The mask of liberty: the making of freeholder democracy in revolutionary Georgia
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The Mask of Liberty: The Making of Freeholder Democracy in Revolutionary Georgia examines the structures and practices of government in Revolutionary Georgia from the 1750s to ratification of the federal constitution in 1788. Based on evidence compiled from land, probate, legislative, and executive records supplemented by loyalist claims, newspapers, manuscript, shipping, and grand jury records, this dissertation presents a view of the American Revolution in Georgia that reorients previous studies. This study argues that Georgia's American Revolution belonged to non-elite white male freeholders, fiercely committed to local control and autonomy. After Independence, they fashioned a political system that vested real power in small counties and starkly limited the reach of the state's executive and judicial branches. Georgians based their government on a mix of ideas current in Revolutionary America, the utility of which they measured against the state's distinctive history. This study relates that history to the political structures and practices that grew out of it. The American Revolution in Georgia was not a revolution of the dispossessed, of women, of slaves, or of property-less white men. It was fashioned by ambitious, self-interested men, most of whom migrated to Georgia in the decades immediately before or immediately after independence to take advantage of liberal land policies, a growing commercial environment and unusual opportunities to establish themselves, provide for families, and participate in self-government. Late eighteenth century Georgia was, at least for a time, the best freeholders' country, a land where white men could gain a freehold and enjoy a measure of political equality unknown to their fathers and grandfathers. That was the radicalism of Georgia's American Revolution, a radicalism born of the state's distinctive history of late settlement, destructive warfare, and engagement with great political debates of the age.