With the nation facing the potential threat of disunion over the passage of the Compromise of 1850, Georgia, in a special state convention, adopted a proclamation called the Georgia Platform. The act was instrumental in averting a national crisis. Slavery had been at the core of sectional tensions between the North and South. New territorial gains, westward expansion, and the hardening of regional attitudes toward the spread of slavery provoked a potential crisis of the Union, which in many ways portended the tragic events of the 1860s. In 1850, however, compromise and conciliation remained viable alternatives to secession and war.
There were many southerners in the decades before the Civil War (1861-65) who preferred disunion over any concessions on slavery. These radicals, often known as fire-eaters, called on the South to reject the Compromise of 1850 as an assault on the constitutional right of slavery. As in the nullification crisis of 1832, South Carolina led the protest. Immediate secessionists were numerous throughout Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Georgia was best prepared to respond to events, having established a provision for a special convention to deliberate alternatives; the convention, held in Milledgeville, would be a testament to the skill and moderation of a handful of Georgia statesmen.
Howell Cobb, Alexander Stephens, and Robert Toombs represented Georgia in Congress and wielded a great deal of political influence within the state. Their roles in these events not only aided the passage of the Compromise of 1850 in Washington but also ensured the defeat of the radical secessionists in Georgia. The culmination of their efforts was the Georgia Platform.
The November elections for the special convention to be held in December 1850 demonstrated an overwhelming support for the pro-Union position in Georgia. Of the 264 delegates to the convention, 240 were Unionists. In a five-day session the convention drafted an official response to the tensions threatening the Union. Only 19 delegates voted against the Georgia Platform. The genius of the document lay in its balance of Southern rights and a devotion to the Union.
The platform established Georgia’s conditional acceptance of the Compromise of 1850. Much of the document followed a draft written by Charles Jones Jenkins and represented a collaboration between Georgia Whigs and moderate Democrats dedicated to preserving the Union. In effect, the proclamation accepted the measures of the compromise so long as the North complied with the Fugitive Slave Act and would no longer attempt to ban the expansion of slavery into new territories and states. Northern contempt for these conditions, the platform warned, would make secession inevitable.
This qualified endorsement of the Compromise of 1850 essentially undermined the movement for immediate secession throughout the South. Newspapers across the nation credited Georgia with saving the Union. Nevertheless, the conditions upon which the Georgia Platform rested would fail the tests of time, bringing in the next decade a replay of events with different results—secession and war.