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This Day in Georgia Civil War History

March 25, 1864

Editorial Questioned Georgia Legislature and Stephens

The Richmond Times Dispatch printed an editorial which questioned the actions of the recently adjourned session of the Georgia Legislature, and the reported words of Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens; they hoped his words had been misrepresented. Yet despite the policy disagreement, they had full confidence in Georgia’s Southern patriotism.

Georgia and the Vice-President. The altitude of Georgia is not altogether satisfactory, though we can hardly suppose that there is a man in the Confederacy who looks upon that State as unsound, or unfaithful to the cause. Her movement, however, may be regretted as untimely, since it gives some comfort and encouragement to cavillers and grumblers; who cavil and grumble, because they are called upon to take their part in the defence of their country, and who are endeavoring to shirk their duty, and their responsibilities as citizens.–They never expected to fight for their rights, and to peril their lives in resisting the Yankees. They thought that it was quite enough for them to pay money and to talk vallently for the South. Georgia adds a little to the vehemence of the clamors of such men, and encourages them somewhat in dodging - that’s all. She will herself continue to support the cause with men and means. Not to do so, would be to damn herself to everlasting infamy - as among the first to break up the old Union, and fly to arms to resist the Federal tyranny, and then to become the first to quail and shake, and bend down for that tyranny to sweep over her! This Georgia will never do. If we regret the course of Georgia at this period, so critical in the affairs of the Confederacy - when our cause is so bright, and there and so many reasons for encouraging us all to a united and grand effort - when we have as there is cause to believe, reached a turning point, that opens to us the prospect of an early and successful formication of our struggle - a propitious day, when the sky is growing brighter for us, and darker and gloomier for our hated foes - at such a time, we confess something like astonishment at the course of Vice-President Stephens. He is reported to have made a speech at Milledgeville, to the members of the Georgia Legislature, which, if correctly represented, must have been chiefly a complaint entered against the Government for all its leading measures. We can hardly believe that he permitted himself to go as for as he is reported to have gone. He is said to have disapproved not only the act suspending the writ of habeas corpus in certain cases, but the currency, and military bills. We had not expected this from a man of Mr. Stephens’s calm disposition, and reputed good sense and sound discretion. With regard to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, we conjecture that a case will hardly arise in which it will be resorted to by President Davis. It confers, indeed, a dangerous power on the President, but Congress knew the man, and had no fear of its abuse for the very limited period during which it was conferred, and deeming it important for the public welfares did confer it upon him. Its necessity may have been exaggerated; but the country cannot believe it will be abused. Every act of the President in reference to offenders against the laws has betrayed a disposition of forbearance so strong that the press and the people have complained that the public interest has suffered by his excessive clemency. Deserters were pardoned until remonstrance came from the country and the army with great energy and unanimity; nor was one shot until it was deemed absolutely indispensable for the preservation of discipline in the army that the crime should be punished rigidly, just as it is in all armies and in all countries. But granting that a strong sentiment of State rights and devotion to the principles of personal liberty may induce some citizens and some States to complain of the suspension of that writ, which tradition has rendered so sacred in the public mind, it would be more creditable to their motives and their patriotism if they were satisfied to express frankly and fearlessly this sentiment and there rest. To involve it in a mass of complaints against the general expediency of the measures of the Government for the preservation of the public credit and for the maintenance of the army, is prejudicial to their attitude in defence of what they claim to be vital principles of constitutional liberty. We could not have supposed that Mr. Stephens would have allowed his own position to sustain a prejudice of this kind. Upon him, in case of the death or disability of the President, would devolve the solemn responsibility of Chief Magistrate and Commander-in-Chief of the armies of the Confederacy. –Were he to enter upon his duties with a repudiation of all the grave measures for the defence of the country, his power and the efficiency of his Administration would very naturally encounter consequential difficulties. Those measures - the financial and the military - are the very best under the circumstances the Congress could have matured, (with some partial defects, which a little time of practical test will develop, and that may then be amended.) They are about going into successful operation, giving every encouragement of the best results in strengthening the army and elevating the public credit. It is most inopportune that at such a time - with the enemy at the door - that any community - nay, any individual, and of all men the Vice President of the Confederacy - should utter a word to their prejudice, or to discourage the loyal people of the Southern States in their hearty acquiescence in those measures, and their ready submission to all the heavy burthens imposed upon them - burthens that must be borne or we must submit to that horrid Yankee despotism which will not only deprive us of everything we have, but degrade us to the ignominious condition of serfs. We hope that Mr. Stephens is misreport. Georgia we believe in; but deplore her attitude, which is neither just to her past conduct nor propitious to the Confederacy. Still, we have no despondency about Georgia. A little time will erase bad impressions, and she continue to stand as ever bold and defiant in the cause. Whatever language she may hold for the time, Georgia cannot, will not, stultify herself.