The last governor to be both a veteran of the Civil War (1861-65) and a Georgia native, Allen Candler may have made his greatest contribution to the state after his retirement from politics, when he became the first compiler of Georgia records. Candler edited nearly thirty volumes of Georgia’s colonial, revolutionary, and Confederate historical documents.
Allen Daniel Candler was born on November 4, 1834, in Auraria, in Lumpkin County, to Nancy Caroline Matthews and Daniel Candler. The eldest of twelve children, he grew up on a farm in a mountainous mining community, where he was educated in country schools. In 1859 he graduated from Mercer University in Macon, and after some law study, he began to teach in Banks County before enlisting as a private in the Confederate army. Five days after his enlistment, he was elevated to the rank of first lieutenant on May 17, 1862.
Wounded multiple times, Candler served in Mississippi at Vicksburg; in Tennessee at Missionary Ridge; and in Georgia at Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain, Atlanta, and Jonesboro, where he lost an eye. By the time the Civil War ended, Candler was a colonel under General Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina in the Army of Tennessee.
On January 12, 1864, Candler wed a former student, Eugenia Thomas Williams; they had eleven children during their forty-six-year marriage. After the war he returned to Jonesboro and worked in agriculture, manufacturing, and the railroad industry. But the former officer soon found himself drawn to politics and pushed for an end to Reconstruction in the South.
In 1872 Candler was elected mayor of Gainesville, and the following year he became a state legislator. He served in the Georgia House of Representatives until 1877, when he became a state senator. In 1883 Candler attained a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat from Georgia’s Ninth District. He remained in the House until 1891, and three years later he became Georgia’s secretary of state.
In 1898 Candler won the governor’s office, defeating Populist candidate J. R. Hogan with 70 percent of the vote. During his two terms in office, Candler pushed a conservative agenda. He advocated pensions for widows of Confederate veterans and reduced both taxes and expenditures, limiting state services to poor whites and Blacks. Most notably, Candler promoted the establishment of the all-white Democratic primary, claiming the Democratic Party to be a private organization and, thus, able to adopt white-only membership. In addition, he did little to discourage corrupt elections, lynchings, or the mob violence that finished the job of disenfranchising African Americans.
After leaving office in 1902, Candler made a crucial contribution to the state’s history after being named the first compiler of Georgia records. He spent the last ten years of his life preserving some of the state’s most important historical documents, including twenty-one volumes of colonial, three volumes of revolutionary, and five volumes of Confederate records. In 1906 he coauthored with Clement Evans a three-volume encyclopedia of Georgia history.
On October 26, 1910, Candler died in Atlanta of kidney failure due to Bright’s disease. He was buried in the Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville. In 1914 Candler County was named in his honor.