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George Walton’s Controversial Career

George Walton is one of the lesser known signers of the Declaration of Independence. Hailing from Georgia, he dedicated himself to state politics after the end of the Revolutionary War. He was born sometime in the 1740s in Virginia, and moved to Georgia as a young adult to pursue a legal career in Savannah. He became a very successful lawyer and was an active part of Georgia’s Revolutionary-era government. In 1776 he served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and was able to sign the Declaration of Independence as a representative from Georgia. In 1779 he was elected as the governor of Georgia, but served only two months before he was elected to serve as a senator in Congress. Adding to his list of political accomplishments, Walton was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia in 1783 and served in that position for two years.[1] This document signed by George Walton from the Mercury Collection dates back to 1784, during Walton’s time serving as Chief Justice.

Despite his importance during the American Revolution and a laundry list of impressive accomplishments, George Walton was a highly controversial politician who was involved in a fair amount of scandalous activities. Early in his political career Walton allied himself with Lachlan McIntosh, a Scottish born patriot who served as a general in the Continental Army. Walton and McIntosh were both somewhat well-off, and they became embroiled in a vicious conflict with fellow Georgian politician Button Gwinnett. Gwinnett was less wealthy than Walton and McIntosh, and he formed a new political party which advocated to extend voting rights to white-men who were not land owners. Gwinnett’s new political party appealed to the masses and quickly began gaining influence, much to the dismay of people like George Walton. In 1777 Button Gwinnett was elected President of Georgia and set out on a vindictive path of destruction with the McIntosh family in his sights. After successfully ousting William McIntosh from his position as Lieutenant Colonel, Gwinnett was able to remove George McIntosh from the Georgia Congress by having him arrested for accusations of being a British loyalist.[2] This personal vendetta culminated in a duel between Gwinnett and Lachlan McIntosh, which ended in Button Gwinnett’s death.[3] Due to George Walton’s support of Lachlan McIntosh, Walton was censured by Congress and removed from his position. In 1780 when Walton briefly returned to Congress, he was somewhat of a pariah, and it was clear he would never regain the positive reputation he once held.[4]

In 1783 when he was appointed Justice of the Chief of Georgia, one of his first actions as Justice was to reinstate his political ally, Lachlan McIntosh, as brigadier general. Walton was heavily criticized for this measure, and even faced indictment for charges that he forged the signature of the Speaker of the House William Glascock in order to reinstate McIntosh as a general. Walton was investigated for these charges, but never arrested.[5] Despite the scandal, Walton’s capability as judge was never questioned and in 1784 he was reinstated for another term as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia. During this term, Walton sanctioned much of the assumption of land from British Tories who had fled Georgia during the Revolutionary War. Although this may have seemed like a move that would have been relatively popular in post-revolution Georgia, it was harshly criticized in an anonymously published pamphlet that accused the state’s government of having two main parties, one being “made up of men eager for the extensive confiscation of loyalist property which they themselves might buy at a fraction of its value,” and “the other composed of honest, conservative men who were, however, too passive to hold the radicals in check.”[6] George Walton was lumped in with the first group.[7]

During the final year of his career as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, Walton finally got some relief from his blood-thirsty critics. Rather than continue his hunt for Tories and Loyalists, Walton turned his attention to finding cases that would strengthen the federal government’s ability to levy taxes under the rather weak governing document, the Articles of Confederation. Although, his efforts were valiant in terms of the big-picture it still didn’t win him much support from his local rivals. Despite the disdain many had for him in his home state of Georgia, Walton was able to earn some respect back in Congress.[8] After leaving his position as Chief Justice in 1786, Walton understandably retired from the stress of politics and went back to practicing law in Savannah, Georgia.[9]

George Waltons Signature

Sources:

[1] Deaton, Stan. “George Walton (ca. 1749-1804).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 21 February 2018. Web. 02 May 2018. https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/government-politics/george-walton-ca-1749-1804

[2] Hancock to President and Council of the State of Georgia, 1 January 1777, in Charles Francis Jenkins, Button Gwinnett, (New York: Double Day, Page & Company, 1926), 131.

[3] Lyman Hall to Roger Sherman. June 1, 1777. In Jenkins, Charles. Button Gwinnett. New York. Double Day. 1926.  p. 229.

[4] Deaton, Stan. “George Walton (ca. 1749-1804).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 21 February 2018. Web. 02 May 2018. https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/government-politics/george-walton-ca-1749-1804

[5] Lamplugh, George R. “George Walton, Chief Justice of Georgia, 1783-1785.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly. Vol. 65. No. 2. 1981. JSTOR. www.jstor.org/stable/40580761. p. 82-83.

[6] Phillips, Ulrich. Georgia and state rights: a study of the political history of Georgia from the Revolution to the Civil War, with particular regard to federal relations. 1902. p. 93.

[7] Lamplugh, p. 87.

[8] Lamplugh, p. 89.

[9] Ibid.

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