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1876 words could apply as well today

POSTED: February 6, 2011 1:00 a.m.

John E. Redwine was editor and publisher of the Gainesville Eagle in America's centennial year, 1876. Gainesville and Hall County were just over a half century old.

The Eagle, from which today's The Times evolved seven decades later, was unabashedly political, reporting more on politics than any other topic at the time.

But some of the thoughts expressed by editor Redwine are the same as some heard in today's harsh political environment and deserve repeating in view of recent campaigns:

"The most distorted falsehoods are resorted to for the purpose of defeating an opponent. The fairest reputations are blackened with calumny. Men who have grown hoary in the service of their country, and whose highest aspiration for a lifetime has been to promote the public good are not spared. They are maligned without mercy. To such an extent has this evil grown that thousands of the best men in the country have been driven out of or deterred from entering public life.

"The moment a man becomes a candidate for a position of honor and trust ... he becomes an object for the shafts of slander and vituperation. Cross-road politicians and hireling newspaper scribblers at once put upon him and hound him down to the day of his election, when he again becomes a respected citizen, and no one utters a syllable of reproach against him until he happens again to be in the way of the scheming and unscrupulous professional politicians, when he is again held up to his countrymen as a vile wretch, guilty of every crime known ...

"This disposition to misrepresent and slander political opponents is one of the crying sins of the age. It is doing more in this country to shake the confidence of the people in their government than all other causes. The people have become so accustomed to hearing their public servants abused that many of them have concluded that all who hold office are dishonest; that to give a man an office makes him a thief.

"Such was not the case in the better days of the Republic. There were parties then, but they were actuated by no such devilish spirit as moves the professional politician now, but by a spirit of generous rivalry ... "

At the time, A.D. Candler of Gainesville was just beginning a political career that would eventually propel him into Congress and the governor's office. The Eagle supported Candler in his first legislative run, but the rival newspaper Southron bitterly attacked him with accusations that Eagle readers described as fraudulent, unscrupulous and false. Candler won handily.

The governor's race that year also was a hot one with A.H. Colquitt, a Democrat winning. Thomas Hardeman Jr. was a candidate for the Democratic nomination but withdrew when it was clear Colquitt would win North Georgia. Colquitt defeated the Republican candidate, Jonathon Norcross, 99,362 to 31,419.

Norcross, whose name endures in the Gwinnett County city, was the first person to run for mayor of Atlanta, but he didn't become mayor until three others were elected before him.

The 1876 presidential race was a stem-winder in which Democrat Samuel J. Tilden won the country's popular vote but lost in an electoral vote dispute to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. Both nominees had claimed victory after the votes were counted, but three Southern states' electoral votes were in dispute. Congress appointed an electoral commission to sort out the situation, and it voted along party lines. Tilden ended up with 184 votes to Hayes' 185.

Only three other times in American history has a candidate won the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote, among them 2000 when Al Gore lost to George Bush in another disputed election.

But Tilden's popular vote margin in 1876 signaled the resurrection of the Democratic Party and the end of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Hayes had promised to remove federal troops from the South, and he did.

Hall County's vote total in November 1876 was a record turnout. Tilden got 1,533 votes for president, Hayes 191.

The Eagle further commented on the 1876 election campaign, "Many of the Georgia newspapers are growing very sad over the degeneracy of the candidates for public office in this day and time ..."

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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