|The Creation of Ben Hill County|
On July 31st, 1906, the General Assembly proposed a
constitutional amendment to create Ben Hill County from Irwin and
Wilcox counties. In that year's general election, voters ratified
the constitutional amendment on Nov. 6th, 1906, which is considered
the date of the county's creation (even though a state historical
marker on the Ben Hill County courthouse square incorrectly cites
the earlier date of the legislature's proposal of the amendment as
the date of the county's creation). Georgia's 146th county was named
for former Confederate and U.S. Senator Benjamin Hill (1823-1882).
Why was Ben Hill County created by constitutional amendment instead
of an act of the General Assembly? In 1904, Georgia voters had
approved a constitutional amendment limiting the number of counties
in the state to 145. The next year, the General Assembly created
eight new counties, bringing the total number to 145 -- the
constitutional limit. Nevertheless, there was continuing pressure to
create more counties. In 1906, lawmakers sought to create a new
county from portions of Wilcox and Irwin counties. Because an act of
the legislature cannot conflict with the state constitution, the
only option was to amend the state constitution. The legislature
could have proposed an amendment that raised the constitutional
limit to 146 counties. For whatever reason, supporters of the new
county chose another approach. Leave the 145-limit in the
constitution and simply add an additional provision that said:
"Provided, however, That in addition to the counties now provided
for by this Constitution there shall be a new county laid out from
the counties of Irwin and Wilcox, bounded as follows . . . ." Thus
began the practice in Georgia of creating new counties by
constitutional amendment. By 1924, Georgia had 161 counties -- 16 of
which had been created by constitutional amendment. On Jan. 1st,
1932, Milton and Campbell counties merged with Fulton, leaving 159
counties. In 1945, Georgia voters ratified a new constitution -- one
which provided an absolute limit of 159 counties, with an additional
provision that no new county could be created except through
consolidation of existing counties.
As an interesting note, Ben Hill County is one of 25 Georgia
counties that today still have the original boundaries provided at
the time of creation.
Benjamin Hill (1823-1882) A presence in Georgia state politics for
more than three decades, Benjamin Hill was by turns a prosperous
lawyer, opponent of secession, ardent supporter of the Confederacy,
apologist for Reconstruction, Benjamin Hill and, at his death,
Democratic U.S. senator from Georgia. Like his personal nemesis and
fellow political survivor from the era, Joseph E. Brown, Hill
manifested a remarkable political flexibility that was often taken
for perfidy. Ben Hill County in south central Georgia was named for
him upon its creation in 1906.
Born in Jasper County on September 14, 1823, Benjamin Harvey Hill
matriculated at the University of Georgia and graduated in 1843. He
then promptly gained entrance to the bar and nurtured a thriving law
practice in LaGrange. Although he could be a political chameleon,
Hill generally worked toward sectional comity. He thus entered
public life as a supporter of the Union and the Compromise of 1850.
During a one-year term as a state representative from 1851 to 1852,
Hill joined the short-lived Constitutional Union Party of Howell
Cobb, Robert Toombs, and Alexander Stephens. Passage of the
Kansas-Nebraska Act brought him back into politics as an independent
in 1855, and he narrowly lost a seat in the state assembly to a
Democratic stalwart in a heavily Democratic district. Two years
later, the American Party nominated him as their gubernatorial
candidate. He lost that race to the theretofore obscure Joseph E.
Brown and retired from the political arena for another two-year
John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in 1859 and the
election of 1860 drew Hill once more onto the political battlefield.
The events at Harpers Ferry gave fire-eaters throughout the South an
Raid on Harpers Ferry unprecedented opportunity for agitation, and
Hill emerged in Georgia as one of the leading voices of moderation.
Following Abraham Lincoln's election as president of the United
States, Hill made an eloquent appeal to hold off on immediate
secession to see what kind of leader Lincoln would prove to be. Such
a policy, he argued, had the added benefit of allowing the South to
prepare for a war, should one become inevitable. Nevertheless, when
secession came, Hill reluctantly reconciled himself to it. Even in
his new circumstances, he remained a committed nationalist. As a
Confederate senator from 1861 to 1865, he aligned himself with the
centralizing policies of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. His
stance was made the more palatable because it antagonized Brown, who
as a wartime governor clashed incessantly with Davis over the
prerogatives of the states.
After a brief postwar imprisonment, Hill's career entered its most
controversial and ultimately most successful phase. Initially his
actions followed the white Democratic Party line. He backed U.S.
president Andrew Johnson's lenient plan to bring the South back into
the Union and later fought against the perceived excesses of
congressional Reconstruction. Then in 1870 he took on the Bourbon
Democrats, who were poised to "redeem" the state, in an
extraordinarily brave plea that Southern whites recognize the
Reconstruction amendments as a fait accompli and move on to other
matters. This unpopular stance earned Hill a stint in the political
wilderness. Having spent most of his lifetime backing losing causes,
however, Hill ended his career on top, winning a seat in the U.S.
Congress for Georgia's Ninth District in December 1875. There he
earned a national reputation as a champion of the white South by
taking on such strident Radicals as James G. Blaine. Two years later
he resigned from the House of Representatives to take a Senate seat,
which he occupied until his death on August 16, 1882.