Georgia entered the Union on January 2, 1788, the fourth of the original thirteen colonies to ratify the United States Constitution. The Georgia constitution of 1789 created a bicameral legislature consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives; representatives were elected annually, senators every third year. Although Georgia's early constitutions specified neither the sex nor the race of voters, in practice eligible voters consisted of free men (predominantly whites) at least 21 years old who had paid taxes during the previous year and had resided in the county for at least six months. Each county elected one senator, and counties elected from two to five representatives, depending roughly on relative population. The legislature elected the governor to a two-year term, initially through a cumbersome process but, after a 1795 amendment, through a simple joint ballot of the legislature. Another 1795 amendment made Senate elections annual. All elections were by ballot.
The 1798 constitution (frequently amended but not entirely replaced until 1861) left the basic electoral structure intact. The most important change specified the use of the "three-fifths" or "federal" ratio, which counted three-fifths of the enslaved population in addition to the free white population in apportioning seats in the state House of Representatives. The 1798 document also required regular reapportionment among counties as the population changed. The legislature continued to elect the governor until an amendment in 1824 required direct popular election of the state's chief executive. The first popular election for governor occurred in 1825. In elections for the U.S. Congress, the legislature elected senators by joint ballot, and the state alternated between a district system and a general ticket system for the direct popular election of members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Early Georgia politics was highly personal and factional. The absence of statewide elections, except for Congress, tended to localize politics and deter the formation of broad, institutionalized parties. The Federalists had some strength through the turn of the century, especially in Savannah and Augusta, but Georgia was largely a Republican state. The major political contests featured clashes among those who claimed to be Jeffersonian Republicans. Outrage over the Yazoo land frauds helped James Jackson dominate state politics for many years until his death in 1806, and William Crawford and George M. Troup then assumed the leadership of the Jackson group. John Clark headed the major rival faction. In broad terms, Jackson-Crawford-Troup adherents tended to have Virginia ties and to be based in the wealthier sections of the eastern black belt and low country. The Clark faction contained more people of North Carolina extraction and found its strongest support in frontier areas. Clark defeated Troup for the governorship in both 1819 and 1821, before Troup bested his rival in 1825. William Crawford was a major presidential contender in 1824. Excitement over these races, indeed, helped push through the amendment calling for popular election of the governor and a law mandating popular election of presidential electors. The most persistent and pressing issue of this early period was the state's efforts to push back the Creek and Cherokee nations and open Native American lands to white settlement. The short-staple cotton boom and the Panic of 1819 fueled economic and land concerns. The election returns presented in this series end just before the Georgia factions began to organize themselves into bona fide political parties that would become the Democratic and Whig parties in the state.
- Carey, Anthony Gene.
Parties, Slavery, and the Union in Antebellum Georgia.Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997.
- Coleman, Kenneth R., gen. ed.
A History of Georgia, 2nd ed.Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991.
- Cook, James F.
The Governors of Georgia, 1754—2004, 3rd ed.Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2005.
- Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia Georgia Constitution Web Page
- Lamplugh, George R.
Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783—1806.Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1986.
- Phillips, Ulrich B.
Georgia and State Rights.Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1902.