By Randy Reynolds
31 years before the Civil War, former Georgia Governor George Troup and the state’s aristocratic landowners were pushing hard for secession. They were opposed by former Governor John Clark and his backers, who were mostly tradesmen and small farmers including 29 year old Sharp Spencer Reynolds of
.) When young Reynolds expressed his views in a letter to the editor of the Statesman & Patriot, the editor of a rival paper, the Athenian, ridiculed him. Sharp Reynolds responded in a second letter to the Statesman & Patriot, June 19, 1830. (He writes like an educated man, though there is no record of where he may have gotten that education.) Hall County (my g-g-g-grandfather
“I had no thought of exciting the ire of that most renowned and potent knight of the quill, the editor of the Athenian… But inasmuch as he has thought fit to pause a moment in the career of his glory, and honor my humble effusion with his ‘right wittie and conceited’ remarks, I have been driven to the necessity of fleshing my maiden pen, by entering the lists against this gigantic opponent, and joining battle with him and his auxiliary.”
(If this reads like something plagiarized from Mark Twain, please note that this was five years before Mark Twain was born to Sharp Reynolds’ cousin.)
Sharp wasn’t afraid to take on the power structure, because he felt truth was on his side: “We are informed, by sacred history, that a certain little son of Jesse, David by name, armed only with a sling and smooth pebble from a brook, encountered and slew the mighty Goliath… and the cause of his success is stated in the same authority to have been the armour of truth in which he stood invulnerably clothed. Now although there may exist the same disproportion between my assailant of the Athenian & myself, intellectually speaking…I feel that the mantle which protected David, had descended upon my shoulders…”
In other words, Me David. You Goliath.
Sharp Reynolds tried to show that Troupites weren’t practicing what they preached: “The government of Hall county stands in the same relation to the Government of the State, as the latter does to the Government of the
. …A party of the State wishes forcibly to resist the right of the United States ’ Government to interfere with its regulations… That same party is busying itself with endeavoring to control the conditions of every county in the State…” United States
“…the Athenian—printed in
Clark county—stoutly objects (to what is going on in Hall county) and with a long string of jibes, and jeers, and reproaches, seeks to (interfere)…”
The newspaper was also practicing what today would be called “false equivalency” –they treated Sharp as if he—not the armed insurrectionists—was stirring up all the trouble. He responded:
“The Athenian raises so great a lure and cry, as if like Troup, I had talked of guns, swords, & pistols…. Its extreme sensibility upon this point, is a sufficient commentary upon the enormity of its own doctrines in regard to the relation of the State, to the
—so much for the gratuity of its interference; let us proceed to dissect the carcass before us.” United States
Sharp must have gotten some laughs with lines like “Let us proceed to dissect the carcass before us” but it was a serious issue. George Troup, while governor, had signed a treaty with his cousin, a half-Indian named William McIntosh, giving the State of Georgia title to all remaining Creek Indian lands. McIntosh had no authority to do this—and the Creeks murdered him for it. President John Quincy Adams called the treaty illegal and overturned it. This enraged former Governor Troup and the plantation owners, and they began agitating for secession. Former Governor Clark’s followers, including Sharp Reynolds, favored a more reasoned approach: they stayed in the
Union and took the Creek Indian lands “legally.”
Sharp writes that it was the “…height of imprudence to take possession of the Indian lands under a title which was not only voidable, but actually void; when by pursuing a different course, with a little patience, it could be had (and was) with title sound and indefeasible.”
Even after the state reclaimed the Creek land, the Troupites continued to demonize the Clarkites for not being willing to secede. Sharp said the Clarkites were only doing the patriotic thing:
“We refuse to enter into the disunion schemes of Troup, and there lies our sin. Because we will not contribute to strengthen the arm that is raised to cut up root and branch the tree of our liberty, planted by Washington, Jefferson, and their illustrious compeers…
"Because we are not willing to erect the standard of civil war... we are subjected to the abuse of the Athenian, and all others who would plunge us into civil war…”
When Sharp Reynolds wrote that letter at the age of 29, the issue was “States Rights”--the state’s right to secede over how to take land away from the Creek Nation.
When he was 60 and the plantation owners finally got the Civil War they had wanted for so long, the issue was still (supposedly) “States Rights”—the state’s right to secede from the Union. But after seceding, they formed their own nation—the Confederate States of
—that denied the right of states to secede! America
So what “States Rights” were they really seceding for?
It was, of course, the right to maintain legal human bondage.
Though even today defenders of the Confederacy use the “States Rights” talking point, the actions of the Confederacy itself, in denying States Rights, serves as a testament to the emptiness of this claim. So, too, do the words of Sharp Spencer Reynolds in that letter to the editor he wrote 31 years before the war:
“…there is no Ignorance so Impenetrable as the willful—no misrepresentation too shameless for the purposes of deception.”