Abraham Baldwin gave Georgia a distinction no other state can claim – the first state-chartered university.
This month (January 2011) we celebrate the 226th anniversary of the adoption of the charter which occurred January 27, 1785. It was Baldwin who wrote the charter and convinced members of the Georgia legislature to adopt it.
Classes at the University did not begin until 1801 – sixteen years after the charter was signed, and the document became a model for other states.
Baldwin was born in Connecticut, graduated from Yale and taught there seven years before becoming a chaplain in the Revolutionary army. After the war, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in his native state.
Georgia’s Governor Lyman Hall, an immigrant from Connecticut, is credited with luring Baldwin to Georgia. The two men shared a deep concern for the future of the colonies and a dedication to public education.
Baldwin received a land grant and moved to Georgia, locating in Augusta in 1784 to practice Law and begin a successful career in state politics. He was elected to the Georgia legislature and encouraged by Governor Hall to develop a program of public education for the state.
In the preamble to the Charter, Baldwin states that for a democracy to succeed, the people must be educated. He referred to youth as “the rising hope of our land.” Baldwin said Georgia must “place the youth under the forming hand of Society, that by instruction they may be molded in the love of virtue and good Order.”
Baldwin was a delegate to the constitutional convention in 1787 and served in the U.S. Congress until his death in 1807. He never married, but assumed custody of his six half-siblings, products of a second marriage, upon his father’s death.
The senator was widely respected and admired in Washington and is entombed in the Rock Creek Cemetery in our nation’s capitol. Two counties, one in Georgia and one in Alabama, a classroom building, a street and other memorials honor this great scholar-statesman.
Like the ancient cultures of Judaism and Islam, the University of Georgia has it’s “Father Abraham” –- Abraham Baldwin.