In the context of southern politics, the term Redemption refers to the overthrow or defeat of Radical Republicans (white and black) by white Democrats, marking the end of the Reconstruction era in the South. In addition to its biblical allusions, the term also underscores the widely held belief among white southerners of that era that the Republican state regimes that ruled during
In Georgia, Redemption became complete when Governor James M. Smith took office in January 1872. To an even greater extent than in other southern states, Redemption in Georgia ushered in a long period of Democratic dominance in state politics: for the next 131 years, every governor of Georgia would be a Democrat.
Efforts to Undermine Reconstruction
On September 19, 1868, in the small Mitchell County town of Camilla, a white mob attacked a predominantly black group of Republicans who were coming into town to hear a congressional candidate speak. The attack, which became known as the Camilla Massacre, left between nine and thirteen African Americans dead (sources differ on the exact number). Earlier in the month, the state legislature had expelled all twenty-eight legislators who could be definitely established as being of at least "one-eighth Negro blood."
Such acts of open defiance against both the spirit and the letter of the Reconstruction Acts led Congress to suspend Georgia's representation and reinstitute military rule in the state. Military commander General Alfred H. Terry removed twenty-nine white Democrats from the state legislature, most of whom were replaced by the African American Republicans who had been expelled. In February 1870 Georgia ratified the Fifteenth Amendment, and five months later Congress once again restored Georgia to the Union.
The Triumph of the Redeemers
Results of Redemption
The Democrats' "redemption" of Georgia marked the end of Reconstruction in the state and the beginning of Georgia's long reign as one of the most Democratic states of the "Solid South." Redemption also marked the beginning of eighteen years of political dominance by the state's so-called Bourbon Democrats and the Bourbon Triumvirate of Joseph E. Brown, Alfred H. Colquitt, and John B. Gordon. During this period the state government promoted the interests of planters and businessmen over those of small farmers and laborers, including sharecroppers, while doing virtually nothing to protect the interests of black citizens. The resulting widespread dissatisfaction on the part of small farmers and laborers of both races would lead to the first serious challenge to Democratic rule in post-Reconstruction Georgia: the Populist revolt of the 1890s.
Numan V. Bartley, The Creation of Modern Georgia, 2d ed. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990).
Stanley K. Deaton, "Violent Redemption: The Democratic Party and the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia, 1868-1871" (master's thesis, University of Georgia, 1988).
Lee W. Formwalt, "The Camilla Massacre of 1868: Racial Violence as Political Propaganda," Georgia Historical Quarterly 71 (fall 1987): 399-426.
Judson C. Ward Jr., "Georgia under the Bourbon Democrats, 1872-1890" (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1947).
Charles E. Wynes, "The Politics of Reconstruction, Redemption, and Bourbonism," in A History of Georgia, 2d ed., ed. Kenneth Coleman (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991), 207-24.
Lewis Nicholas Wynne, The Continuity of Cotton: Planter Politics in Georgia, 1865-1892 (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1986).
Matthew Hild, University of West Georgia
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