Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 24
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April 1986 Volume 24 Number 2, Pages 67–77
Congressman Anthony Wayne of Georgia
On January 3, 1791, in the election for the Congressional seat to represent the Eastern (or Lower) District of the State of Georgia in the Second Congress of the United States, Anthony Wayne received 278 votes, five more than his opponent, James Jackson, his friend and attorney, and also the incumbent.
Wayne's residency in Georgia was based on his several stays at "Richmond", his plantation located about twelve miles northwest of Savannah, at the headwaters of the Little Sedilla river. It was one of two rice plantations that had been presented to him by the State of Georgia in gratitude for his "great merits and Services" during the Georgia campaign of the Revolutionary War. On July 31, 1782, just nineteen days after the British had evacuated Savannah and the Americans had occupied it, the Georgia Legislature had presented him this 847-acre plantation, with its comfortable house, sheds and cabins. Later he was also to receive additional lands, a plantation called "Kew". Both estates were among the lands confiscated from Tory owners.
"Richmond" had been the estate of the last royal governor of the colony, James Wright. Under his supervision, the plantation had netted between 800 and 1000 bushels of rice a year, valued at between 2400 and 3000 guilders. Since their confiscation, however, the properties had been neglacted, with nothing done the keep them in good repair. The once prosperous plantations were now mostly marsh and swamp, the floodgates broken, and the irrigation ditches filled with brush and marsh grass. They were a gift that was to cause the General considerable financial difficulty over the next decade.
At the end of the war, Wayne returned to his home at Waynesborough. In 1783 he was elected one of Chester County's two representatives on the Committee of Censors, and in October of the following year he was elected to represent the county in the State Assembly. Although he was re-elected in 1785, as a member of the conservative Federalist minority his service was neither particularly productive nor satisfying to him; soon after his re-election he resigned his seat in the Assembly and turned his attention to his Georgia landholdings.
Much needed to be done to make them productive. Anticipating a loan of "£5000 from a group of Dutch bankers following negotiations with Peter von Berkel, the Dutch resident minister in this country, Wayne went down to his Georgia properties and began the rehabilitation of "Richmond". His friend and agent, Roger Parker Saunders, of Savannah, was able to buy for him forty-seven negro slaves -- fifteen men, eleven women, nine boys, and twelve girls -- from Samuel Potts, through his agent Edward Penman, for "£3307, 10 s. (Actually, Wayne paid only "£1000 in cash, with the remainder to be paid in equal annual payments over the next five years.) He also purchased the necessary tools, a periauger (a small river boat), and 500 barrels of rice for seed. To supervise the operation, Wayne hired a William Little as overseer.
The results wene disappointing. Half the seed rice disappeared, along with four horses, their harness, and other livestock. His overseer was lax, and the slaves proved to be less than efficient workers. As a result, the first crop amounted to less than ten bushels of rice. The overseer, Little, was fired, and Wayne began to look for a new manager.
In the meantime, the anticipated loan from the Dutch bankers did not materialize, despite the fact that they held a power of attorney and mortgage on Waynesborough as security for it. The drafts Wayne had drawn on the bankers to pay Penman were protested and thus worthless, and his debts continued to mount. Attempts to negotiate loans with the lands presented to him by the State of Pennsylvania as security also met with no success.
To settle his accounts, Wayne offered "Richmond" to Penman at a valuation of "£7500, with any balance in Wayne's favor after all debts had been satisfied to be paid Wayne in "prime slaves at fifty guineas a head". (Wayne still hoped to keep and cultivate the "Kew" plantation.) The offer was turned down by Penman.
During the ensuing months Wayne repeated the offer several times, with variations, including an offer also to include the slaves he had purchased, as well as the property, with "young, healthy, seasoned, working slaves now upon the premises" making up in numbers for the "old, superannuated negroes" that had died. Each offer was similarly rejected by Penman. Finally, in desparation, Wayne offered Waynesborough for sale for 6000 but, with the mortgage and power of attorney still not returned by the bankers in Amersterdam, no interest was shown in the offer.
In the summer of 1787 Wayne returned to Philadelphia, arriving in August. Although he contended that he was still a resident of Georgia, he was soon afterwards made a delegate to the Pennsylvania convention to consider ratification of the new proposed federal constitution.
Wayne's claim to be a resident of Georgia may have been at least in part an attempt to forestall efforts by his creditors to collect the monies owed them by legal action in the Pennsylvania courts. Nonetheless, Penman and Potts filed suits for breach of contract in the Court of Common Pleas, first in error in Philadelphia and then in Chester County. If the suits were successful, Wayne was faced not only with the possibility of having Waynesborough attached, but also with the possibility of imprisonment since under the Pennsylvania law of that time a debtor could be sent to jail. Fortunately for him, the court actions moved slowly.
In his legal maneuvering, Wayne saw a unique possible solution to the court actions. With the immunity enjoyed by Congressmen, he would win a seat in the United States Congress! "A seat in Congress," he wrote in a letter, "will leave me at liberty to transact my private business in any quarter within the United States, during the session." He initially sought the aid of some of his Philadelphia associates to gain a seat from Pennsylvania, but it soon became apparent that as a member of the Federalist minority his chances of success were not great.
In the summer of 1788, therefore, he returned to Georgia and announced that he was a candidate for a seat in the United States Senate. When it was suggested that he was in fact a resident of Pennsylvania and not Georgia, he pledged, in a letter to the Georgia Assembly, "my word that I am a citizen of Georgia, and have not the most distant idea of leaving it, except upon public service". Despite this disclaimer, he was not elected by the Assembly.
The next two years he spent managing his Georgia plantations -- going deeper in debt (by March 1791 his debts amounted to more than "£5000) and seeing land values in Georgia depreciate sharply. He also devoted attention to mending his political fences, particularly with Judge Henry Osborne, a justice on the State Supreme Court, and with Thomas Gibbons, the mayor of Savannah (and also one of Wayne's several attornies). With their backing, he became a candidate for the seat in the Congress for the Eastern or Lower District of the state. Gibbons acted as his campaign manager.
His opponent was James Jackson, who had been elected to the First Congress two years earlier and thus was the incumbent. Jackson had come to Georgia from England in 1771, at the age of 15. During the Revolution he served for six years with the Georgia troops, taking part in the Battle of Cowpens and the recovery of Augusta. A Lieutenant Colonel, he was with Wayne at the repossession of Savannah, leading the march into the city and receiving the key to the city at the formal surrender. After the war he studied law and built up a practice in Savannah estimated to be worth 3000 a year. In 1788 he had been elected the governor of Georgia, but declined the office because of his youth and inexperience.
The Eastern District consisted of five counties: Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, and Liberty. The election was held, as noted earlier, on January 3, 1791, with the polls open from nine o'clock until sundown.
The returns showed Wayne to have received 278 votes, to 273 for Jackson, though apparently the votes from Glynn County were not included in the first official report. There was a wide variation in the vote from county to county, however, with the tally by county
Despite the closeness of the contest, Jackson initially accepted his defeat with outward calm, returning to Savannah and resuming his law practice there. In a letter in the Savannah Georgia Gazette on April 7 he thanked his supporters, and observed that "he retired from public life with the pleasing satisfaction of having done his duty".
Some of his friends and supporters, however, were not so willing to accept the outcome, and started to investigate. They soon uncovered a number of apparent irregularities in the voting: in two of the five counties -- Camden and Effingham -- for example, it was found that the number of votes tallied was greater than the number of eligible voters!
Affidavits were secured indicating that after the polls in Camden County at a small outpost called St. Patrick's had officially closed at sundown, Judge Osborne had obtained the ballots and "reopened" the polls to permit absent citizens to vote -- by proxy. The result was an additional 64 votes for Wayne, bringing his total to 79 rather than the 15 originally reported as cast for him, while Jackson's total remained at 10. These totals were the ones shown in the official returns, which, incidentally, were in Osborne's handwriting. It was also alleged that the judge had wrongfully detained the returns from Glynn County, in which, as noted, Jackson had a slight edge.
Other sworn affidavits alleged that at the polls in Effingham County, held at Elberton, the three election magistrates had been personally selected by Gibbons, with only one of them a justice of the peace as required by Georgia election laws, and that they had permitted a minor to vote and another voter to cast two ballots.
With this evidence, in late July Jackson publicly denounced the result of the election. The entire front page of the Georgia Gazette of July 28 consisted of these affidavits and other statements that had been obtained concerning alleged irregularities.
Gaining a seat in the Georgia State House of Representatives -- his retirement from public life was short-lived -- in November Jackson then instigated impeachment proceedings in the State Senate against Judge Osborne. The articles of impeachment contained six counts. Four of them concerned his conduct at the polls: that he had reopened the polls at St. Patrick's after the legal hours of closing; that he had permitted absentee voting by proxy; that he had reported an incorrect tally for Camden County; and that he had suppressed the returns from Glynn County. It was also charged that these actions were a "perversion of justice ...in direct violation of his oath of office... [which] disgraced the sacred character of a judge", and that they resulted in "setting a precedent for the subversion of the government and the tearing of the same up by the roots".
The trial continued until December 21, at which time Osborne was unaminously convicted on all counts except that of suppressing the returns from Glynn County, for which the proof was not considered sufficient. Osborne was removed from office, forbidden to hold any public office in the State of Georgia for the next thirty years, and disbarred from the practice of law indefinitely, and in addition was fined $600. Both the State House and the State Senate passed resolutions of appreciation to Jackson for his leadership in the prosecution.
In the meantime, on November 14 a petition from Jackson was also presented to the United States House of Representatives. In it he requested the House "to postpone any determination on the return of ... Anthony Wayne", who had taken his seat in the Congress on November 1, 1791, a week after it had convened on October 24. The basis for his petition were the same allegations as those in the affidavits published by Jackson in July: "that the county election of Effingham, in favor of the said Anthony Wayne, was illegal, there being nine more votes at the same than there were voters, and two of the persons presiding thereat were not qualified magistrates; ... that the return of Glynn county, in favor of your petitioner, was suppressed; that a false return was made to the Executive of the State for the county of Camden, exceeding the number ofthe legal poll, which amounted to twenty-five votes, by the number of sixty-four votes, all of which were in favor of the said Anthony Wayne, and added together with the legal poll, very far exceeds the whole number of male inhabitants entitled to vote therein; and that an illegal or pretended poll was held after the legal poll was closed, and on which illegal poll the aforesaid false return was founded; and the legal return, after being duly certified by the proper officer, was either suppressed or destroyed".
Ten days later Wayne replied, asking why there had been a delay of eleven months since the election before the results were contested. "This delay," he said, "is inexcusable. Mr. Jackson could have proferred his claim many months ago, but he waited. Why? Because he had no evidence, although nearly a year has gone by since the election. He now tries the same arts, the same practices, the same maneuvers which he employed in the Georgia House of Representatives, bringing petitions signed by people who could neither read nor write, and who are under charge of perjury. I have not the most distant desire to postpone inquiry into the merits of my election, but I cannot refrain from mentioning that no other country in the world would permit such actions as Mr. Jackson has attempted."
To give both parties sufficient time to obtain affidavits, documents and other evidence to prove their case, the date for the trial of the petition by the House of Representatives was set for February 6, 1792. It was also provided that the evidence offered by Jackson "shall be confined to the proof of the charge", that all depositions "shall have been taken more than twenty-five days prior to the day assigned for the trial", and that "no 'ex parte' depositions shall be used". On February 6 the case was postponed until February 27; on that day it was again postponed tp March 10; and finally to March 12. "The galleries," it was reported, "were unusually crowded with spectators [on that day]."
Jackson, representing himself, began his presentation to the House with depositions and proofs he had obtained to support the allegations contained in his petition, explaining them in what was later described as "a speech of great length", although he described his "few observations" as being "as concise as possible". His presentation took five days altogether.
While not attributing any wrong-doing directly to Wayne himself, early in his presentation Jackson noted, "Sir, the right of representation was what America fought for, seven long years, for which so many States were desolated, and for which so many heroes fell. Yet, strange as it may appear, scarce half a score of years had passed away ere this right has been violated and trampled on; trampled on ere the blocd of our fellow citizens, spilt in its defense, was as yet scarcely cold, and whilst the vestiges of the revolutionary war were still exposed to every eye." The question in the abstract, he added, was "a question of the greatest magnitude, in which the lives, the liberties, our fortunes, the happiness of the American people were materially involved".
On the next day he gave evidence to support his allegations that the election in Effingham County "was illegal". He began by presenting there turn of the election, which, when compared with the tax list, established that there were nine more votes than voters. It also contained the signatures of the three persons presiding at the polls, only one of whom had signed as a magistrate, even though the election laws of Georgia required that three magistrates shall preside at elections. The return itself, Jackson observed, should be sufficient to prove the point, even if no more evidence were presented.
He then presented more evidence with the testimony of the other two persons who had presided at the election. In their depositions they declared that they had acted "as private individuals, and in no other manner whatever" as they presided; one, Jeff Bell, also stating that he had "refused to sign the return as a magistrate", while the other, Hudson, said that he had signed the return only after he "had been prevailed on [to do so] by Gibbons".
That he had signed the return "at the instigation of Gibbons" was corroborated in the testimony of a John Moore, who also reported that there were nine more votes than voters, and that one of the voters was "one John King, a minor".
The clerk of the Superior Court of Effingham County, John Meidlinger, further stated in his deposition that he did not consider Bell and Hudson qualified magistrates at the time of the election, but that they had been later qualified in open court after the day of the election. Jackson also presented testimony by a Thomas Wylie, who stated that he knew Bell and Hudson were not qualified magistrates, and also that during the day of the election the polls were at times left unattended by the justices and clerks.
In his deposition Hudson also stated that three residents of Chatham County, one of whom was Gibbons, had in fact voted in Effingham County despite the fact, as Jackson pointed out the next day, that under the constitution of the State of Georgia six months' residency in the county was a requisite for suffrage.
Passing over the allegations concerning the suppression of the return from Glynn County, Jackson then proceeded to the alleged irregularities in the return from Camden County. Since, on objection by Wayne through his counsel, William Lewis of West Chester, the House had by a 41 to 20 vote earlier ruled that "the decision of the Senate of the State of Georgia on the impeachment of Judge Osborne" should not be received in evidence, Jackson had to produce other evidence and testimony to support these allegations of his petition.
Before introducing this evidence, Jackson described the election in Camden County as "a scene of iniquity indeed, a scene which had improved upon British coruption, and had left ancient and modern story all behind; we read, it is true, of a Roman consul who stole votes from the forum, to prevent an election of the people, and we have heard of British sheriffs falsifying returns in favor of their friends; but here was a judge of the land ... acting as the Executive officer, the sacred guardian of the laws, the liberties, and privileges of his fellow-citizens, violating them all, and trampling them beneath his feet; who not only set down more votes than the county had, but added to the polls names which were never known."
The principal testimony was that of Daniel Miller, one of the clerks of the check of the poll of Camden County. In his deposition he stated that when the legal poll closed on or about sundown there had been but twenty-five voters, fifteen of whom had voted for Wayne and ten for Jackson; that he had had scarcely daylight to complete the return and have it signed by the presiding magistrates, after which it was returned to him for safe-keeping overnight; that Judge Osborne had taken the return with a promise to return it the next morning; that the return given to him (Miller) the next day was not the first or legal return, but another one made out by Osborne "more to his mind, having found fault with some of the words of the former", adding that the judge was "a very good patcher"; and, finally, that the legal return had been suppressed or destroyed.
To corroborate Miller's testimony, Jackson then produced testimony by Samuel Smith, the sheriff of Camden County and therefore required by law to be present at- the polls. Smith also stated that the polls were open until after sunset; that he had seen the return made out by one of the clerks and signed by the presiding magistrates; that the total number of voters had not exceeded thirty; and that, it being then dark, he had returned to his lodging, two miles from the place of the election. Some time later that evening, his testimony continued, he had received a message from Judge Osborne requesting his return to the polling place, but since the business of the day was completed he did not return until the next morning; that when he returned he was told that a second poll had been held the previous evening; and that he had seen a certified return containing 89 votes, though he did not believe there were at that time more than 70 persons entitled to vote in the county. He also noted that Miller was a man of veracity and well-respected.
Jackson next produced the deposition of a Dr. John M* Scott, an army regimental surgeon. In his deposition he averred that he had been with Judge Osborne when he arrived at the polls at St. Patrick's; that, upon inquiry, the judge had been told that the poll had closed at sundown; that the judge then reopened the poll, at which not more than twenty persons were present; that Osborne then asked a man named Gray the names of those who were not present at the first election; that their names were set down as voters, although he (Scott) had not seen a ticket or a ballot given in; and that when he asked Judge Osborne if this "was the common mode of doing business at elections in Georgia" the judge replied never to mind. This testimony was corroborated "in a full manner" in an affidavit by Gray, who also named a James Seagrove and a Philip Goodbread as among the absentee names set down in the poll.
Turning to his allegation that the return from Glynn County had been suppressed, the evidence that Jackson proposed to present was objected to by Lewis on the basis that the testimony did not appear to have been written in the presence of a magistrate. When the objection, after argument, was upheld and the testimony rejected by the House, Jackson replied that under these circumstances "this charge must fall to the ground" since the rejected testimony was the principal ground on which it rested.
He then made another attempt to introduce the decision of the State of Georgia in the impeachment trial of Judge Osborne as additional evidence, citing several legal treatises to support his request. Again Lewis objected, observing that the impeachment was not connected with the business in question and altogether ex parte, and that the proceedings of the State of. Georgia, "significant as it was", should not influence the Congress in a matter entirely within the Congress jurisdiction. After argument, the House- again refused to accept the material.
Although Jackson's presentation had been concerned with the actions of Gibbons and Osborne and did not implicate Wayne himself in^ the alleged fraud and corruption, Lewis' reply to the charges was more in the 'nature of a defense of his client than a rebuttal of the evidence that had been presented or a concern for saving Wayne's seat in the Congress. (Ironically, just two months after the election in January 1791 -- and. a year before this trial concerning it -- in March 1791 Gibbons, as Wayne's attorney, had convinced Potts and Penman to accept the two plantations, "Richmond" and "Kew", together with all the slaves on the two properties, as full payment of Wayne's debts to them. For another "£100 in cash, Wayne also received a general release to all claims and judgments against Waynesborough. He was now able to write to his wife that he had "now cleared myself of all my oppressive debts" -- but he may at the same time also have "cleared" himself of any claim to be a resident of the State of Georgia!)
Noting that he would not imitate Jackson's dissertations on Roman law and British corruption, Lewis observed that on the day of the election Wayne was 200 miles from Eberton, the site of the election in Effingham County, and also innocent of any corruption or fraud. He also introduced evidence that Gibbons had gone to Effingham County on the day of the election to investigate reports of irregularities in the poll there, and that when he discovered there were nine votes more than voters he had suggested that nine votes (six for Wayne and three for Jackson) be thrown out. The nine extra votes, Lewis explained, were probably due to the clerks' absences during the day. Lewis also contended that since both Chatham and Effingham counties were in the same Election District Gibbons was entitled to vote in either county! With regard to the qualifications of Bell and Hudson to preside at the election, he observed that if they had not presided, the citizens of Effingham County would not have been able to vote at all or take part in the election.
Concerning the conduct of Judge Osborne, Lewis proposed that after the impeachment proceedings the judge "should have hanged" and the return for Camden County been thrown out. (Had the latter been done, obviously it would have giyen Jackson a clear majority of the votes.) He also suggested that Osborne, in his conduct, was influenced not so much by a love for Wayne as by an animosity towards Jackson.
Finally, Lewis reported that within the next few days he expected to receive affidavits that Jackson had received votes to which he was not entitled in the other two counties --a rather curious defense since at issue was the legality of the election and the allegations of irregularities at the polls.
In summary, Jackson reminded the House that the merits of the two principals were of no concern, and that "the only safety of the People, is in their free elections of members to represent them". "If elections are pure and free," he declared, "the People are free; but if the elections are corrupt -- I beg the pardon of the House -- but this honorable House must be corrupt likewise."
By unaminous 'vote -- with Wayne not voting -- the House of Representatives then "Resolved, that Anthony Wayne was not duly elected a member of this House".
The result was' not unexpected, even though there had been a general feeling that Wayne had not personally been involved in the activities at the polls. In spite of the unaminous vote, Wayne was able to write soon afterwards, "Both Federalists and Anti-Federalists pronounced in the Halls of Congress that after the fullest investigation my character stood pure and unsullied as a soldier's ought to be."
A few days later a motion was introduced in Jackson's behalf by Congressman William Giles, an anti-Federalist from Virginia. After several amendments, it proposed that "James Jackson is entitled to take a seat in this House". Following two days of debate, on March 21, 1793, the motion was defeated by failure to receive a majority% Jonathan Trumbull, a Federalist from Connecticut and the Speaker of the House, asking that his name be called so that he could vote against the resolution to create a 29 to 29 tie vote.
The seat was there upon declared vacant, and the Governor of Georgia notified to issue writs of election to fill the vacancy. At the special election neither Wayne nor Jackson was a candidate, and John Milledge was elected to represent the Eastern District of Georgia in the United States House of Representatives for the balance of the term.
During his five months in the Congress, Wayne voted regularly with the Federalist majority. His maiden speech was in support of a bill to provide a pension for the collateral heirs of a major in the Revolutionary War; it did not pass. He also supported a petition by his friend Catherine Greene, the widow of General Nathanael Greene, for reimbursement of monies spent by Greene for supplies during the war; with considerable lobbying on his part over a period of two months it finally passed by a three vote margin. He was always a strong advocate of frontier defense, and supported a bill to raise three additional infantry regiments to meet the Indian resistance in the west.Top
Thomas Boyd: Mad Anthony Wayne. Scribner's 1929
Charles J. Stille: Major General Anthony Wayne and the Pennsylvania Line in the Continental Army. Lippincott 1893
Harry Emerson Wildes: Anthony Wayne, Trouble Shooter of the American Revolution. Harcourt Brace 1941
William Omer Foster: James Jackson, Duelist and Militant Statesman. University of Georgia 1981
Matthew St. Clair and David A. Hall: Cases of Contested Elections in Congress. House of Representatives 1834
Page last updated: 2009-12-04 at 09:30 EST