Sunday, November 7, 2010

7 November 1878: "Subsequent returns prove that we were mistaken..."

On this day in 1878, the Southern Banner newspaper ran a triumphant headline and story on page 2, columns 1 and 2, declaring "DEMOCRACY TRIUMPHANT" in Georgia's 9th Congressional district. The Banner extolled the victory of their preferred candidate, Democrat Colonel Joel A. Billups, a Madison attorney, over Independent candidate Emory Speer, a 29-year-old Athens attorney. However, it turned out that Mr. Speer was the winner of the election, taking the seat by 1,500 votes.

In the weeks prior to election day, the Southern Banner had written insinuating editorials about the trustworthiness of Mr. Speer, questioning whether or not he paid his debts. His status as "Independent" was also doubted, and he was considered to be in cahoots with the Republicans. In their erroneous victory editorial on November 7th, they declared that the 9th district was "Still Solid" and described how Col. Billups had been investigated thoroughly by "a man of honor, truth, and fairness" who had found Col. Billups to be the same. Therefore, all should celebrate an election result that made Col. Billups the district's representative.

The Southern Banner was a weekly paper, so their correction was not printed until the following week, with a run on November 12th. There they described how their error was easy to make, "and was doubtless shared by Mr. Speer's friends." They also noted that they "recognize Mr. Speer as the Congressman elect for the 46th Congress from the 9th Congressional District." The rest of the editorial explained why the paper's publisher believed that Mr. Speer's victory "will prove disasterous to the vital interests of the Democratic party."

Emory Speer served as the Independent Representative from Georgia's 9th until he was defeated in 1882, after accusations that he was responsible for the consideration of Madison Davis to the position of Athens postmaster. At that time, he was appointed by President Chester Arthur to be the District Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. Later, Mr. Speer became a judge in the Southern District of Georgia.

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