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This Day in Georgia History

November 22, 1754

Abraham Baldwin Born

Educator and politician Abraham Baldwin was born in North Guilford, Connecticut. Raised in New England, he attended and taught at Yale College, studying both theology and law. In 1779 he joined the American Revolutionary army as a chaplain. While serving in New York and New Jersey he befriended George Washington and Nathanael Greene, among other revolutionary leaders. Yale tried to re-hire him after the war, but Baldwin had decided to pursue a life outside the ministry. His friend Nathanael Greene had been given land in Georgia confiscated from a Loyalist, and convinced Baldwin to come south as well. Baldwin moved to Savannah in 1783 and adopted Georgia as his home. Baldwin was immediately accepted into Georgia society and began practicing law. But his leadership qualities soon led him to a political career, which began in the Georgia legislature. There, in 1784, he was appointed to a board of trustees to establish and maintain forty thousand acres of land for a “college or seminary of learning.” Baldwin wrote the charter for this institution, which was adopted in 1785 (making the University of Georgia the first state-chartered university in the country). A war with the Creek Indians prevented the university from being established immediately, but in 1801 a sight overlooking the Oconee River was selected for its home. Here, not only would a university be built but but the town of Athens, named to recall the classical culture of ancient Greece. For the University’s first president Baldwin recommended a former fellow-Yale student, Josiah Meigs. Baldwin’s contributions were not limited to the Georgia legislature and the University of Georgia. In 1787, he was selected as one of Georgia’s delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. At one point, with the convention on the verge of dissolving over the matter of equal versus proportional representation in Congress, Baldwin strategically cast a vote that caused a tie over the issue and led to the convention’s adjournment while a compromise could be found. The result of his vote was the Great Compromise creating a bicameral Congress with equal representation of states in one house (the Senate) and proportional representation in the other (the House of Representatives). In 1798, the Georgia General Assembly elected Baldwin to the United States Senate, where he served until his death in Washington, DC on March 4, 1807. In 1803, the Georgia General Assembly created a new county named in his honor.