In Whitman's Hand

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About this Item

Title: Amos T. Akerman to Benjamin Conley, 2 December 1871

Date: December 2, 1871

Whitman Archive ID: nar.02636

Source: National Archives and Records Administration. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Anthony Dreesen, John Schwaninger, and Nima Najafi Kianfar

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Dec. 2, 1871.

To his Excellency Benjamin Conley,

Governor of Georgia,

Atlanta, Geo.


Your letter of the 24th ultimo states the question which may possibly arise in regard to the title to the Executive Chair of Georgia.

By virtue of the Constitution of the State, you, as President of the Senate, became Governor upon the resignation of Governor Bullock. The Legislature has passed a law over your veto, providing for an election for the residue of the term for which Governor Bullock was elected.

You are of opinion that this law is not warranted by the Constitution of the State, and you are disposed not to yield the office to the person who may be chosen at that election; and you desire to "receive from the National administration at Washington direct unequivocal assurance of firm and unhesitating support."

I infer from your letter that your resistance to the accession of the person who may be chosen at the election is contingent upon receiving such assurance. Thus it appears that you desire, as a guide for your action, that the President shall say in advance that he will maintain you in your claim to the Executive Chair of Georgia, in the collision which is apprehended.

The question which of two rival claimants is the lawful Governor of a State, is ordinarily to be determined by State authority. But when the President is called upon by a person representing himself as Governor to suppress domestic violence in such State, under the Fourth Section of the Fourth Article of the Constitution of the United States, and the Act of February 28, 1795, (1 U.S. Stat. 424,) the President must necessarily determine whether the person who thus calls upon him is really clothed with the official character in which he presents himself.

Such a call can only be made when the Legislature is not in session and cannot be convened. In the emergency to which you look forward, the Legislature would probably be in session at the time, and continue in session as long as there should be any violence growing out of the conflicting claims of yourself and another; and thus no occasion is likely to arise for the action of the President.

While I know that the President would shrink from no duty imposed upon him by the Constitution and laws, yet I do not think that he would interpose in a controversy between two persons for the Executive Chair of a State, unless placed by law under an imperative obligation to do so. It is essentially a State question, determinable by State law, and only presenting itself for the decision of the National Executive in a grave and depreciable emergency, concerning which he should not prejudge. If the question should arise, it must be examined in the full light of the actual facts; and a decision of it now, when the facts which may raise it are partly imaginary, would be premature and unadvisable.

For these reasons, I must be excused from undertaking to declare what would be the action of the President in the case supposed.

Very respectfully,

Your obedient serv't,

A. T. Akerman,

Attorney General.

Governorship in Georgia


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