Anyway, what I want to do in this post is furnish an example of how this “annual survey” approach can be helpful: using excerpts from the summaries between 1806-1809, I’m going to tell you more than you really want to know about a small episode in the career of a minor Georgia politician, Joseph Bryan. Bryan, who had represented coastal Georgia in Congress, had as a young man studied law with John Randolph of Roanoke, become friends with him, and, by 1806, had agreed to help Randolph with a scheme that in retrospect appears to have been doomed from the start . [I’ll clean up these excerpts some for clarity.]
From 1806 annual survey:
[Following his resignation from Congress,] Bryan, a political acolyte of John Randolph of Roanoke, returned home to Georgia determined to aid the Virginian in his quest to deny James Madison election as Jefferson’s successor, in favor of James Monroe. Bryan believed that Madison’s “Yazooism indeed in this State will in all probability do the business. The time to act is while the subject is warm.” (Bryan to Randolph, 23 April 1806, John Randolph Correspondence [typescript], Coles Collection, University of Virginia.] The reference is to Madison’s support for settlement of the Yazoo claims issue, which Randolph had been instrumental in torpedoing in 1805.)
From 1807 annual survey:
Meanwhile, Joseph Bryan continued to hatch his plot to aid his buddy, John Randolph of Roanoke, to bring Georgia into the camp of James Monroe as Jefferson’s successor in 1808. On 27 May 1807, Bryan informed Randolph that both he and Thomas Spalding would be in the state legislature and that Spalding remained Randolph’s “firm adherent.” Bryan did remark, however, that Spalding was “terribly unpopular,” except in his own county. Two months later, on 20 July, Bryan told Randolph that, while the people of Georgia favored electing a Virginian as the next President, “the current runs in favor of Madison. Spalding and myself will be able to form some estimate of our strength when the Legislature meets—we can form no opinion now.” (Both letters in Bryan Family Papers, Virginia State Library, Richmond.) Yet, despite this promise to aid Monroe, the only thing Bryan seems to have accomplished at the legislative session, according to a published “letter from gentleman in Milledgeville,” was to offer a resolution on Yazoo providing that: 1) the legislature still viewed the Yazoo Fraud with “abhorrence and detestation” and still held in high regard the 1796 legislature, which had overturned the sale; 2) the General Assembly “view as disgraceful any compromise between the United States and the Yazoo claimants”; 3) the legislature tendered thanks to Virginia congressman John Randolph and those allied with him who opposed any compromise on the Yazoo claims; and 4) copies of resolution were to be sent to Randolph and to the secretaries of Treasury and War, and to the Attorney-General. (Savannah Public Intelligencer, 27 November 1807.)
From 1808 annual survey:
On 31 Jan., Bryan informed Randolph that he did not believe there was a “crying necessity” for an Embargo and that Georgians were feeling the effects of the measure “sorely,” with debts growing and crop prices plummeting. He averred that “[John] Milledge is a coward and I am afraid [sic] Troup a soldier of fortune—if our representatives [in Congress] who voted with you are not honest God help the state for thier [sic] opponents in this state to take them by and large are great scoundrels (a jumble of Federalists, Quids, & Yazoo Speculators).” Bryan also reported that, although he and Thomas Spalding were now on the outs politically on most issues, they still agreed on some things: “[W]e equally feel cool towards the administration & would prefer Monroe to any for president.” (All letters in this entry located in the Bryan Family Papers, Virginia State Library, Richmond.)
On 23 February, upset by news of Madison’s nomination by a Republican caucus to be Jefferson’s successor, Bryan wrote again to Randolph. He asserted that “Parties are running high” in Georgia. Bryan categorized Spalding’s friends in the state as “corrupt, bad men,” unlike Randolph’s friend, Georgia congressman William Wyatt Bibb. (See “A Young Whig,” Georgia Express, 24 September 1808, who defended Bibb against charges that his friendship with Randolph was inimical to the state’s interests.) Bryan said that he supposed William Harris Crawford was also friendly to Randolph and that Crawford’s friendship was worth having, but he added, in an interesting comment on the structure of the state’s Repubublican party, that “in truth I know More of B & C [Bibb and Crawford] by report than otherwise—They stand high in the estimation of good men.”
Just before leaving for the special session of the legislature that would pass the first Alleviating Act, Bryan wrote Randolph on 2 May, promising to keep the Virginian informed of his efforts to further in Georgia Randolph’s plan to deny the party’s presidential nomination to Madison. Bryan claimed that “A number of influential and sensible men” in Georgia were opposed to Madison’s election, so “something may yet be done.” On 26 July, Bryan informed Randolph that he had pushed Monroe’s candidacy hard at the meeting of the legislature, and he predicted that, if Monroe did not decline the Republican nomination if it were offered to him, he would receive Georgia’s votes. Bryan promised Randolph that he would take up Monroe’s cause when he returned to Milledgeville in the fall for the regular session of the legislature, and, perhaps to bolster the Virginian’s spirits, he described Crawford and Bibb as “not half way men” and Charles Harris and Thomas Spalding as “very warm” in the cause.
By early in the autumn, the game was up, and Bryan knew it. He told Randolph in a letter on 5 September that little could be done for their “favorite,” Monroe, in the Georgia legislature. In fact, Bryan predicted that “it is probable from my free expression of Opinion I shall not be elected in my County.” While Bryan promised to keep working for Monroe, he also had to inform Randolph that he had learned from Charles Harris that Randolph’s friends in Congress from Georgia were now “neutral—the fact is, they are Monroeites but they fear jeopardizing their own elections.”
From 1809 annual survey:
On 16 July 1809, Bryan informed Randolph that he was being sent back to the legislature again because people thought he was willing to “contribute to make Genl. [David Brydie] Mitchell governor,” and, since Mitchell had been a “valuable friend,” Bryan had agreed, despite the fact that his deafness was becoming worse. The Georgian went on to describe for Randolph how, at the last session of the state legislature, “very many friends to [Randolph’s] course” (i.e., electing Monroe to the presidency instead of Madison) were “too timid to come forth with their real sentiments,” despite efforts by Bryan and Thomas Spalding to rally them. Finally, Bryan explained, he and Spalding had given up and joined the throng supporting Madison. He concluded that “I am still thought a Democrat and so I am, but I greatly dislike some of my associates.” (Bryan Family Papers, Virginia State Library, Richmond) For the sequel to this episode, see same to same, 4 January 1810, ibid. Here, Bryan informed Randolph that his having served in the last legislature might have removed “some unfavorable impressions [of his soundness as a Republican].” Nevertheless, Bryan contended that his “advocating the election of Munroe [sic] hurt me greatly and has destroyed some (for the time being) who were attached to the same politicks [sic] among others a brother in law of mine who represented Bibb county.”
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These surveys are not easy (let alone fun!) to write. In fact, I’ve been stuck for several weeks, searching for the enthusiasm needed to prepare surveys for the added years, 1838-1845. Nevertheless, they seem to me superior to outlines, which I used to consider a crucial step in the writing process. The main stumbling block, I think, is the temptation to organize the book in a strictly chronological, year-by-year, fashion (i.e., “annals of Georgia politics”), which would be nothing short of deadly.
For those interested in reading more about Georgia History, here are links to my books on the subject:
Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)