Seth Kaller, Inc.

Inspired by History

Other African American History Offerings


Other Constitution and Bill of Rights Offerings


Other Early Republic (1784 - c.1830) Offerings


Georgia Constitution of 1798 Prohibits Both the Importation of Slaves and Emancipation by Legislation
Click to enlarge:
Select an image:

There shall be no future importation of Slaves into this State, from Africa or any foreign place, after the first day of October next. The legislature shall have no power to pass laws for the emancipation of slaves without the consent of each of their respective owners, previous to such emancipation.

This 1798 Georgia Constitution, the state’s third, better defined legislative power, established popular elections for the governor and authorized a state supreme court. Unlike its predecessors that made no mention of slavery, this Constitution prohibited the further foreign importation of slaves into Georgia. However, it also forbade the legislature from emancipating slaves without the consent of their owners or restricting the immigration of slaves from other states with their owners. Practically, it also did not prevent the extensive internal slave trade from other slave-holding states.

[GEORGIA]. The Constitution of the State of Georgia. As Revised, Amended and Compiled, by the Convention of the State, at Louisville, on the Thirtieth Day of May, MDCCXCVIII. Augusta: John Erdman Smith, 1799. 36 pp., 4¾ x 8 in. Browned throughout; half calf over marbled boards.

Inventory #26589.99       Price: $19,000

Historical Background
Georgia adopted its first Constitution in 1777 to replace its colonial government. It became the fourth state, and the first in the South, to ratify the proposed U.S. Constitution on January 2, 1788. Weeks later, the Georgia Assembly appointed delegates to be convened after nine states had ratified the federal Constitution “to take under their consideration the alterations and amendments that are necessary to be made in the Constitution of this State.” When New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution in June 1788, the new federal compact became effective, and the Georgia State Constitutional Convention convened in Augusta in November 1788. Rather than amending the 1777 Constitution, the convention proposed an entirely new Constitution to conform to the newly adopted U. S. Constitution, which was referred to a second convention that assembled in Augusta in January 1789, and adopted on behalf of the people by a third convention in May 1789. The new Georgia Constitution mirrored the U.S. Constitution by establishing three branches of government and providing for a bicameral legislature and a single chief executive. It also provided for a convention in five years to consider alterations.

In 1794-1795, Georgia Governor George Mathews and the Georgia legislature approved the sale of more than forty million acres of Georgia’s western lands (modern Alabama and Mississippi) for $490,000 to four companies at approximately 1½ cents per acre. In exchange for their cooperation, the companies offered Georgia officials shares in these companies or bribes. After initially vetoing a similar bill, Governor Mathews signed the bill authorizing the sale into law, known as the Yazoo Act, on January 7, 1795. When the details of this wholesale legislative corruption became known, there was widespread public outrage and protests to the federal government. Reformer Jared Irwin was elected Governor of Georgia and in February 1796 signed a bill nullifying the Yazoo Act. Another reformer, U.S. Senator James Jackson succeeded Irwin as governor from 1798 to 1801. The state refunded money to many people who purchased land, but others refused the refund, preferring to keep the land. When the state did not recognize their claims, the matter ended up in the courts, eventually reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in 1810. In the landmark decision of Fletcher v. Peck, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned a state law by deciding that the land sales were binding contracts and could not be retroactively invalidated by legislation. In 1802, because of the controversy, Georgia ceded all of its claims to lands west of its modern border to the federal government.

When the convention called for in the 1789 Constitution convened in May 1795, outrage over the Yazoo Land Scandal was at its height, and the convention met for only two weeks and made a few changes in representation and terms for state senators. It also made provision for another convention to meet in Louisville, Georgia, in May 1798. 

When the Constitutional Convention of 1798 assembled in Louisville, Governor and former and future U.S. Senator James Jackson (1757-1806) quickly became the leading force. He insisted on establishing a definition of Georgia’s boundaries in the Constitution, securing a declaration that the Yazoo sale was void, and a guarantee against future sales of public lands to speculators. On May 30, 1798, sixty-eight delegates signed the finished document. James Gunn and Thomas Glascock, both elected despite their involvement in the Yazoo Fraud, refused to sign it. The convention did not submit the new Constitution to the people for ratification but declared it to be effective immediately. It served as the state’s Constitution until 1861.

Although it followed the pattern of the Constitution of 1789, the Constitution of 1798 was almost twice as long as its predecessor. Unlike the former, which did not mention slavery, the new constitution forbade the “future importation of Slaves into this State, from Africa or any foreign place,” but it also prohibited the legislature from passing laws “for the emancipation of slaves without the consent of each of their respective owners.” The new Constitution provided for the same punishment for murdering a slave as for the same offence against a free white person, except in cases of slave insurrection or “unless death should happen by accident in giving such slave moderate correction.”

The Constitution was first published in Louisville, Georgia, in 1798, but soon thereafter, John Erdman Smith (1755-1803), the German-born publisher of The Augusta Chronicle and Gazette of the State from 1786 to 1803, issued this edition. Smith used a quotation from the 1789 Georgia Constitution on the masthead of his newspaper: “Freedom of the press and trial by jury shall remain inviolate.”

This copy is signed on the title-page by George R. Clayton (1779-1840), who served as secretary for the Executive Department in Louisville, Georgia, from 1801 to 1806; as Georgia’s state treasurer from 1806 to 1825; and as cashier of the Branch Bank of the State of Georgia at Milledgeville.

References: ESTC W36205; Evans 35541. The 1798 Louisville printing is Evans 33790.

Add to Cart Ask About This Item Add to Favorites