Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Scotch-Irish Society's 4th Congress, Atlanta, 1892

State capitol

‘Go big or go home’. Following the organisational problems of the Third Congress at Lexington in Kentucky in 1891 (previous post here), the Scotch-Irish Society of the USA was taking no chances next time round. It headed further south and booked the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta (shown above), from 28 April – 1 May.

As the published Proceedings said, ‘no city in the South better exhibits the spirit of progress and development which pervades this section of the nation than Atlanta’. Small wonder. Less than 30 years earlier, in 1864, General Sherman began his infamous and brutal ‘March Through Georgia’ from Atlanta, his 60,000 men causing unprecedented destruction and leaving the city looking similar to Dresden in February 1945. Sherman later recalled:

“Behind us lay Atlanta smoldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in the air and hanging like a pall over the ruined city” 

But by 1892 ‘Reconstruction' was underway. The Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta had been opened in 1889, architecturally reminiscent of its namesake in Washington DC. Ten railway lines radiated from the city, which it is said had the highest proportion of churchgoers of any city in the United States. The Governor of Georgia had attended the previous Congress at Lexington and there he publicly invited the Society, as did many of Atlanta’s civic organisations, to Georgia for the 1892 event. A chapter of the Society had been founded in Atlanta in 1890, its growth led mainly by its Secretary, Hugh Hunter, who was said to be ‘of pure Scotch-Irish blood himself’. The usual mix of judges, soldiers, ministers and businessmen swelled its membership.

Kimball House Hotel 1892

Official headquarters was the Kimball House Hotel (shown above), the Governor held a swish reception at his mansion. Mayor Hemphill extended the Freedom of the City to the society. Every meeting was held in the Hall of Representatives of the Capitol Building. For the Sunday service, the largest auditorium in Atlanta was booked - DeGive’s Opera House - and was ‘crowded to its utmost capacity’ – Wikipedia entry here.

The United States Artillery Regimental Band opened the event with a selection of ‘Scotch melodies’. One of the speeches was given by Henry Wallace, the grandfather and namesake of the future Vice President. Perhaps the most interesting address given this year was by Major Charles H Smith of Cartersville, Georgia, entitled ‘The Georgia Cracker’. From our vantage point, it is a clumsy attempt to acknowledge – perhaps for the first time in the Society’s events – that the Scotch-Irish people of the USA were not all heroic and gentrified success stories, that there was an lower class of people who belonged as well:

“what a mistake to say that these men were fighting for slavery; when not one in a hundred owned a slave; when in a single county that sent twelve companies to the war there were less than a hundred negroes in it; when nearly the entire voting population were Democrats … that much-maligned and misunderstood individual known as the Georgia cracker. I have lived long in his region, and am close akin to him”.

Newspaper accounts a week before declared that ‘an immense crowd is coming’. 5000 engraved invitations had been issued and 2000 letters sent to newspaper editors across the USA. However, in reading some of the accounts there’s no sign of a vast crowd of similar scale to the first three years, and no statistics on attendance were published as far as I can see. What it might have lacked in attendance from the general public was countered by a long list of hundreds of ‘distinguished guests’ from across the nation.