed. We this day and for all time will honor them most by upholding in all its strength and purity such a government as that Constitution has established. If they could speak from their serene heights they would bid us to forget and forgive, and with surviving comrades and surviving foes they would plead for peace, justice, and fraternity."
In May, 1878, Governor Colquitt was a delegate from the North Georgia Conference to the Eighth General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, held in Atlanta. On the presentation of the fraternal delegation from the African Methodist Church to the General Conference, an interesting incident occurred which exhibits the affection which the African race has always manifested for Governor Colquitt. One of the colored speakers feeling parched from the excessive heat asked for a glass of water, and the Governor, with his usual courtesy, handed one to him. When this delegate was introduced by the Bishop to the Conference he said: "Let me state a circumstance which has just now occurred. When in the vestry there we were consulting your committees, among whom was your illustrious Christian Governor, the Hon. A. H. Colquitt. Feeling an unusual thirst, and expecting in a few minutes to appear before you, thoughtlessly I asked him for a glass of water to drink. He, looking about the room, answered, 'There is none; I will get you some.' I insisted not, but presently it was brought and handed me by the Governor. I said, 'Governor, you must allow me to deny myself this distinguished favor, as it recalls so vividly the episode of the warrior king of Israel, when with parched lips he cried from the rocky cave of Adullam, "Oh, that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem that is at the gate." And when three of his valiant captains broke through the hosts of the enemy and returned to him with the water for which his soul was longing, regarding it as the water of life, he would not drink of it, but poured it out to the Lord. So may this transcendent emblem of purity and love from the hand of your most honored colaborer and friend of the human race ever remain a memorial unto the Lord of the friendship existing between the Methodist 'Episcopal Church, South, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, upon the first exchange of fraternal greeting.'"
In the same month the Gate City Guards of Atlanta visited Charleston, S. C, accompanied by Governor Colquitt. This visit, originally intended as one of a private nature for the purpose of drill and exercise under canvas, grew into the proportions of a grand parade, at which the troops and people of South Carolina gave a perfect ovation to their visitors from Georgia. Governors Hampton and Colquitt were present, and the reception of Georgia's Governor was no less enthusiastic than that accorded to the gallant Hampton.
While in Charleston Governor Colquitt by special invitation visited the Confederate Home, where he addressed some feeling words to the young ladies ; and by special request delivered an address before the congregation of Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, in which the deep earnestness of the speaker held his audience spell-bound.
On his return to Georgia he reviewed the colored troops at Savannah, on the occasion of the first State prize drill of colored companies ever witnessed in Georgia. Companies were present from Macon, Augusta, and Savannah, and the review was witnessed by five thousand colored people.
At Savannah he attended the Convention of the Colored Baptist Sunday Schools at the Second African Baptist Church, and made one of his most impressive addresses, plain and frank, discussing the relations of the two races, and holding the immense throng with a growing interest—a simple, earnest, powerful and eloquent address, couched in language that all could understand.
In June, 1878, he was present at the annual commencement of the Trinity Methodist College, N. C, and in an address before the Columbian and Hesperian Literary Societies, said:
'In the South the whole effort seems to have been devoted to a physical regeneration. This was well as far as it went, but it did not cover the whole ground. The Southern autonomy before the war was in many respects a peculiar and noble one. I speak it in no invidious or vain-glorious spirit. Our people had honor, truth, courage, and genuine reverence for the good. They lacked mercantile shrewdness, perhaps, to some extent, but they possessed to the full mercantile integrity. They were probably too quick to anger, over-munificent in hospitality, and given to excess of social pleasure. But these faults, if faults they were, were exaggerations of excellencies. They were sometimes autocratic and hot-blooded, never subservient, mean or dastardly. They were restless under affront, but deceit and fraud were uncommon offences. They had the virtues and faults of hereditary gentlemen, pride of family and character, graces of transmitted culture, high honor, gentle chivalry, respect for women, reverence for God. They were a people of convictions. Their public men were earnest statesmen of patriotic purpose, defined policy, disinterested public spirit, and the enthusiasm that constitutes the most effective element of winning eloquence. In State and National counsels Southern representatives were distinguished for stainless honesty and a firm adhesion to their convictions. The prosperity of the South was the direct result of her social polity and the agricultural character of her wealth and institutions. The war with its ruthless consequences has not simply undermined the very basis of morality and virtue, but in the South it has wrought a revolution so startling and exhaustive that the lover of the old times, the admirer of old institutions, can find but little familiar upon which his wearied eye can rest. All wealth gone, poverty made universal, the system of labor swept away, former customs and habits abandoned, new and different methods of labor and. subsistence imposed, new relationships of capital and labor established, new ideas in vogue; the new state of things is one so novel and strange that the survivors of the old regime, impoverished and bewildered, are stranded upon the new era hopeless and helpless. Wedded to the past, accustomed to the old, they find it difficult to conform to the new order of things which repels, antagonizes and shocks them. In sorrow, gloom, and almost in despair they are passing the remnant of their days The beginning of the work of public regeneration is in the home circle and the private character. Let us recall of the past its good; its institutions are gone; its schemes of social and public polity are gone; its relations and methods are gone;, but its principles of virtue and practices of morality are in our grasp—they are imperishable. Public virtue is but the aggregate of individual virtue. The better days of the past to which our old men so fondly refer were simply the time when there were more individual instances of pure character and personal integrity. Each one has his part to perform in our deliverance from the evils of the day. Each one, however humble, can do something in the noble work of restoring better times. Let us recall the old standards of honor; let us bring back the days when a gentleman's word was his bond, when the bargain of his convictions was a crime, when truth was dearer than profit, when treachery and falsehood carried disgrace, when crime involved ostracism, when female virtue was the sacred object of guardianship for all brave men, when courtesy was deemed consistent with strength, and when the centre of all earthly happiness was found in the God-given paradise of home. But the work does not end here. What a field is there for the reformer in the administration of public affairs! I have alluded to what I feared was the melancholy degeneracy of private sentiment;—the low grade of public morality is still more manifest. The spectacle in government for the last ten years has been something frightful. I do not mean that we have not had public men and representatives whose integrity, whose purity, was above reproach and beyond suspicion, with whom the spirit of liberty and the love of truth remained uncorrupted and unextinguished. But the ruling spirit in public matters has been the inspiration of a corrupt demagogism. Party has usurped the throne of patriotism, political intrigue has supplanted statesmanship, place and not public good is the motive to action. The grade of public morality has so degenerated that malfeasance in office carries no stigma if saved from its penalty by some ingenious technicality. Fraud and bribery are acknowledged weapons of political management. The public sense seems debauched by its familiarity with incidents of fraud and corruption. It greets revelations of infamy in its public servants with an apathy of resentment which is as significant of popular demoralization as the official crime. Public sentiment must be restored to that vigorous virtue which will strike crime with the thunders of its indignation. The pure practices of the Republic must be revived and the example of its statesmen enforced. The fountains of power must be purified. The pulpit, the school-room, the domestic altar, the press, must all be arrayed on the side of right in this mighty campaign. Society must be purified and elevated; a higher intelligence, a sterner virtue must prevail; a nobler manhood must take the place of the selfish, scheming, profligate demagogues who crowd into the high seats of official life to plunder and ruin the country and degrade humanity." Many of the members of the Sunday School Convention who had visited Atlanta joined in an urgent request that Governor Colquitt should take part in the annual gathering of the friends of Sunday School work, held at Chautauqua, N. Y., and the invitation was accepted. The gathering took place at Fair Point, on Chautauqua Lake, near Lake Erie, in western New York, August 15th, 1878, and the hearty and considerate reception accorded the Governor was most unusual and striking. After the years of bitterness and strife which had divided and estranged the North and South, it was a fact well calculated to cause peculiar gratification to witness the demonstrations of national unity and fraternization beginning in Atlanta at the great Sunday School Convention, and finding its most energetic expression at Chautauqua on the occasion of Governor Colquitt's visit. Thousands of people were present from the neighboring States, and the occasion was one of unalloyed pleasure to all. Addresses of welcome were delivered by Dr. Vincent and Bishop Foster, of Boston, the latter of whom said: "It is not the welcome of the North to a distinguished Southern gentleman and statesman. It is not the welcome of one section of the country to a citizen of another section of the country; but it is the welcome of a nation's gathering to a nation's citizen. This assembly differs from all other assemblies that I have visited in my public life of forty years. It is not like the old-fashioned camp gathering where people of a peculiar locality or particular section gather together specifically for religious purposes, for evangelism, for building themselves up in faith, for reclaiming and recovering their brothers and their children and their husbands and their parents from sin to practices of holiness, and yet it is characteristically a religious assembly. It is an assembly of thoughtful, earnest, studious minds, in pursuit of truth—earnest for the acquisition of knowledge. The distinctions which are given to men in "this place are distinctions because of some service that they have rendered to the race, or which they are supposed to be capable of rendering to the studious and thoughtful audience that gathers here at early morning and remains until late at night for twenty days. There is not the like of it anywhere, so far as I am informed or my observation has extended either in our own nation or any other Christian nation, or any other nation upon the face of the globe. There is no political significance in this gathering or in this hour. It is not because of even the political distinction which our guest has honorably and honestly won for himself; it is not because he has attained to the honorable position of Governor of one of the great States of this Union that you accord him this magnificent welcome. It is indeed a high distinction: you recognize it. Were he simply a private citizen it might not have been accorded to him, and yet it was not because of this distinction that you are here to render him this honor and this welcome. In this assembly, your Excellency, the only passport to esteem and respectability and respect is that of an honorable and noble character wrought into a useful and holy life. You are welcomed here because of your personal excellence and because of your private character—because of what we have learned of you as a husband, as a father, as a citizen, as a Christian, even more than the fact that you are the Governor of the distinguished State over which you preside."
Governor Colquitt, in reply, said:
"The voice from the South which I feel I may be commissioned to speak in tin's presence is that there is a need all over these States for a higher, purer, more elevated standard of morality and religion, and that there is need of a more profound and universal feeling of fraternity. We must as Christians and as statesmen rise to the recognition of the overmastering fact that this Union must be a ligament of love. The broad realms of history are full of instruction. Our own national experiences furnish timely and valuable admonition. The gospel of love is the statesmanship fur severed and estranged sections. The philosophy of true and permanent reconciliation is kindness. Apply it to the relationship of the sections and all the sectional difficulties will disappear, the rule of passion will end, the trickery of demagogues will be powerless, the love of country will be permanent, the pride of nationality will be restored, and we shall have a pure, happy, and virtuous people. Let the National Union typify a Christian Union and be its synonym."
The administration of Governor Colquitt has been singularly successful in winning the confidence of the colored people, and has had a marked effect in breaking down their groundless prejudices. His firm, kind, and just course towards them has been the means of bringing them to a true perception of their relation to their white fellow-citizens.
In the fall of 1878 the colored people of Liberty county invited Governor Colquitt to visit them, in connection with a meeting of their Sunday School Convention, in the following terms:
"To His Excellency, Governor Colquitt, of Georgia, greeting:—At a meeting of a general committee from the various committees of the colored people of Liberty county and adjoining counties, it was proposed to invite your Excellency to visit our county and people with a view to a cordial acquaintance and the hearing of your fraternal counsels. The. proposition was received with enthusiasm, and adopted by a unanimous resolution.
''The undersigned committee was appointed to draft this letter of invitation to assure you of the earnest desire of our people for your visit, and a hearty welcome to our midst. It is an honor that this old county never before received, and it would be especially appreciated by your colored fellow-citizens as a cordial recognition of their new citizenship, and an encouragement to their efforts to become better and wiser citizens, and to take their place honorably by the side of their white fellow-citizens. And we believe that the visit of our beloved and honored Governor would increase and cement the kindly friendship already prevailing between us and our white brethren. We are particularly happy that our Governor is a Christian man whose influence in our country and State will be for 'peace on earth and good-will among men.'
"We entreat your Excellency, therefore, to give this invitation your kind consideration, and to meet us and our children in the ancient Midway ground, on Thursday, October 17th, 1878, at ten o'clock a. m. And we pray that our common Lord will have you in His keeping, to strengthen your health, to aid you with wise counsellors, and to make your term of office a happiness to yourself and a blessing to the State of Georgia. In behalf of our several committees we remain your cordial friends and fellowcitizens." The letter was signed by members representing the Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and Congregational committees. In response to this invitation the Governor visited Liberty county, and addressed the colored people, who assembled in great numbers to meet him, and gave him a most enthusiastic reception.
It is an unfortunate peculiarity of political life that calumriy is the inevitable accompaniment. No purity of character or rectitude of conduct seems proof against the poison of the slanderer. The annals of public service swarm with instances of pure and noble men suffering unjust detraction. It would almost appear the rule that the more conspicuous the public elevation, and the more shining the excellence of a public man, the more surely is he liable to become the victim of aspersion. Aristides was banished because of his goodness. It is related of him that he met a voter unacquainted with
him who requested him to write his vote of banishment against Aristides. Aristides asked him why he wished Aristides banished. The man replied, because he is called "just." The incident embodies the venomous philosophy of this poor, miserable disposition of humanity to pull down its exemplars of worth.
Governor Colquitt in his varied experiences of an almost uniform distinction and marvellous popularity has not escaped the bitterness of calumny. One might have readily supposed that his life-long Christian piety and luminous record of worth would have saved him this anguish. His life, so beautiful in its religious lustre, and his character, so spotless in its every phase and aspect, might well have been deemed slander-proof against any possible malignity. But the ordeal that seems inevitable to all pure public men came to him. It has, in some respects, been' fortunate for him. Coming out of the fire unscathed, the very trial has but shown more resplendently the radiant integrity of the man, and seated him more firmly than ever in the hearts of the people who seem so delighted to honor him.
The calumny against Governor Colquitt has been an illustration of what a large matter can grow out of a most inconsequential cause. In the light of the developed facts, after a most tedious investigation, it is ridiculously farcical that the calumny should have had a moment's existence.
The Governor, among the earliest matters called to his attention, had pressed upon him the endorsement of the bonds of the North Eastern Railroad. The road runs from Athens, Ga., to the Carolina line. It was chartered in 1870, and State aid granted to it at the rate of $20,000 per mile, the State to endorse its bonds whenever twenty miles were done. In 1874 the Legislature repealed all of the State aid grants, except where the roads had gained vested rights by the investment of money to get State aid. The same Legislature passed a resolution excepting the North Eastern Railroad from the repeal. Upon the assurance of the Governor of Georgia that the aid would be granted when the law was complied with, the company went forward and incurred expense to complete forty miles of the road. When Governor Colquitt came into office the railroad company applied to him to endorse the bonds. He referred the company to the Legislature, but that body did not have time to act. Before the next General Assembly met the creditors of the road brought suit, and the issue came up distinctly before the Governor to endorse the bonds or let the road be sacrificed. Under his official duty he endorsed the bonds at the rate of $6,500 per mile, or less than one-half the amount of private capital, and saved the loss of the road. The act was universally endorsed by the press and public men of the State, and met universal popular approval.
Some time afterwards there were whispers that the Governor had taken money to endorse the bonds. This shocking slander gathered force, insidiously circulated. The Legislature assembled, and the Governor sent to that body a message that must rank in all coming time as the finest specimen of the kind ever penned. It would be difficult to conceive a more ringing, eloquent document, blazing with the fire of an outraged honor, and glowing with the intensity of its self-conscious honesty. The paper is so remarkable that it deserves publication.
" Executive Department, Atlanta, Ga.
"November 6th, 1878.
"To the General Assembly:
"A grievous necessity has been imposed upon me to demand at your hands a thorough investigation of my motives and conduct as the Executive of Georgia, in placing the State's endorsement upon the bonds of the North Eastern Railroad. This necessity has been created by widely circulated slanders and innuendoes, vile and malignant, and so mendacious and wicked as to make all comment and paraphrase upon them utterly futile. Nothing but a thorough sifting of my every motive and act in regard to these bonds, as far as human insight and judgment can reach these, can satisfy an aggrieved honor or give such assurance to the people of Georgia as they have a right to demand in the premises. To a man who values his good name far more than life it would be an act of supremest injustice to deny the most plenary vindication, rendered in the most August and authoritative form known to the law or to public opinion.
"To the people of this great commonwealth it is of the last consequence that they should know, beyond all peradventure, that the man who fills at their call the chief seat of authority is above reproach or suspicion.
" My denunciation of an awful and stupendous slander, forged and uttered to dishonor me, will not be enough. The General Assembly of the State, a co-ordinate power, is appealed to for that justice which, while it will, I know full well, exonerate me as a man, will also vindicate the fair fame of Georgia, assailed by cruel slanders on her chief Executive."
This powerful document, the very language of an incensed innocence, stirred a warm response of feeling approval and sympathy in the General Assembly. A committee of thirteen of the best members was immediately appointed. The investigation continued a month, covering every rumor or shade of rumor. The Governor went through it with a sublime patience. As the utter emptiness of the slander became apparent, a sentiment of indignation began to arise, and the thunders of public displeasure commenced to assail those who had been so ready to traduce a stainless gentleman and a noble official. It was shown that the whole thing had resulted in a personal contest about a fee, and that the endeavor was made to drag the unsullied and unstainable integrity of the Executive into the contest as an element of its settlement. It was a hard ordeal for a proud man. It was a cruel and wanton attempt at calumniation for an ignoble purpose. But it broke down so completely that its ultimate effect has been a more solid establishment of the Governor in the popular confidence. The parties engaged in the matter were compelled to change the attack. None were louder than they in asserting confidence in the Governor's integrity, and they denied ever having questioned his purity of purpose or honesty of act. The committee unanimously exonerated the Governor. The Legislature passed resolutions of unshaken confidence. In the serenity of his Christian spirit, the Governor has accepted his overwhelming vindication and the crushing discomfiture of his enemies with the same lofty dignity and impressive manhood that form the substratum of his character, and that ever mark his conduct.
Governor Colquitt possesses perhaps more of the elements of leadership than any man in Georgia, and the high rank he has attained in political, agricultural, and religious circles, evidence the ability, judgment and discretion which he brings to bear upon every subject.
Charles Robson, Representative Men of The South (Philadelphia: Charles Robson, 1880), 5-14.