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Robert Augustus Toombs


In office
March 4, 1853 – February 4, 1861
Preceded by Homer V.M. Miller
Succeeded by Robert M. Charlton

In office
February 25, 1861 – July 25, 1861
Preceded by Office instituted
Succeeded by Robert M. T. Hunter

Born July 2, 1810(1810-07-02)
Wilkes County, Georgia, U.S.
Died December 15, 1885 (aged 75)
Washington, Georgia, U.S.
Political party Whig, Democrat
Spouse(s) Julia A. Dubose
Alma mater Franklin College of Arts and Sciences (University of Georgia)
Union College
University of Virginia Law School
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Religion Methodist
Robert Toombs

Robert Augustus Toombs (July 2, 1810 – December 15, 1885) was an American political leader, United States Senator from Georgia, 1st Secretary of State of the Confederacy, and a Confederate general in the Civil War.

Contents

Early life

Born near Washington, Wilkes County, Georgia, Robert Augustus Toombs was the fifth child of Catherine Huling and Robert Toombs. His father died when he was five, and he entered Franklin College at the University of Georgia in Athens when he was just fourteen. During his time at Franklin College he was a member of the Demosthenian Literary Society, which reveres him as its most accomplished and legendary alumnus to this day. After the university chastised him for unbecoming conduct in a card-playing incident, Toombs continued his education at Union College, in Schenectady, New York, from which he graduated in 1828. Toombs went on to study law at the University of Virginia Law School in Charlottesville. Shortly after his admission to the Georgia bar, he married his childhood sweetheart, Julia A. Dubose, with whom he had three children.

Public service

Toombs was admitted to the bar in 1830, and served in the Georgia House of Representatives (1838, 1840–1841, and 1843–1844). His genial character, proclivity for entertainment, and unqualified success on the legal circuit earned Toombs the growing attention and admiration of his fellow Georgians. On the wave of his growing popularity, Toombs won a seat to the United States House of Representatives (1844–1853), and joined his close friend and fellow representative Alexander H. Stephens from Crawfordville, Georgia. Their friendship forged a powerful personal and political bond that effectively defined and articulated Georgia's position on national issues in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Toombs, like Stephens, emerged as a states' rights partisan, became a national Whig, and once the Whig Party dissolved, aided in the creation of the short-lived Constitutional Union Party in the early 1850s. From 1853 to 1861 Toombs served in the United States Senate, only reluctantly joining the Democratic Party when lack of interest among other states doomed the Constitutional Union Party.

From Unionist to Confederate

Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Toombs fought to reconcile national policies with sectional interests. His support for the Georgia Platform in 1850 demonstrated his commitment to preserving the Union. He opposed the Annexation of Texas, the Mexican-American War, President Polk's Oregon policy, and the Walker Tariff of 1846. In common with Alexander H. Stephens and Howell Cobb, he defended Henry Clay's Compromise of 1850 against southerners who advocated secession from the Union as the only solution to sectional tensions over slavery. He denounced the Nashville Convention, opposed the secessionists in Georgia, and helped to frame the famous Georgia platform (1850). His position and that of Southern Unionists during the decade 1850–1860 has often been misunderstood. They disapproved of secession, not because they considered it wrong in principle, but because they considered it inexpedient. He favored the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the admission of Kansas under the Lecompton Constitution, and the English Bill (1858). However, his faith in the resiliency and effectiveness of the national government to resolve sectional conflicts waned as the 1850s drew to a close.

On June 24, 1856, Toombs introduced in the Senate the Toombs Bill, which proposed a constitutional convention in Kansas under conditions which were acknowledged by various anti-slavery leaders as fair, and which mark the greatest concessions made by the pro-slavery senators during the Kansas struggle. The bill did not provide for the submission of the constitution to popular vote, and the silence on this point of the territorial law under which the Lecompton Constitution of Kansas was framed in 1857 was the crux of the Lecompton struggle.

Secession and Civil War

In the presidential campaign of 1860 he supported John C. Breckinridge, and on December 22, soon after the election of Abraham Lincoln, sent a telegram to Georgia that asserted that "secession by the 4th of March next should be thundered forth from the ballot-box by the united voice of Georgia." He delivered a farewell address in the Senate (January 7, 1861), returned to Georgia, and with Governor Joseph E. Brown led the fight for secession against Stephens and Herschel V. Johnson (1812–1880). His influence was a most powerful factor in inducing the "old-line Whigs" to support immediate secession.

Toombs' house in Washington, Georgia, 1934.

Unlike the crises of 1850, these events galvanized Toombs and energized ambitions for becoming the president of the new Confederate nation. The selection of Jefferson Davis as the new nation's chief executive not only dashed Toombs's highest hopes but also turned him into one of the most outspoken critics of the Confederate government and its policies. Nevertheless, Davis chose Toombs as his first Confederate States Secretary of State. Within months of his appointment, a frustrated Toombs stepped down to join the Confederate States Army. He received a commission as a brigadier general on July 19, 1861, and served first as a brigade commander in the (Confederate) Army of the Potomac, and then in David R. Jones's division of the Army of Northern Virginia through the Peninsula Campaign, Seven Days Battles, Northern Virginia Campaign, and Maryland Campaign. He was wounded in the hand at the Battle of Antietam. He resigned his CSA commission on March 3, 1863, to become Colonel of the 3rd Cavalry of the Georgia Militia, and subsequently served as a brigadier general and adjutant and inspector-general of General Gustavus W. Smith's division of Georgia militia. Denied a military promotion, he resigned his commission and returned home to Washington, Georgia.

Final years

When the Confederacy finally collapsed in 1865, Toombs barely escaped arrest by Union troops and went into hiding until he fled to Cuba on November 4, and then to London and Paris. He returned to the United States via Canada in 1867. Because he refused to request a pardon from Congress, he never regained his American citizenship. He did restore his lucrative law practice as an "unreconstructed" southerner. In addition, he dominated the Georgia constitutional convention of 1877, where once again he demonstrated the political skill and temperament that earlier had earned him a reputation as one of Georgia's most effective leaders.

Legacy

Georgia's Toombs County is named for Robert Toombs. So is the Georgia town of Toomsboro, though with a slightly altered spelling. His legacy also lives on in his hometown of Washington, Georgia. Visitors to Washington can tour the Robert Toombs House, a State Historic Site operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.


Robert Toombs Christian Academy in Lyons, Georgia was named in his honor.

References

  • The New Georgia Encyclopedia
  • Eicher, John H., & Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • William C. Davis. The Union That Shaped the Confederacy: Robert Toombs and Alexander H. Stephens. University Press of Kansas, 2001. Pp. xi, 284.

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
(none)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 8th congressional district

March 4, 1845 – March 3, 1853
Succeeded by
Alexander H. Stephens
Confederate States House of Representatives
Preceded by
(none)
Representative to the Provisional Confederate Congress from Georgia
1861
Succeeded by
(none)
United States Senate
Preceded by
Robert M. Charlton
United States Senator (Class 2) from Georgia
March 4, 1853 – February 4, 1861
Served alongside: William Crosby Dawson and Alfred Iverson, Sr.
Succeeded by
Homer V. M. Miller(1)
Political offices
Preceded by
(none)
Confederate States Secretary of State
February 25, 1861 – July 25, 1861
Succeeded by
Robert M. T. Hunter
Notes and references
1. Because of Georgia's secession, the Senate seat was vacant for ten years before Miller succeeded Toombs.
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