Today, Georgians are participating in the election of delegates to the national nominating conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties, which will choose their candidates for the general election this November. In the middle third of the 19th century, when tensions in American politics were at an all time high, a party known as the Whigs came into the scene. The Whigs were an unusual, unlikely, and fragile partnership between the abolitionists of the North and the State's Rights factions of the South. This coalition, while successful at times, led to the eventual dissolution of the party after sixteen years.
The rise of the Whig party in the South came was a direct result of dissatisfaction with President Andrew Jackson. While General Andrew Jackson was one of the most revered men in the South during the War of 1812, President Andrew Jackson drew the ire of many southerners because of his policies on the issues of nullification, the national bank system, and the effort to strengthen the Federal government. In the election of 1828, Jackson drew tremendous support from Laurens County voters. Gen. David Blackshear, one of Laurens County's premier statesmen of the 19th century and a fellow general in the war, served as a delegate committed to Jackson in the Electoral College, which elected Jackson to the first of his two terms.
The State's Rights movement had arisen in Georgia during the 1820s. Governor George M. Troup, a resident of Laurens County, took issue with President John Quincy Adams's directive. Adams enjoined Georgia from acquiring land from Indian tribes and forcing the Creeks and Cherokees from their native lands. The two leaders issued a heated exchange of letters and threats. Gov. Troup got the upper hand, and Georgia annexed the remaining part of her present territory. In the national elections of 1832 and 1834, Gov. Troup moved to the forefront of the Whig party, whose policies eventually led to the secession of the southern states from the Union in 1861.
Jackson, a Democrat, did not run for a third term in the election of 1836. His party's successor, Martin Van Buren, had never been popular in Georgia. Those opposed to the nationalistic policies of Jackson and Van Buren sent delegates to the Anti Van Buren Convention, which was held in the capital of Milledgeville on May 2, 1836. Representing Laurens County at that convention were Bryan Allen, Dr. James S. Moore, and George M. Troup, Jr., the latter being the only son of the venerable governor. Dr. Moore, who lived in Dublin for a short time, was a graduate of the United States Military Academy and a classmate of Robert E. Lee.
Van Buren easily won the election with support from all areas of the nation. The Whig party put up three candidates: William Henry Harrison, Daniel Webster, and Hugh White. The people of Georgia and Tennessee, Jackson's home state, chose another Tennessean Hugh White, who finished third in the four-man race. Naturally, being the home of Governor Troup and therefore the birthplace of the State's Rights movement, Laurens County overwhelmingly supported White over Van Buren or any other of the Whig candidates. The total vote for White was nearly unanimous - two Hundred and eighty-eight votes for White and only one for the scoundrel Van Buren. It is interesting to note, that of the counties which surround Laurens County, only Montgomery County, Gov. Troup's second home county, supported the Whig candidate White. Pulaski, Twiggs, Washington, and Wilkinson county voters supported Van Buren with fifty-five to sixty percent of their votes. Emanuel Countians were much more supportive of Van Buren and voted for him by a margin of eleven to one. On a statewide basis, White barely carried Georgia with fifty-two percent of the vote.
In the Spring of 1837, the State's Rights Party held a convention in Milledgeville. Wingfield Wright, Robert Robinson, and Cullen O'Neal represented Laurens County at the convention, which was held to strengthen the party in Georgia and to prepare for the off-year elections of 1838. Wright joined C.S. Guyton and Robert Robinson as delegates to the convention held in April of 1839. During this period, the Whig factions realized that in order to win the Presidency, they must cooperate to prevent the tyrannical acts of the President by electing a majority of their candidates to Congress. While Laurens Countians were not in favor of the United States Bank, internal improvements, and a protective tariff, they realized that compromise and cooperation was a necessary evil. The new political giants of Georgia, Robert Toombs, Alexander Stephens, Charles Jenkins, and John Berrien, headed the Whigs in Georgia. Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, William Henry Harrison, and John C. Calhoun led the party on the national level.
The coalition began to dissolve in 1840, when Gov. Troup hinted that the State's Rights party should remain neutral in the presidential race. Stephens encouraged Troup to offer himself as a candidate, but the Whigs finally settled upon William Henry Harrison, who was the leading Whig candidate in the 1836 election. Van Buren had grown in disfavor among voters, who had supported him in his first term. Harrison, on the other hand, was a hero for his victory over an Indian force at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Van Buren lost in a landslide to Harrison and failed to carry his own state. Harrison carried Georgia by a margin of eight thousand votes out of eighty thousand votes cast. Van Buren increased his vote total in Laurens County by four hundred percent, but Harrison increased the Whig vote by nearly two hundred percent from the last election. He and easily defeated Van Buren by a margin of five hundred fifty-six to four. A majority of voters from Twiggs, and Washington counties left the Democrats and supported the Whigs. Montgomery County voters staunchly supported the Whigs twenty-one to one. Even the Emanuel voters, who were among the Democratic party's most loyal supporters, voted in larger numbers for the heroic Whig, William Henry Harrison. Unfortunately Harrison became ill while giving his inaugural address and died several weeks later. Six weeks after the election, The Harrison and State's Rights Party held their convention in Milledgeville, where Wingfield Wright, A. Ashley, and Robert Robinson represented Laurens County.
The Whigs lost power in Georgia during the gubernatorial and congressional elections of 1841 and 1842. Democrats captured all of the seats in Congress in the last election under the general ticket system of electing congressmen. The Georgia Whigs held their first convention in Milledgeville on June 19, 1843. Laurens County was represented by Wingfield Wright, Robert Robinson, and W.W. O'Neal. Wright was appointed to the prestigious Committee of Twenty One. Serving with Wright were future Confederate Vice President, Alexander H. Stephens and future Confederate General Robert Toombs, who was almost chosen President of the Confederacy ahead of Jefferson Davis. The committee recommended candidates for state and national tickets. The convention nominated George Crawford for governor. Crawford won the election, which led to a Whig resurgence in the state. However, the Whigs were losing their strength in the South because of the deportment of John Tyler, who succeeded Harrison in office. The State's Rights supporters in Laurens County were drawn between siding with their avowed enemies, the northern Whigs and their treacherous Democratic friends in the South. They chose to remain with the Whigs, who at least would not stab them in their backs.
Conciliation was still the key word in the attempts of the Georgia Whig leaders who were trying to hold the tenuous alliance with the Northern Whigs in the 1844 elections. Georgia leaders, although opposed to tariffs, appeased their northern party members by speaking in favor of them. The national Whig party held its convention in May 1844 in Baltimore, Maryland. Lott Warren, a former resident of Laurens County, served as a delegate. The convention was unanimous. Their choice was Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky. Clay, an early favorite in the race, lost support in the South because of his opposition to the annexation of Texas. Many Laurens Countians felt betrayed by Clay's position because of their close ties to those who had gone and who would later go to Texas to fight for independence and statehood. James Birney, a northern abolitionist, took Whig votes away from Clay in the northern states. Dr. Nathan Tucker, John M. Hampton, and Robert Robinson served as delegates to the state Whig convention, which was held on June 24, 1844. C.B. Strong, who had served as Judge of Laurens Superior Court, and Charles Jenkins, who tried cases here, were delegates to the national convention.
Despite his stand on Texas, Clay easily carried Laurens County in the 1844 election. While James Knox Polk had posted the highest democratic vote total in twelve years with fifteen votes, Clay tallied six hundred and eighty-six votes for a total of ninety eight percent of the vote. While Twiggs and Pulaski counties and most of west Central Georgia sided with the Democrats, Washington and Wilkinson county voters shifted their support to the Whig candidate. Emanuel County, which had been a steadfastly loyal democratic county, dropped their support down to the seventy percent range. James Polk garnered fifty one percent of the vote in Georgia narrowly defeating Clay by a margin of two thousand votes. The outcome could have been undoubtedly changed by Clay's reversal of his stand on Texas.
The Whigs of Laurens County invited their fellow Whigs in the adjoining counties to a mass meeting in Dublin on the 25th of October 1844. The Invitation Committee, composed of Robert Robinson, Allen Ashley, Charles P. Creech, Hugh McCall Moore, and Charles B. Guyton advertised the event in "Southern Recorder" and promised a free barbecue for all those attending the event. Another meeting was held on the 9th of June 1845 to form an alliance with Wilkinson County Whigs for the Georgia Senate election. Attending that meeting were Freeman H. Rowe, E.J. Blackshear, T.N. Guyton, Dr. Nathan Tucker, Ira Stanley, Robert Robinson, Russell Kellam, T.C. Spicer, Cullen O'Neal, R.A. Love, David Blackshear, John McLendon, Hugh M. Moore, Charles B. Guyton, Jeremiah H. Yopp, Edward Perry, Byrd Allen, D.F. Scarborough, David Harvard, Wiley J. Bender, Andrew Y. Hampton, Sugar Forrest, L.M. Hudson, Winfield Wright, J.T. Linder, Hardy Smith, and William McLendon. Meanwhile, those few Democrats who lived in Laurens County elected William Godfrey to represent the county at the party convention in Milledgeville on June 16, 1845.
The Whigs of Laurens County met with the Whigs of Wilkinson County in July of 1845. The meeting was held at Centerville Academy, which was located north of Dublin on the Mt. Olive/Claxton Dairy Road near the current location of Centerville Baptist Church. Attending that meeting were Jeremiah Yopp, Winfield Wright, J.T. Linder, Allen Ashley, D.F. Scarborough, J. Wilkinson, Hardy Smith, Charles B. Guyton, David Harvard, William McLendon, Bird Allen, Wiley J. Bender, William Adams, Cullen O'Neal, Dr. Nathan Tucker, Robert Robinson, Edward Perry, L.M. and L.M. Hudson. The two counties chose Wesley King, of Wilkinson County, to represent the party in the Senate race. Dr. Nathan Tucker was chosen to represent the county on the State Executive Committee. Eli Warren, a former resident of Laurens County, represented Houston County on the committee.
During this period, many of these men represented Laurens County in the state legislature. The Whigs who served in the Georgia House from 1836 to 1852 were Bryan Allen, Andrew Y. Hampton, Robert Robinson, J. W. Yopp, Allen Ashley, and Charles B. Guyton. Robinson served in the House for thirteen consecutive years - a county record which stood for one hundred fifty four years until broken by Dubose Porter in 1996. The Whigs serving in the Georgia Senate during the period were Winfield Wright and Nathan Tucker.
A meeting was held in Dublin on June 1, 1847 for the purpose of electing delegates to the gubernatorial convention. Attending that meeting were F.H. Rowe, J.H. Yopp, Robert Robinson, John Love, D. Harvard, W. Wright, J.T. Linder, JohnYopp, L.E. Smith, A.R. Kellam, D.R. Maddox, Henry C. Fuqua, Hardy Smith, C.B. Guyton, W.W. O'Neal, R. Robinson, Wm. McLendon, Dr. Nathan Tucker, W.D. Coney, Ira Stanley, L.N. Hudson, D. Roberts, J.N. Hampton, and John Thompson. (the first three of these were chosen as delegates.)
Party members came together again in Dublin on March 10, 1848. Cullen O'Neal, C.B. Guyton, Ira Stanley, Iverson L. Harris, A.R. Kellam, W.H. Connelly, James L. Seward, Dr. Nathan Tucker, J.W. Yopp, Edward Sheftall, and L.M. Hudson chose John Lowther and Robert Robinson as delegates to the State Convention which was held in Milledgeville on 8th of May. The principal issue of the election of 1848 was slavery. The Whig candidate and hero of the Mexican War, Zachary Taylor, was non-committal on the issue. Democrat Lewis Cass would leave the issue up to the individual states. Van Buren attempted to resurrect his Presidency and entered the race as a "Free Soil" candidate. The Democrats continued to gain strength in the county with twenty five votes, but once again couldn't overcome the five hundred and sixty seven Whig votes. Montgomery and Washington counties remained in the Whig column, but all other counties surrounding Laurens voted for Cass. Despite his heroic status, Taylor barely carried Georgia - winning with only fifty one percent of the vote.
Edward J. Blackshear, who was selected at a convention of Laurens and Wilkinson county Whigs at Centerville Academy on July 7, 1849, was elected to the Georgia Senate. The beginning of the end of the Whig party in Laurens County came in 1850. Following the Clay Compromise of 1850, an election was held on the issue of slavery. The Constitutional Union Party of Georgia was led by Howell Cobb. Locally, E.J. Blackshear and Charles Guyton led the Union Party. When Laurens County's votes were tabulated, two hundred seventy two men voted for the Union while no one voted for the Resistance. The Union party was committed to seeking a workable solution with the North over the issue of slavery. T.M. Yopp, R.A. Love, and John W. Yopp represented the county at the Constitutional Union Convention at Milledgeville on June 2, 1851. Attorney John R. Cochran was chosen to represent the county in the Democratic State Convention in May of 1852. E.J. Blackshear, Cullen O'Neal, F.H. Rowe, J.R. Coombs, J.W. Yopp, C.B. Guyton, E.H. Blackshear, Hardy Smith, and T.N. Guyton, all former Whigs, met at the Union Meeting in Dublin on August 2, 1852. Franklin Pierce won the presidency in a nationwide landslide over another Mexican War hero, Winfield Scott, who failed to carry his home state of Virginia. In Laurens County, Scott got sixty seven votes, while Pierce got sixty three. Former Whig and then Georgia Governor, Howell Cobb, carried the county with five hundred seventy nine votes. Former Governor, Charles McDonald managed to get seventy-six votes. Cobb had supported Daniel Webster, but Webster died nine days before the election - a fact which didn't seem to matter to the one hundred and sixty eight Laurens Countians who voted for the dead Yankee statesman. The Whig Party in Laurens County died. Laurens Countians supported the American party in 1856, which included the remnants of the Whigs and the Union Party, which was opposed to secession in 1860.