John Brown Baldwin

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John Brown Baldwin
John Brown Baldwin by Anderson Studio, Richmond.png
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Staunton, Virginia
Member of the Confederate Virginia House of Delegates from Staunton, Virginia
In office
Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates from Staunton, Virginia
In office
Personal details
Born (1820-01-11)11 January 1820
Staunton, Virginia
Died 30 September 1873(1873-09-30) (aged 53)
Staunton, Virginia
Resting place Thornrose Cemetery, Staunton, Virginia
Nationality American
Residence Richmond, Virginia
Known for Unionist, Confederate congressman during the American Civil War

John Brown Baldwin (January 11, 1820 – September 30, 1873) was a politician in Virginia during the American Civil War, when he served in the Confederate Congress, and later became Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.[1]

Early and family life[edit]

Baldwin was born at Spring Farm near Staunton, Virginia to Judge Briscoe Gerald Baldwin and his wife Martha Steele Brown Baldwin. He had three sisters--Frances Cornelia Baldwin Stuart (1815-1885), Mary Eleanor Baldwin Ranson (1817-1880) and Margaret E. Baldwin Stuart (1823-1844), as well as a brother, Briscoe Gerard Baldwin Jr (1828-1898). J.B. Baldwin graduated from Staunton Academy and then the University of Virginia in 1838. He was a member of the college's Board of Visitors from 1856–64. He married Susan Madison Peyton on July 4, 1852, and after her death married Ann Lewis.


Baldwin read law under his father (who was elected to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in 1842) , then joined the law practice of his brother-in-law Alexander H. H. Stuart, although Baldwin ultimately established his own solo practice after becoming politically active.

Prewar politics[edit]

He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and represented Augusta County (part-time) from 1847-1849, but was defeated by Whig Hugh W. Sheffey after one term. In 1859, Baldwin narrowly missed election to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. During the Presidential Election of 1860, Baldwin canvassed for John Bell, the Constitutional Unionist candidate, who won in Virginia but drew far fewer electoral college votes than either Republican Abraham Lincoln or Democrat Stephen A. Douglas.

Augusta County voters elected Baldwin, his brother in law and fellow Unionist Alexander H.H. Stuart and Unionist Democrat George Baylor to the Virginia Convention, which began on February 13, 1861. On March 21, Baldwin began a pro-Union speech which lasted three days. On April 4, 1861, Baldwin represented the Convention's Unionist leadership at a secret one-hour interview with President Abraham Lincoln at the White House. He went to Washington hopeful that an agreement might be reached that would preserve the peace and hold Virginia in the Union. However, he returned to Richmond empty-handed, after finding that he and Lincoln had talked past each other.[2] President Lincoln also separately met with another Unionist, John Minor Botts, who later blamed Baldwin for failing to publicize Lincoln's peace offer.[3] The Unionists had temporarily managed to avoid secession while Baldwin met with Lincoln, but their majority collapsed shortly after his return to Richmond.[4]

Confederate service[edit]

When the Convention decided upon secession, Baldwin felt it his duty stay with his home state. He initially served as a militia colonel and inspector general of Virginia State Troops, receiving a commission on April 23, 1861. Initially a colonel of the 52nd Virginia Infantry, Baldwin resigned on May 1, 1862 because of ill health, becoming instead a colonel of the Augusta Reserves regiment.[5]

By year's end, Baldwin was elected as a representative from Augusta County, to the First Confederate Congress. He was later elected to the Second Confederate Congress (defeating incumbent Governor John Letcher) and served until the conclusion of the Civil War. He became one of Confederate President Jefferson Davis's most vocal critics. [6]


Following the war, Baldwin returned home and resumed his legal practice. After giving his loyalty oath to the federal government, he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, serving during Congressional Reconstruction under the post-war military provost in 1865-1867. After Virginia's readmission to the Union, he continued representing Augusta County, and fellow delegates chose him as their Speaker, and he served as such from 1865-1869. In this capacity, he showed exceptional ability and the rules of procedure which he evolved are still in use in Virginia, and known as "Baldwin's Rules."[7]

When the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1868 proposed to restrict former Confederates from holding further offices, which went beyond the terms of surrender at Appomattox Court House and caused considerable controversy within the Commonwealth, Baldwin joined with his brother-in-law Alexander H. H. Stuart and the Committee of Nine and met with General Ulysses S. Grant. Grant also met with provisional governor Henry H. Wells and businessmen Gilbert C. Walker and Franklin Stearns, then gave General John M. Schofield orders to allow separate votes on those two controversial provisions (each of which lost) and the new Constitution without them (that passed overwhelmingly).

Death and legacy[edit]

Baldwin is buried in historic Thornrose Cemetery in Staunton, Virginia (within the Newtown Historic District).


Jamerson, Bruce F., Clerk of the House of Delegates, supervising (2007). Speakers and Clerks of the Virginia House of Delegates, 1776-2007. Richmond, Virginia: Virginia House of Delegates. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Hugh W. Sheffey
Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates
Succeeded by
Zephaniah Turner, Jr.