Office (229) 426-5100
Fax (229) 426-5630
402-A East Pine Street
Fitzgerald, Georgia 31750

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 interval.

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.