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This Day in Georgia Civil War History

December 17, 1860

William Harris Speech to Georgia General Assembly Supporting Secession

William Harris was a commissioner to Georgia from the state of Mississippi. He had been born in Georgia and educated at the University of Georgia, before moving to Mississippi and becoming a judge. He was appointed as commissioner to Georgia in 1858, and in that capacity delivered a speech before the Georgia General Assembly on this date. Excerpts from the speech follow:

Mr. President, and gentlemen of the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Georgia: I am profoundly sensible of the delicate and important duty imposed upon me, by the courtesy of this public reception. Under different circumstances, it would have afforded me great pleasure, as a native Georgian — reared and educated on her soil — to express to you fully, the views which prevail in my native State, in relation to the great measures of deliverance and relief from the principles and policy of the new Administration, which are there in progress. I cannot consent, however, upon the very heel of your arduous and exciting session, to avail myself of your respectful courtesy to the State I have the honor to represent, as well as your personal kindness to her humble representative, to prolong the discussion of a subject which, however, important and absorbing, has, doubtless, been already exhausted in your hearing, by some of the first intellects of your State, if not of the nation. I beg, therefore, to refer you to the action of Mississippi — already submitted to your Executive — to ask for her the sympathy and cooperation she seeks for the common good, and briefly to suggest to you some of the motives which influence her conduct. I am instructed by the resolution from which I derive my mission, to inform the State of Georgia, that Mississippi has passed an act calling a convention of her people, “to consider the present threatening relations of the Northern and Southern sections of the Confederacy — aggravated by the recent election of a President, upon principles of hostility to the States of the South; and to express the earnest hope of Mississippi, that this State will co-operate with her in the adoption of efficient measures for their common defence and safety.”… Mississippi seeks no delay — the issue is not new to her people. They have long and anxiously watched its approach they think it too late, now, to negotiate more compromises with bankrupts in political integrity whose recreancy to justice, good faith and constitutional obligations is the most cherished feature of their political organization. She has exhausted her rights in sacrificial offerings to save the Union, until nearly all is lost but her honor and the courage to defend it. She has tried conventions until they have become the ridicule of both our friends and our enemies — mere instruments of fraudulent evasion and delay, to wear out the spirit of our people and encourage the hopes of our common enemy. In short, she is sick and tired of the North, and pants for some respite from eternal disturbance and disquiet. She comes now to you, — our glorious old mother, — the land of Baldwin, who first defiantly asserted and preserved your rights as to slavery, in the federal convention, in opposition to Messrs. Madison, Mason, and Randolph, and the whole Union except the two Carolinas, — the land of Jackson, who immortalized himself by his bold exposure and successful overthrow of a legislative fraud and usurpation upon the rights of the people, — the land of Troup, the sternest Roman of them all, who, single-handed and alone, without cooperation, without consultation, but with truth and justice, and the courage of freemen at home on his side, defied this National Government in its usurpations on the rights of Georgia, and executed your laws in spite of the threats of Federal coercion. It is to you we come, — the brightest exemplar among the advocates and defenders of State rights and State remedies, — to take counsel and solicit sympathy in this hour of our common trial. … I need not remind your great State, that thousands and thousands of her sons and daughters, who have sought and found happy homes and prosperous fortunes in the distant forests of her old colonial domain, though now adopted children of Mississippi, still cling with the fond embrace of filial love to this old mother of States and of statesmen, from whom both they and their adopted State derive their origin. It will be difficult for such to conceive, that they are not still the objects of your kind solicitude and maternal sympathy. Mississippi indulges the most confident expectation and belief, founded on sources of information she cannot doubt, as well as on the existence of causes, operating upon them, alike as upon her, that every other Gulf State will stand by her side in defence of the position she is about to assume; and she would reproach herself, and every Georgia son within her limits, would swell with indignation, if she hesitated to believe that Georgia too, would blend her fate with her natural friends; her sons and daughters — her neighboring sisters in the impending struggle. …

Click here for the full text of Harris’ speech.