The New South Notes

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The Bourbon Triumvirate

The Bourbon Triumvirate was a group of three politicians (Joseph E. Brown, Alfred H. Colquitt, and John B. Gordon) who dominated Georgia politics for over 20 years. These men, who all had been key figures during the Civil War, rotated positions as governor and U.S. Senator from the 1870s to 1890s. They held a common interest in developing the railroad and mining industries in Georgia, serving the interest of those men who were part of the old antebellum planter class, and instituting low taxes which resulted in few government services. In addition, all three of the men were white supremacists who supported and took advantage of the convict lease system. The power of the Bourbon Triumvirate began to wane as the ideals of the Populist Party and the New Democrats began to dominate the Democratic Party in 1890, as well as, the deaths or retirement of the three members.

Joseph E. Brown

Joseph E. Brown (1821-1894) was born in South Carolina, but spent most of his early years in the mountains of North Georgia. He attended Yale Law School and moved back to Georgia where he became a successful lawyer. He was elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 1849 and became a state judge in 1855. In 1857, he was elected governor of Georgia and remained in this position throughout the Civil War. During the Civil War he bickered with C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis on several occasions. Though a zealous secessionist before the war, Brown briefly joined the Republican Party after the war. As a Republican he served as the chief justice of Georgia’s Supreme Court. He later switched his allegiance back to the Democratic Party and served in the U.S. Senate from 1880-1890.

Alfred H. Colquitt

Alfred H. Colquitt (1824-1894) was born in Walton County, Georgia. He graduated from Princeton University in 1844 and returned to Georgia and became a lawyer. In 1846, he joined the Army during the Mexican-American War. In 1853, he was elected a U.S. Representative where he served only one term before returning to Georgia where he became a member of the General Assembly in 1859. A fervent secessionist, he was elected to the Georgia Secession Convention in 1861 and joined the Confederate Army after Georgia seceded. Colquitt had a distinguished military career during the Civil War and fought in some of the major battles from 1861-1863. Due to his service, he was eventually commissioned as a major general. After the war, Colquitt served as Georgia’s governor from 1876-1882 and as a U.S. Senator from 1883-1894.

John B. Gordon

John B. Gordon (1832-1904) was born in Upson County, Georgia. As a child he moved to Walker County with his family due to his father’s work in Georgia’s coal industry. After leaving the University of Georgia without graduating, he ended up managing his father’s coal mine before the start of the Civil War. Though receiving no military training, Gordon rose to prominence in the Confederate Army due to his fearless fighting style and made his mark as a military strategist. Gordon fought in several important battles and rose to the rank of major general at the end of the war. After the war, Gordon returned to Georgia where he was an outspoken opponent of Reconstruction and is thought to have been the leader of the Georgia chapter of the KKK. Gordon was elected as a U.S. Senator in 1872 and served in this position until 1880. He resigned his position amidst scandal to head the Western and Atlantic Railroad. However, Gordon remained popular among white Georgians and was elected governor in 1886 and back to the U.S. Senate in 1891, serving until 1897. Gordon spent the rest of his life writing and speaking about the Civil War, and, it has been said, embellishing his role in it.

Henry Grady

Henry Grady (1850-1889), born in Athens, GA, is best known for his continual promotion of the “New South.” As managing editor of the Atlanta Journal, Grady was able to use the newspaper as a stage to promote...
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