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And you say politics today can get nasty

POSTED: April 12, 2009 12:30 a.m.
We think partisan politics is worse than ever, but it's pretty tame compared to some periods of the country's history.

One incident involving a Hall Countian not long after the Civil War is an example of how things sometimes could get out of hand between political party supporters.

T.J. Carter, who grew up in Hall County's Fork District and fought for the South in the war, was on a trip through Illinois in 1868 along with others from the county: Harrison Martin, Boss Porter, Bose Robinson and Nathaniel Smith, all described as "violent Democrats." The wagon they were traveling in had a sign painted in big red letters, "Seymour and Blair," the Democratic nominees for president and vice president. Horatio Seymour of New York and Francis Preston Blair Jr. were running against Ulysses Grant of Illinois and Schuyler Colfax, the Republican nominees for president and vice president.

Being that Grant, the Union's hero in the Civil War, was from Illinois, some residents didn't take too kindly of the sign opposing their native son as a presidential candidate. The Gainesville Eagle wrote of the Hall County travelers, "the first little town they struck in Illinois they were met by a peremptory demand to have this sign rubbed off."
A crowd began to gather around the wagon load of Georgia Democrats. That inspired Hall Countian Harrison Martin to get out "an old Colt's revolver, a cap-and-ball shooter about 2 feet long, and swore a nine-jointed oath that he would shoot the first man that touched that sign."

Alas, the Illinoisans weren't intimidated. Instead, "(Martin) was covered by about 50 guns ... he said there were a thousand, but 50 were enough anyway." The gentlemen from Hall wisely consented to remove the sign.

The Northern hospitality apparently didn't bother Carter too much. He lived in Missouri and Kansas the rest of his life. He died both prosperous and prolific, having accumulated considerable wealth and with his wife 10 children.

Grant and Colfax carried 26 of the existing 36 states to win the election with more than 52 percent of the vote, some three million plus to the Democrats' 2.7 million. Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana were the only Southern states of those allowed to vote at the time to go Democratic. Grant was considered a part of the "Radical Republicans" who wanted to punish the South after the Civil War.

• • •

Gainesville's downtown square has had its issues during the city's history. Before automobiles were so prevalent, it was the gathering place, especially on Saturdays, for farmers from all over North Georgia to hawk their products. Despite the good business they provided to town merchants, there were complaints of the general mess their mules and wagons left the rutted muddy streets in during wet weather and the litter they left behind.

There also have been controversies over square redesign, including proposals to move the revered Confederate monument. But the United Daughters of the Confederacy and others usually shoot those ideas down as quickly as a Rebel marksman firing a mini-ball from behind a pine tree.

Parking even today becomes an issue because the downtown in recent years has become a busier place.

Back in 1912, the Gainesville Eagle suggested city leaders clean up the square. The city a year earlier had beautified the area with new grass, trees and unpaved walks. The paper wanted the walks around the square paved. "Pedestrians are now walking on the grass to keep from hurting their feet on the stones that are on the walks," wrote the editor. "If this suggestion is a little too stout, how about packing those rock down and hauling a few loads of sand and putting on the walks?" A lot of people must have gone barefooted back then.

In addition, during the summer in that era, the square was a prime spot for eating watermelons. That was all right except people left their rinds right where they ate, attracting yellow jackets, which, as anyone who has been on a picnic knows, are a nuisance. The paper wanted the city to fine anybody who left their watermelon rinds behind. The city apparently didn't follow the suggestion, but over the years the sidewalks did get paved, and watermelon rinds no longer are a problem - at least on the square.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, Ga. 30501; phone (770) 532-2326; e-mail vardeman623@charter.net.




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