Ratification in Georgia
When I thinks back, it warn't no good feelin' to be bound lak that. I sho' had rather be free. I guess after all it's best dat slavery days is over.
--An elderly Georgia black man, reflecting on a long and hard life during and after slavery
The good ship Reconstruction did not carry Georgia's freedmen to the promised land. It ran aground on the shoals of white defiance and Ku Klux violence. And then negrophobic torrents, fed by the social custom of generations, engulfed the stranded freedmen and swept them beyond the protection of the law, including the Fourteenth Amendment. Though the same racist flood reduced that amendment to legal flotsam, its waters did not destroy the record of the amendment's consideration and ratification in Georgia. Quite to the contrary, the swirling political eddies of the period illuminate rather than obscure that record, which shows that Georgians shared a common understanding of the amendment's meaning and potential scope. Moreover, their understanding paralleled the understanding of others elsewhere in the South.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1866, Georgians discussed the amendment only in the most general terms. Prior to its promulgation in May, discussion was necessarily speculative. It was nevertheless spirited. In early February, Georgia papers alerted readers to the prospect that an amendment might be designed "to compel the Southern states to admit the Negro population to the ballot box, under the penalty of losing a large portion of their Representatives." 1 Still another rumored possibility was an amendment "[t]o make all National and State laws apply equally to all men, without regard to color." 2 Also, Congress might insist, it was hinted, that every Southern state abolish "all distinctions with respect to all civil and religious rights."3