Augustus Octavius Bacon was born in Bryan County, Georgia. He graduated in 1859 from the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, Georgia, and from the UGA School of Law in its inaugural class of graduates in 1860. While at UGA, he was a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society.
He was a soldier in the army of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War, and then, after Georgia returned to the United States, he served in the Georgia State House of Representatives from 1871 to 1886, for much of that time as House speaker.
Bacon was elected as one of Georgia's United States Senators in 1894 and was re-elected to three subsequent terms. Bacon held several committee chairmanships (Committee on Engrossed Bills, Committee on Private Land Claims, Committee on Foreign Relations). He served as the President pro tempore of the United States Senate from from 1911 to 1913.
Senator Bacon died in Washington, D.C. at the age of 75 and was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia.
After his death, Senator Bacon’s 1911 will established a “whites only” park in Macon which was to be held in trust by the city. During the Civil Rights Movement, the use of Bacon’s park was the subject of a Supreme Court Case entitled Evans v. Newton which was decided in 1966. The Court held that the use of the park for “whites only” was invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause. Because the park was held in trust by a public entity, the Court held that it could not exclude non-white persons. Although the city tried to maintain the segregationist intentions of Senator Bacon by transferring the trust to private trustees, Justice Douglas’ majority opinion explained that a park is public in nature and may not exclude non-white persons from using the park for recreation.
The park was the subject of a subsequent Supreme Court case, Evans v. Abney, which was decided in 1970. After the Court held that Senator Bacon’s park was unable to perform a segregationist function, the state court held that “Senator Bacon’s intention to provide a park for whites only had become impossible to fulfill and that accordingly the trust had failed and the parkland and other trust property had reverted by operation of Georgia law to the heirs of the Senator.” The decision involved the doctrine of cy pres, and it was necessary for the court to determine Senator Bacon's probable intention in the matter. The Court concluded that, if Senator Bacon had been able to know that his objective was impossible or illegal, he would have preferred that the land revert to his heirs. The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the decision of the Supreme Court of Georgia, holding that refusing to apply the doctrine of cy pres did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
- Augustus Octavius Bacon at Find a Grave Retrieved on 2008-09-28
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- Augustus Octavius Bacon at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2008-09-28
- History of the University of Georgia, Thomas Walter Reed, Imprint: Athens, Georgia : University of Georgia, ca. 1949, p.677
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