In 1872, Douglas County was just two years old having been created from the section of Campbell County located on the north side of the Chattahoochee River. The city of Douglasville was still in transition from a mere turn in the Indian trail that carried the name Skint Chestnut. There was some disagreement regarding the location of the county seat. Some citizens wanted a location closer to the middle of the county while others had their heart set on Skint Chestnut. The Skint Chestnut folks continued on with plans to build a town while a lawsuit to settle the matter was pending. They erected a temporary wooden building that would serve as the seat of Douglas County government.
The lawsuit would end up reaching the Georgia Supreme Court and a subsequent second election to let voters decide on the county seat question would not be over until 1875, but according to an article found in the “Weekly Sun,” an Atlanta paper, (September 18, 1872) folks were already thinking of Skint Chestnut as Douglasville.
The article read — “There will be public discussion of the political questions of the day, at Douglasville, Douglas County on October 1 between P.F. Smith, Esq. of Newnan for Greeley and Mr. H.K. Shackleford of [Atlanta] for the principles of Jeffersonian Democracy. Let the Democrats of Douglas County turn out and hear the ring of the true metal in Mr. Shackleford’s clear and lucid enunciation of true Democracy as opposed to Greeley Radicalism.”
Today, most of us rarely go to hear someone make a political speech. We would rather watch from the comfort of our homes or via our cell phones. Of course, what we normally see are the chopped up versions — the clips the media wants to bring out or that the opposing party wants to work their latest talking points around.
In 1872, political speechmaking was entertainment. They were social events people actually went to, sometimes sitting for two or three hours listening to various politicians or in the case of the political event at Douglasville, their spokesmen.
Many of these men reached rock star status regarding their stump speeches. While I don’t know too much about P.F. Smith of Newnan, I do happen to know that H.K. (Harvey King) Shackleford was very well known for his skills at debate, lecturing, and as an orator. He pastored a church at Fairburn at one time, and much later in this life he would embark on a writing career as a very successful dime novelist.
To understand the political climate in 1872 you need to understand the faces of the Democrat and Republican parties were much different than today. More than likely, if you are a Republican today, you would have been a Democrat in 1872 and vice versa.
The topic for the speech scheduled in Douglasville was the pending presidential election pitting the incumbent President Ulysses S. Grant for the Republicans against Horace Greeley who was the nominee for the Liberal Republican Party. There were others, but Grant and Greeley were the main contenders. The national election that year was unique since the Republican Party split, and the Democrat Party offered no candidate.
Greeley’s name might be a familiar to you. He was a newspaper publisher and is given credit for the famous quote, “Go West, young man,” though some historians claim someone else actually said it first.
There was no nominee from the Democratic Party that year because the Democrats wanted to take advantage of the split in the Republican Party, and hoped by throwing their support behind Greeley, President Grant would be defeated.
I’m not quite sure how the Douglas County vote went for president that year, but I do know President Grant didn’t carry Georgia though he did win the White House. Poor Horace Greeley was mourning the loss of his wife, who had died October 30, 1872, felt humiliated at the polls, and died in a mental hospital by the end of November 1872 before the Electoral College could convene to officially decide the election.
For me, the little article in the Atlanta paper confirms that folks were using the name Douglasville earlier than 1875 when the court decision was handed down and the second election for the county seat took place.
It also confirms that raucous political speechmaking, events, and elections have always been a part of Douglas County since our earliest days!
Onward to November where we have several offices up for election. Now is the time to get involved and become an educated voter.
Voting is your right.
Educating yourself regarding who is running is your responsibility.
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can also find her Facebook page for Douglas County history under the name “Every Now and Then,” and visit her website at lisalandcooper.com for even more stories.