Stump Speaking in Dublin
No one in late Nineteenth Century Georgia was more popular. During the War Between the States, General John Brown Gordon was one of General Robert E. Lee's most trusted lieutenants. After the war, Gordon staunchly fought reconstruction. Elected to the United States Senate in 1873, Senator Gordon, the first ex-Confederate to preside over a senate session, convinced his old enemy, President U.S. Grant, to rid Georgia and the rest of the South of corrupt northern officials who had been placed in power by Grant's successor, Andrew Johnson. He would return to Capital Hill in 1891, but in 1886, Gordon found himself embattled once again, not on the battlefields of Virginia, but in the most vicious of all war like combat, state politics.
With all of his popularity throughout the state, Senator Brown couldn't garner the support of Laurens Countians during his first gubernatorial campaign. The day - June 22, 1886. The occasion - a political speech by Senator Gordon. The location - the yard of the First Baptist Church in Dublin.
The politicos of Dublin and Laurens County should have seen it coming. That morning it looked as if was going to rain. Supporters of Gordon's opponent, Senator Augustus O. Bacon, wanted to stage a rally of their own that day. Major Hanson of Macon had arrived the day before in hopes of espousing the platform of Senator Bacon. Bacon's men acknowledged that the day would belong to Senator Gordon, but requested that once the senator had finished his oratory, that their man be allowed to address the crowd. At first, the Gordon committee refused, though they were offered full reimbursement for the cost of the stand and seats. So the Bacon men retorted that they would stage a rally of their own in the courthouse at 11:00 a.m. In an act of political respect, a consideration still in affect in those days, Major Hanson vetoed the suggestion stating that all the crowd gathering to hear Senator Gordon would have gone home before the main speech was scheduled to start.
It was 9:00 o'clock in the morning and Senator Gordon was not at the Dublin and Wrightsville Railroad depot on the east side of the river. It was later reported that the train had an accident up the line and that the honored guest and widely heralded general was relegated to riding a mule into town. Gordon finally arrived around 1:00 o'clock, a mere hour before his speech was scheduled to begin. Upon his arrival, Gordon was adamant that no one, including Major Hanson, would be allowed to speak for Bacon on his stand. Reportedly, Gordon promised that if Hanson was allowed to speak, "I will contact my committee in Atlanta to send a man after Major Bacon at his every appointment and make it hot for him." Several hundred men gathered around the grounds of the church to hear the Senator speak.
Most of them actually came to hear Major Hanson. County Court Judge Mercer Haynes, a former mayor and postmaster of Dublin, and Confederate veteran, rose to introduce the illustrious guest. Gordon rose to speak. His reception chilled the hot air of the first day of summer. People in the crowd asked questions. Gordon responded petulantly. To make matters worse, two of Gordon's supporters, inebriated with several swallows of liquor, interrupted the General frequently and in an ugly and idiotic manner, which only further instigated the crowd to become even more indignant.
After about twenty minutes, Gordon's eloquent speech turned into rambling gibberish. Temperatures and tempers were rising. All of the shady spots were covered with people. Gordon's voice faltered. He called for a water glass with sugar and honey added to help him get the words out of his raspy throat. During the next two hours, Senator Gordon attempted to rebut the charges of which he had be condemned for during the campaign. Gordon challenged his hecklers by asking that if he was guilty that he "be buried beneath an avalanche of votes and that he be driven from the society of decent and honorable men."
Just when he nothing more to say, or couldn't say anything more, Gordon turned to James B. Sanders, a young attorney who had just moved to Dublin to practice law, pulled on his coat sleeve and then jerked it. "Now make your remarks; go on; now is the time," Gordon ordered as he remained on the standing, talking until Sanders began to speak. Bacon backers protested loudly, yelling," Hanson! Hanson! Hanson!" Gordon and the nervous Sanders refused to yield the stand. The overwhelmingly Bacon crowd urged Hanson to take the stand, some even volunteering to "clear the way." Owing to his love of peace, Hanson declined the violent alternative and waited for the commotion to subside. Dr. R. H. Hightower yelled out, "Then we'll go to the courthouse!" Captain Rollin A. Stanley, the local president of the Bacon club, spoke out that in the interest of good order that Major would be better served by leaving and making his remarks elsewhere.
Hanson agreed. Those who wanted to hear about their man raced to the courthouse. Within five minutes, there were only about forty or fifty people left before the grandstand. One Bacon supporter, Attorney T.L. Griner, remained to chastize Senator Gordon. Amid cries of "You're killing time" and "That's your way," Griner protested, "The committee promised us the stand!" Gordon and Griner went back and forth "They did! - They didn't."
An announcement was made that a reception was going to be held in front of the stand. When no one approached, aides and supporters nudged those still remaining to step forward. Gordon greeted the lingerers in his own personal and amiable way by placing his left hand on their shoulders and saying something gracious to them. Those who remained slowly began to ease away. Gordon, in an effort to keep the reception going, re-shook the hands of those still on the stands. Within thirty minutes, virtually no one was left. Seeing that his continuing presence was futile, Gordon joined his escorts and retreated back to Wrightsville.
Major Hanson spoke for ninety minutes to an agreeable and cheering crowd. He attacked Gordon for being a privy counselor to Victor Newcomb, a railroad speculator and a convict lessee.
A mass meeting was held at the courthouse on July 6, 1886. Bacon tallied 360 Democratic votes and Gordon managed to garner only 248. John T. Chappell, Louis C. Perry, and Thomas B. Felder, Jr. were elected as delegates committed to Bacon. Statewide, Gordon won the Democratic nomination by a count of 252 to 74. With no Republican candidate of any consequence, Gordon was assured of winning the election in November.
In the end, Gordon triumphed, despite the vicious opposition he faced under the shade trees of the First Baptist Church and which must have seemingly been as fierce as that he received from the Army of the Potomac some twenty years before. Within 18 years, Gordon would die. All was forgiven as thousands of Dubliners and Laurens Countians gathered inside and outside the sanctuary of the First Methodist Church for a memorial service to honor one of Georgia's greatest heroes of the 19th Century.