Page images
PDF
EPUB

AT

Federal Government, like Aaron's rod, will swallow up the State Governments, and a final consolidation of the whole will put an end to that beautiful system of liberty, which is now the pride and boast of the free people of these States.”

Governor Schley has always taken a deep interest in everything concerning the welfare of Georgia. He recommended the establishment of the Lunatic Asylum, and a geological survey of the State.

CHARLES J. MCDONALD.

S

T3

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The subject of this sketch is a native of South Carolina. In his early infancy, his parents' removed to Georgia, and settled in the County of Hancock. The citizens of that section of the State had always shown a deep interest in the subject of education, and at one of their celebrated schools, under the direction of the Rev. Nathan S. S. Beman, Mr. McDonald received his academical education. He then entered Columbia College, South Carolina, of which institution · he is a graduate. After studying law in the office of Major Joel Crawford, he was admitted to the bar in 1817, and the following year entered upon the duties of his profession. In a very short time he obtained an extensive practice.

As evidence of the public appreciation of his talents and worth, the Legislature of 1822 elected him to the office of Solicitor-General of the Flint Circuit, which he held until elected Judge of the same Circuit, in 1825. Upon his elevation to the bench, he resigned his commission of Brigadier-General, to which post he had been elected in 1823. Presiding over a circuit embracing territory then newly settled, Judge McDonald found himself frequently in positions which required prudence and firmness, both of which qualities, so essential to those clothed with judicial power, were conceded to him.

In 1830, Mr. McDonald was elected a representative to the Legislature from the County of Bibb. In 1834, and again in 1837, he was elected to the Senate. Among all the members with whom he was associated, many of whom subsequently rose to the highest honours, none exerted a greater influence, or commanded higher respect.

His election to succeed Mr. Gilmer as Governor of the State of Georgia, in 1839, showed the estimate placed upon his character and ability, by those who agreed with him in political principle, as well as by the people of the State. The office to which he was elected was at that time especially replete with responsibility. Governor McDonald found the State Treasury empty, without the means of pushing to completion the great work undertaken in the construction of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, with the public debt increased to a million of dollars, and what was worst of all, the character of Georgia disgraced by the protest of an obligation for three hundred thousand dollars, contracted by the Central Bank

11

[ocr errors]

under legislative authority. The work of restoring the State to a healthy financial condition, and establishing its credit abroad, was rendered much more arduous from the fact, that the commerce and business of the country had hardly more than begun to recover from the revulsion that had followed the excitement of 1836 and 1837.

Georgia shared largely in this excitement. The Central Bank, established in 1828, had been required by the Legislature, from year to year, to meet its appropriations from the resources of the State. In 1837, the counties had been authorized, by legislative act, to retain the general tax to be applied by the inferior courts to county purposes. Notwithstanding the State taxes had thus been relinquished to the counties, the Central Bank was still required to pay. the annual ordinary and extraordinary appropriations. In the embarrassed condition of the finances, the position of the Chief Magistrate was a difficult one, involving the duty of recommending to the legislative branch of the Government a line of policy that would relieve the State from her financial difficulties. Governor McDonald, in his first annual message, in 1840, recommended, as a remedy for the embarrassments then existing, “a resumption of the entire amount of State taxes, which had for some years been given to the counties with but little benefit to them, and greatly to the injury of the finances of the State.” The recommendation of the Governor prevailed, and a law was enacted directing the State taxes to be paid into the State Treasury.

In 1841, a bill reducing the taxes of the State twenty per cent., passed both branches of the Legislature.

To this act the Governor refused his assent, and communicated his objections to its passage to the Legislature, which we insert in his own language :

“It is with extreme reluctance," said Governor McDonald, “ that I dissent from an act of the Legislature, so as to prevent its becoming a law, which has for its object the regulation of the amount of revenue to be raised from the people. Nothing but a most imperative sense of duty could induce it. There is now a permanent tax law, not requiring renewal from year to year. The act under consideration proposes to reduce the taxes required to be raised by that law twenty per centum, on the supposition that they are not required by the exigencies of the Government. The measure is, doubtless, based upon the opinion of the Committee on Finance, that the amount of the revenue arising under the law from ordinary sources, exceeds the amount required to meet the expenditures of the Government twenty per centum. It will be found, upon investigation, that the amount of estimated receipts at the Treasury from such sources is greatly overrated, and that the actual receipts will not reach the estimate by fifty thousand dollars or more. If the error had been detected which led to this over-estimate, I am compelled to presume that a reduction would not have been made, which must leave the Government without the necessary means to sustain itself, and meet its indispensable engagements.

“Again the Committee recommended, and an act has been passed accordingly,

[ocr errors]

that the interest on the public debt should be paid by the Central Bank instead of the Treasury. The condition of the Central Bank does not justify the belief that. this can be a permanent regulation. It must be relieved from this heavy requisition, or its notes must depreciate, so as to become a greater tax upon the people than twenty per centum upon the amount now levied. In every view of the case, then, I am forced to a conclusion different from that to which the Committee has arrived, both in regard to the amount of the revenue expected to be levied under the law, and the propriety of throwing on the Central Bank, permanently, the burden of paying the interest on the public debt. Believing that the amount of taxes levied under the act of 1840 are absolutely required by the Government to meet its necessary expenditures, I feel bound to withhold my con

2

sent."

In his annual message of November 8th, 1842, Governor McDonald urged again upon the Legislature the only efficient remedy for relieving the State from its embarrassments. "Said he, in that message :

« The difficulty should be met at once. Had there been no Central Bank, the expenses of the Government must have been by taxation. These expenses having been paid by the Central Bank, they become a legitimate charge upon taxation. This must be the resort, or the Government is inevitably dishonoured. The public faith must be maintained; and to pause to discuss the question of preference between taxation and dishonour, would be to cast a reflection upon the character of the people whose servants we are."

2

He was aware that he was thus deliberately presenting an issue on a subject in regard to which men living under a republican gov. ernment are always deeply jealous and sternly watchful. But he had given the question the most mature consideration, and did not hesitate to face the opposition that he knew must be encountered. He made his appeal to the Legislature. He cited them to the fact, that upwards of nine hundred and eighty-five thousand dollars, which ought to have been applied to the support of Government, (under the erroneous pretence of raising taxes from the people,) were to be relinquished to the counties; and that while this had been going on, the capital of the Central Bank had been appropriated to supply money for the expenses of the Government. A former Legislature had authorized a sale of bonds bearing a high rate of interest. Governor McDonald stated, in this same message, that there was not, at that time, a market in the world in which State stocks, to any considerable amount, could be advantageously sold. But," added he, “if bonds could be sold, it is highly questionable whether sound policy would justify the measure. The interest of the bonds must be paid annually, and eventually the principal at maturity. The postponement would throw on a future generation the unjust burden of supporting the Government, which should devolve upon us.” After remarking that “the people are ever sensitive on the subject of taxes, and it is proper

[ocr errors]

but that they pay them without murmur or complaint when they are convinced they are required by the necessities of the Government,” he recommended a small addition to the amount of taxes then paid as all that was required.

Notwithstanding the urgent appeal and decided recommendations of the Executive, the Legislature took no effectual action for restoring the credit of the State. A bill, making an addition of twenty-five per cent. to the tax of the previous year, had been introduced and rejected, then reconsidered, and again lost. The session was near its closeprompt action was necessary. Governor McDonald took his decision. He found the Treasurer, in accordance with usage, sitting with members of the Legislature, preparatory to their departure; in anticipation of the passage of the Appropriation Bill. He immediately directed him to suspend all payments from that department, except upon appropriations actually made, and warrants legally drawn thereon. The Governor gave as his reason for this step, that the Legislature was about to adjourn, “leaving him without the means of meeting the engagements of the State, for the performance of which her faith and honour had been repeatedly pledged." The Governor cited the Legislature to the report of the Treasurer, which he at the same time transmitted to that body, from which it appeared, that the appropriations of a general nature absolutely required in the administration of the Government, with the amount necessary to defray the expenses of protecting the Florida frontier from Indian invasions, would exceed the probable amount remaining in the Treasury, leaving the sum of one hundred and ten thousand dollars, for the payment of the interest on the public debt, altogether unprovided for.

Never was there, perhaps, a higher state of excitement from any similar cause, among the members of the Legislature, than when they found the treasury thus closed upon them. The opposition denounced Governor McDonald as a tyrant, as guilty of a high-handed measure, worse than Jackson would have enforced. His political friends, alarmed, urged him to recede from his determination, and rescind his order to the Treasurer. He peremptorily refused. The result was, that the bill was finally passed. At the next session of the Legislature, Governor McDonald reported a greatly improved condition of the finances, and upon submitting the estimate of the ComptrollerGeneral, it appeared that the receipts into the Treasury would be more than sufficient to defray the ordinary expenses of the Government, and pay the interest on the public debt. He further reported that public confidence was reviving in regard to the Central Bank, and that specie-paying banks would no doubt, at an early day, find it to their interest to receive its notes in payment.

We have been thus particular in regard to the subjects of taxation and finance, as connected with the administration of Governor McDonald, that the people of Georgia might understand his agency in restoring the credit of the State. No man, in the existing embarrassments under which the State laboured, could have acted with greater prudence in the management of her fiscal affairs than did Governor McDonald,

1

e

U

U

In behalf of popular education, Governor McDonald uniformly ex erted his influence, avowing his belief that our political institutions can be supported only by the virtue and intelligence of the people. While urging upon the Legislature attention to the subject of education, he said, “The first thing to be regarded in a republic is the virtue of the people ; the second, their intelligence. Both are essential to the maintenance of our free institutions; the first inspires them with a disposition to do right, the second arms them with power to resist wrong.”

In August, 1840, a party of Indians from Florida made an incursion into the counties of Camden and Ware, who, after murdering some of the inhabitants, and plundering and destroying their farms and dwellings, disappeared. Governor McDonald promptly communicated information to the Secretary of War, and at the same time authorized a sufficient force to be raised at once, composed of volunteers, to pursue the enemy, and capture and drive him from his hiding-places. In the mean time he took all necessary steps for the security of our people, deeming it his sacred duty not to shrink from any responsibility when the property and lives of the frontier inhabitants were in danger. He afterwards presented with confidence the claims of Georgia against the General Government. Their justice was recognized, and the State was reimbursed for the expenditure that had been incurred in the protection of the citizens.

We understand that in politics, Governor McDonald has always been a strict constructionist. Regarding the Federal and State Governments as distinct, and each sovereign in its sphere to the extent of its constitutional powers, and that, within that sphere, neither has the right to interfere with the affairs of the other, he has always been found in opposition to every encroachment upon the rights of the States, whilst he has maintained the authority of the General Government in the exercise of all power granted in the Constitution. In every question of disputed authority he makes his appeal to that instrument, as the only rightful standard for determining the extent of delegated powers. Hence his affinities have been with the teachings of Jefferson and Madison, and with democratic principles and measures. . Governor McDonald's official character and prominent public position devolved upon him important duties in maintaining the rights and interests of the Southern States, in opposition to the aggressions made from various quarters upon the institution of slavery. In laying the address and resolutions of the Anti-Slavery Convention held in London, in June, 1839, before the Georgia Legislature, he remarked, “ The suggestion of any measure to the General or State Governments of this Union, whether constitutional or not, by the subjects of foreign powers, is an impertinence not to be endured; but an offer to dictate an unconstitutional policy, subversive of the authority of the States, violative of individual rights, and endangering the peace of any member of the confederacy, is an injury that should be felt by every American citizen."

« PreviousContinue »