From Slave South to New South: Public Policy in Nineteenth-Century Georgia

By Peter Wallenstein | Go to book overview

ESSAY ON PRIMARY SOURCES

MY SOURCES can be found in my notes, and I have supplied a bibliography. Here I offer a tour guide through the maze of primary sources -- mostly state and local public records -- on which this study so heavily depends.

Three major reference works track Georgia's legislative and constitutional history of the period. Under such headings as "Tax" and "Penitentiary," Thomas R. R. Cobb compiled all legislation still in force in Georgia as of the end of the 1849-50 legislative session (Digest of the Statute Laws of the State of Georgia). Francis Newton Thorpe (comp., The Federal and State Constitutions) follows Benjamin Perley Poore (comp., The Federal and State Constitutions) in neglecting important constitutional amendments in Georgia in the 1850s. The authoritative constitutional history of Georgia is Walter McElreath's Treatise on the Constitution of Georgia. McElreath succinctly outlines nineteenth-century changes in the Georgia constitution -- those regarding legislative apportionment and Confederate veterans' pensions, for example. He also reprints every state constitution (including that of 1861, which Thorpe and Poore exclude) and its amendments until the time of his publication ( 1912).

Essential sources for legislative history include the Acts of the General Assembly of the State of Georgia, the Journal of the House of Representatives, and the Journal of the Senate. Each legislative session produced a volume of each. Because the journals contain roll-call votes, as well as procedural information regarding the progress of bills through the legislature, they permit one to trace parliamentary maneuvering. But given that they never contain legislators' speeches and only rarely give the full wording of a bill under discussion, the precise content of contending measures frequently remains uncertain, as does the rationale for each member's vote.

The Executive Minutes are the basic source for governors' actions. In them are recorded such routine activities of the governor as action on legislation and the establishment of annual state property tax rates; these minutes can be consulted on microfilm in the Georgia Department of Archives and History in Atlanta. At the convening of each annual (or biennial or semi-annual) session of the legislature, the governor gave an address to a joint session of the general assembly. Sometimes he droned on about such topics as a boundary dispute with Florida. Still, when the state's chief executives were urging enactment

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