Howell Cobb: Wikis


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Howell Cobb

In office
December 22, 1849 – March 4, 1851
President Zachary Taylor
Millard Fillmore
Preceded by Robert C. Winthrop
Succeeded by Linn Boyd

2nd Speaker of the Provisional Confederate Congress
Also a Provisional Head of State
In office
February 4, 1861 – February 17, 1862
Head of State until February 18, 1861
Preceded by Robert W. Barnwell
Succeeded by Thomas Stanley Bocock (Speaker)
Jefferson Davis (Head of State)

In office
March 4, 1843 – March 3, 1845
Preceded by Julius C. Alford, Edward J. Black, Walter T. Colquitt, Thomas F. Foster, Roger L. Gamble, George W. Crawford, Thomas B. King, James A. Meriwether, Mark A. Cooper, Lott Warren (General ticket)
Succeeded by None; Representatives subsequently elected by district

Member of U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 6th district
In office
March 4, 1845 – March 4, 1851
Preceded by None; first elected
Succeeded by Junius Hillyer

In office
November 5, 1851 – November 9, 1853
Preceded by George W. Towns
Succeeded by Herschel V. Johnson

In office
March 7, 1857 – December 8, 1860
President James Buchanan
Preceded by James Guthrie
Succeeded by Philip F. Thomas

Born September 7, 1815(1815-09-07)
Jefferson County, Georgia
Died October 9, 1868 (aged 53)
New York City, New York
Political party Democratic
Alma mater University of Georgia
Profession Law
Military service
Service/branch Confederate States Army
Rank Major General
Unit Army of Northern Virginia
District of Georgia and Florida
Battles/wars American Civil War

(Thomas) Howell Cobb (September 7, 1815 – October 9, 1868) was an American political figure. A Southern Democrat, Cobb was a five-term member of the United States House of Representatives and Speaker of the House from 1849 to 1851. He also served as a Secretary of Treasury under President James Buchanan (1857–1860) and Governor of Georgia (1851–1853).

He is, however, probably best known as one of the founders of the Confederate States of America, having served as the Speaker of the Provisional Confederate Congress, when delegates of the secessionist states issued creation of the Confederacy.

Cobb served for two weeks between the foundation of the Confederacy and the election of Jefferson Davis as first President. This made him, as the Speaker of the Congress, provisional Head of State at this time. Because of this he is sometime called, even if mistakenly, first President of the Confederacy, although he never held the title of President or Acting President.


Early life and career

Born in Jefferson County, Georgia, Cobb was raised in Athens, Georgia, and attended the University of Georgia where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society. He was admitted to the bar in 1836 and became solicitor general of the western judicial circuit of Georgia.



He was elected as Democrat to the 28th, 29th, 30th and 31st Congresses. He was chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Mileage during the 28th Congress, and Speaker of the United States House of Representatives during the 31st Congress.

He sided with President Andrew Jackson on the question of nullification; was an efficient supporter of President James K. Polk's administration during the Mexican-American War; and was an ardent advocate of slavery extension into the territories, but when the Compromise of 1850 had been agreed upon, he became its staunch supporter as a Union Democrat. He joined Georgia Whigs Alexander Stephens and Robert Toombs in a statewide campaign to elect delegates to a state convention that overwhelmingly affirmed, in the Georgia Platform, that the state accepted the Compromise as the final resolution to the outstanding slavery issues. On that issue, Cobb was elected governor of Georgia by a large majority.

Speaker of the House

In 1850, as Speaker he would have been next in line to the Presidency for two days due to Vice Presidential vacancy and a president pro tempore not being appointed yet, except he did not meet the minimum eligibility for the presidency of being 35 years old. When Zachary Taylor died on July 9, Vice President Millard Fillmore became President. The president pro tempore of the Senate was not appointed until July 11 when William Rufus de Vane King took that position.

President Buchanan and his Cabinet
From left to right: Jacob Thompson, Lewis Cass, John B. Floyd, James Buchanan, Howell Cobb, Isaac Toucey, Joseph Holt and Jeremiah S. Black, (c. 1859)

Governor of Georgia

In 1851, he left the House to serve as the Governor of Georgia, holding that post until 1853. He published A Scriptural Examination of the Institution of Slavery (1856).[1]

Return to Congress and Secretary of the Treasury

He was elected to the 34th Congress and then took the position of Secretary of the Treasury in Buchanan's Cabinet. He served for three years, resigning in December 1860. At one time, Cobb was Buchanan's choice for his successor.[2]

A Founder of the Confederacy

In 1860, Cobb ceased to be a Unionist, and became a leader of the secession movement. He was president of a convention of the seceded states that assembled in Montgomery, Alabama, on February 24, 1861. Under Cobb's guidance, the delegates drafted a constitution for the new Confederacy. He served as Speaker and as President Pro Tempore of several sessions of the Confederate Provisional Congress, before resigning to join the military when war erupted.

Civil War

Cobb enlisted in the Confederate Army and was named as Colonel of the 16th Georgia Infantry. He was appointed a brigadier general on February 13, 1862, and assigned command of a brigade in what became the Army of Northern Virginia. Between February and June 1862, he represented the Confederate authorities in negotiations with Union officers for an agreement on the exchange of prisoners of war. His efforts in these discussions contributed to the Dix-Hill Cartel accord reached in July 1862.[3]

Cobb saw combat during the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles. Cobb's brigade played a key role in the fighting at Crampton's Gap during the Battle of South Mountain, where it arrived at a critical time to delay a Union advance through the gap. His men also fought at the subsequent Battle of Antietam.

In October 1862, Cobb was detached from the Army of Northern Virginia and sent to the District of Middle Florida. He was promoted to major general on September 9, 1863, and placed in command of the District of Georgia and Florida. He suggested the construction of a prisoner-of-war camp in southern Georgia, a location thought to be safe from Union invaders. This idea led to the creation of Andersonville prison. When William T. Sherman's armies entered Georgia during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign and subsequent March to the Sea, General Cobb commanded the Georgia reserve corps. In the spring of 1865, with the Confederacy clearly waning, he and his troops were sent to neighboring Alabama to help oppose Wilson's Raid.

In the closing days of the war, Cobb fruitlessly opposed General Robert E. Lee's eleventh hour proposal of enlisting slaves into the army. Fearing this move would completely discredit the fundamental justification of slavery that blacks were inferior people, he said, "You cannot make soldiers of slaves, or slaves of soldiers. The day you make a soldier of them is the beginning of the end of the Revolution. And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong."[4]

Howell Cobb in his postbellum.

He surrendered at Macon, Georgia, April 20, 1865.


Following the war, Cobb returned home and resumed his law practice, but despite pressure from his former constituents and soldiers, he refused to make any public remarks on Reconstruction policy until he received a presidential pardon, although he privately opposed it. Finally receiving that document in early 1868, he then vigorously opposed the Reconstruction Acts, making a series of speeches that summer that bitterly denounced the policies of the reigning Radical Republicans in Congress.

Taking a break from his schedule of political speeches, Cobb decided to vacation in New York City in the autumn. He died of a heart attack in that city. His body was returned to Athens, Georgia, for burial in Oconee Hill Cemetery.[5]

Thomas Willis Cobb was a cousin and Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb a younger brother of Howell Cobb. His great uncle and namesake, Howell Cobb, had been a U.S. Congressman from 1807–1812, and then served as an officer in the War of 1812.


  1. ^ NIE
  2. ^ Klein (1962), pp. 11.
  3. ^ Official Records, Series II, Vol. 3, pp. 338-340, 812-13, Vol. 4, pp. 31-32, 48.
  4. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica
  5. ^ New Georgia Encyclopedia


External links

Further reading

  • Montgomery, Horace, Howell Cobb's Confederate Career. (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Confederate Publishing, 1959).
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Julius C. Alford
Edward J. Black
Walter T. Colquitt
Thomas F. Foster
Roger L. Gamble
George W. Crawford
Thomas B. King
James A. Meriwether
Mark A. Cooper
Lott Warren
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's At-large congressional district

March 4, 1843 – March 3, 1845
Served alongside: Edward J. Black, Mark A. Cooper, Alexander H. Stephens, Hugh A. Haralson, John B. Lamar, Absalom H. Chappell, John H. Lumpkin, John Millen, Duncan L. Clinch and William H. Stiles
Representatives elected by district
New district Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 6th congressional district

March 4, 1845 – March 3, 1851
Succeeded by
Junius Hillyer
Preceded by
Junius Hillyer
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 6th congressional district

March 4, 1855 – March 3, 1857
Succeeded by
James Jackson
Political offices
Preceded by
Robert C. Winthrop
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
December 22, 1849 – March 4, 1851
Succeeded by
Linn Boyd
Preceded by
George W. Towns
Governor of Georgia
November 5, 1851 – November 9, 1853
Succeeded by
Herschel V. Johnson
Preceded by
James Guthrie
United States Secretary of the Treasury
Served under: James Buchanan

March 7, 1860 – December 8, 1861
Succeeded by
Philip Francis Thomas
Preceded by
Robert W. Barnwell
Speaker of the Provisional Confederate Congress
February 8, 1861 – February 27, 1862
Succeeded by

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HOWELL COBB (1815-1868), American political leader, was born at Cherry Hill, Jefferson county, Georgia, on the 7th of September 1815. He graduated from Franklin College (University of Georgia) in 1834, and two years later was admitted to the bar. From 1837 to 1840 he was solicitor-general for the western circuit of his state; from 1843 to 1851 and from 1855 to 1857 he was a member of the National House of Representatives, becoming Democratic leader in that body in 1847, and serving as speaker in 1849-1851; from 1851 to 1853 he was governor of his state; and from March 1857 to December 1860 he was secretary of the treasury in President Buchanan's cabinet. He was president of the convention of the seceded states which drafted a constitution for the Confederacy. In 1861 he was appointed colonel of a regiment and two years later was made a major-general. He died in New York on the 9th of October 1868. He sided with President Jackson on the question of nullification; was an efficient supporter of President Polk's administration during the Mexican War; and was an ardent advocate of slavery extension into the Territories, but when the Compromise of 1850 had been agreed upon he became its staunch supporter as a Union Democrat, and on that issue was elected governor of Georgia by a large majority. In 1860, however, he ceased to be a Unionist, and became a leader of the secession movement. From the close of the war until his death he vigorously opposed the Reconstruction Acts.

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