Civic hero should not be forgotten

The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.


-- Albert Einstein

We should all take time this July Fourth weekend to remember the men who gave us freedom's famous Declaration.

Augusta is fortunate because two of those 56 men who pledged lives and sacred honor to liberty's cause in 1776 are buried here: Georgia signers Lyman Hall and George Walton.

But they are buried here because of another man, probably the most famous Augustan you've never heard of: Andrew Jackson Miller.

I'm not sure why Miller's fame was fated to fade, but in the first half of the 1800s, he was perhaps our town's most celebrated, revered, trusted, competent, respected and devoted civic leader.

Born in coastal Georgia, Miller came to Augusta as a teenager and studied law under an uncle, local lawyer William Jackson.

He was bright and petitioned the state Legislature to allow him to practice law at 19, two years younger than the law allowed.

He did well and was soon handling a number of civic responsibilities. He became city attorney, then a state House representative and was later pressed to run for the Georgia Senate. He did. He won. He was so well thought of at the Capitol -- then in Milledgeville -- that he served two terms as Senate president.

Miller helped improve state transportation, first with formation of the Georgia Railroad, which provided rail traffic to what would become Atlanta, and later the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which would eventually connect the Georgia coast to Chattanooga.

Miller was a trustee of the town, as an Academy of Richmond County trustee, and he held leadership roles with the Medical College of Georgia. He was a director of the Georgia Railroad Bank, captain of the Oglethorpe Infantry and a "zealous" member of Augusta's Presbyterian Church.

He also was on the right side of history. He opposed Georgia's early efforts to secede from the union and championed the rights of women under state law.

It was Miller, Augusta historian Ed Cashin said, who successfully led an effort to move the remains of two signers of the Declaration of Independence and rebury them beneath a 50-foot marble monument in front of the courthouse. It was dedicated on the Fourth of July 1848.

However, perhaps nothing shows the esteem in which Miller was held than the public reaction to his death in February 1856.

Stores closed. Theaters closed. Everything closed.

Augusta's population in 1856 was about 11,000, according to the census. As many as 10,000 people attended Miller's funeral.

Chronicle editor W.S. Jones wrote that the size of the crowd, while stunning, showed the depth of feeling the community had for the man referred to as the city's "adviser general."

"No one wielded so beneficent an influence for 20 years," The Chronicle said. Maybe that's why the city of Augusta officially mourned his passing for three months.

Then it was the state's turn.

Miller's old legislative colleagues honored his memory in the best way they knew: naming a new county after him.

You would expect no less of a man whose funeral closed down a town, though you might hope for more for a man whose efforts to honor the Declaration of Independence appear to be his remaining visible legacy.


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