Robert Toombs

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Robert Toombs
Robert Toombs - Brady-Handy.jpg
1st Confederate States Secretary of State
In office
February 25, 1861 – July 25, 1861
PresidentJefferson Davis
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byRobert Hunter
United States Senator
from Georgia
In office
March 4, 1853 – February 4, 1861
Preceded byRobert Charlton
Succeeded byHomer Miller
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 8th district
In office
March 4, 1845 – March 3, 1853
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byAlexander Stephens
Member of the Georgia House of Representatives from Wilkes County
In office
Personal details
Robert Augustus Toombs

(1810-07-02)July 2, 1810
Washington, Georgia
DiedDecember 15, 1885(1885-12-15) (aged 75)
Washington, Georgia
Political partyWhig (Before 1851)
Constitutional Union (1851–1853)
Democratic (1853–1885)
Alma materUniversity of Georgia
Union College
University of Virginia
Military service
Allegiance Confederate States
Years of service1861-1863
RankConfederate States of America General.png Brigadier General
CommandsToomb' Brigade
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

Robert Augustus Toombs (July 2, 1810 – December 15, 1885) was an American lawyer, slaveholder and politician who became one of the organizers of the Confederacy and its first Secretary of State. He served in Jefferson Davis' cabinet as well as in the Confederate States Army, but later became one of Davis' critics, and only reluctantly returned to the United States after the Confederate defeat and regained political power as Congressional Reconstruction ended.

A lawyer by training, Toombs gained renown as speaker in the U.S. House of Representatives, and later in the U.S. Senate. A slaveholder, he found common ground with fellow-Georgian Alexander H. Stephens and advocated states' rights and extending slavery. Toombs supported the Compromise of 1850, but later advocated secession. Toombs had always made a powerful impression on the public with his emotive oratory, backed by a strong physical presence, but his intemperate habits and volatile personality limited his career potential. In the newly formed Confederate Government, Toombs was appointed Secretary of State, but criticised the attack on Fort Sumter, which put him at odds with President Jefferson Davis (whose position he had coveted), and he quit to join the Confederate States Army. He became a Brigadier-General, and was wounded at the Battle of Antietam. In 1863, Toombs resigned his commission in the Confederate Army to join the Georgia militia. He was subsequently denied higher promotion and resigned, continuing to feud with Davis to the last. When the war ended, he fled to Cuba, later returning to Georgia. But he refused to request a pardon, thus sacrificing his political future.

Early and family life[edit]

Born near Washington, Georgia in 1810, Robert Augustus Toombs was the fifth child of Catherine Huling and Robert Toombs. He was of English descent.[1] 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, Toombs was a member of the Demosthenian Literary Society, which honors him as one of its most legendary alumni to this day.[citation needed] After the university chastised Toombs for unbecoming conduct in a card-playing incident,[2] he continued his education at Union College, in Schenectady, New York, which he graduated from in 1828; he went on to study law at the University of Virginia Law School in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Shortly after his admission to the Georgia bar, on November 18, 1830, Toombs married his childhood sweetheart, Martha Juliann ("Julia") DuBose (1813-1883), daughter of Ezekiel DuBose of Lincoln County, Georgia.[3][4] They had three daughters: Louisa (b. 1833), Sarah (Sallie) (1835-1866) and (Julia b.1838).[5] The last survivor, Sallie Toombs DuBose married distant relative and lawyer Dudley M. DuBose and died shortly after the American Civil War as discussed below.

Early legal and political career[edit]

Toombs was admitted to Georgia bar and began his legal practice in 1830. He began his political career by being elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, where he served in 1838 but failed to win re-election, was elected again and served 1840–41, and again failed to win re-election but was again elected and served 1843–44. His genial character, proclivity for entertainment, and unqualified success on the legal circuit earned Toombs the growing attention and admiration of his fellow Georgians.

Toombs won a seat in the United States House of Representatives in 1844, and would win re-election several times, serving in the lower chamber until 1853, when he won higher office. Toombs joined his close friend and fellow representative Alexander H. Stephens from Crawfordville, Georgia. Their friendship became 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.

As most Whigs, Toombs considered Texas as the 28th state. Historian William Y. Thompson writes that Toombs was "prepared to vote all necessary supplies to repel invasion. But he did not agree that the territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande was a part of Texas. He declared the movement of American forces to the Rio Grande at President Polk's command "was contrary to the laws of this country, a usurpation on the rights of this House, and an aggression on the rights of Mexico."[6]


Toombs and his brother Gabriel owned large plantations and operated them using slavelabor. Toombs also increased his personal slave holdings as his wealth increased. Toombs owned 6 slaves in 1840.[7] By 1850, he owned 17 slaves.[8] In 1860, he owned 16 slaves at his Wilkes County plantation,[9] and an additional 32 slaves at his 3,800 acre plantation in Stewart County, Georgia on the Chattahoochee River.[10]

By 1860, Toombs and his wife lived without any other family members in Wilkes County; in the census that year, Toombs owned $200,000 in real estate and personal property including slaves totaling $250,000.[11] One of his slaves, Garland H. White, escaped just before the civil war and became a soldier and chaplain in the Union Army in 1862. Other slaves were freed by the Union Army. William Gaines (minister and community leader) and Wesley John Gaines (1840-1912) became church leaders.[12]

From Unionist to Confederate[edit]

Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Toombs fought to reconcile national policies with his personal and sectional interests. He had opposed the Annexation of Texas but vowed to defend the new state once it was annexed late in 1845. He also opposed the Mexican–American War, President Polk's Oregon policy, the Walker Tariff of 1846 and the Wilmot Proviso, first introduced in 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.[citation needed]

Toombs objected to halting the spread of slavery into the territories of California and New Mexico and even the abolition of what John C. Calhoun had called the "peculiar institution" in Washington, D.C. He took the view that the territories were the common property of all the people of the United States and that Congress must ensure equal treatment of both slaveholder and non-slaveholder. If the rights of the South were violated, Toombs declared, "Let discord reign forever."[13]

From 1853–61 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.

Toombs favored the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854, 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 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. Thompson refers to Toombs as "hardly a man of the people with his wealth and imperious manner. But his handsome imposing appearance, undoubted ability, and boldness of speech appealed to Georgians, who kept him in national office until the Civil War brought him home."[14] According to Jacob S. Clawson, he was "a bullish politician whose blend of acerbic wit, fiery demeanor, and political tact aroused the full spectrum of emotions from his constituents and colleagues....[he] could not balance his volatile personality with his otherwise keen political skill."[15]


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 4 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) in which he said: "We want no negro equality, no negro citizenship; we want no negro race to degrade our own; and as one man [we] would meet you upon the border with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other."[16] He returned to Georgia, and with Governor Joseph E. Brown led the fight for secession against Stephens and Herschel V. Johnson (1812–80). 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 dashed any hopes Toombs had imagined of holding the high office of the fledgeling Confederacy. Confederate leaders rejected Toombs because of his serious drinking problem.[17] He had no diplomatic skills but Davis chose him as the Secretary of State. Toombs was the only member of Davis' administration to voice reservations about the attack on Fort Sumter. After reading Lincoln's letter to the governor of South Carolina, Toombs said memorably: "Mr. President, at this time it is suicide, murder, and will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet's nest which extends from mountain to ocean, and legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal."[18]

Army general[edit]

Within months of his cabinet 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' 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 where he commanded the heroic defense of Burnside's Bridge.

Toombs 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. He then launched a major attack on Davis and the government, opposed conscription and the suspension of habeas corpus, as newspapers warned that he verged on treason. In the last battle of the Civil War at Columbus, Georgia, Toombs commanded the defense of the upper bridge. When the war ended, he fled to Cuba, and then Paris, along with P.G.T. Beauregard and Julia Colquitt, wife of another Confederate general.[19]

Final years[edit]

His beloved wife returned to Georgia in late 1866 following the death of their last surviving child, Sallie Toombs DuBose, in Washington County, Georgia, leaving her husband to care for several small children. Toombs missed his wife and returned to Georgia in 1867 but refused to request a pardon from the president and therefore regained neither his right to vote nor hold political office.[20] However, he did restore his lucrative law practice, in connection with his son-in-law Dudley M. DuBose, who was elected a U.S. Representative and served one term. In addition, Toombs funded and dominated the Georgia constitutional convention of 1877,[21] 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. He gained a populist reputation for his attacks on railroads.

Death and legacy[edit]

1883 proved a privotal and negative year for Toombs, causing him to sink into depression, alcoholism, and ultimately blindness.[22] As March began, his son-in-law Dudley M. Dubose suffered a stroke and died. His long-time political ally, former Confederate Vice-President turned Georgia Governor, Alexander H. Stephens, also died. By September, his beloved wife Julia died. Toombs died December 15, 1885, and was buried at Resthaven cemetery in Wilkes County, Georgia beside his daughter and son-in-law.[23]

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources owns and operates the Robert Toombs House in Washington.[24] Georgia also erected a historical marker in Clarkesville, Habersham County, Georgia concerning the Toombs-Bleckly House, which Toombs acquired as a summer residence in 1879 and sold to Georgia Supreme Court justice Logan E. Bleckley five years later, although it burned down in 1897.[25] His great-great-grandson, Roderick George Toombs, became better known as professional wrestler Roddy Piper.[26]

These locations were named for Robert Toombs:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert Toombs, statesman, speaker, soldier, sage: his career in Congress and ... By Pleasant A. Stovall page 2
  2. ^ Seibert, David. "Robert Toombs Oak historical marker". Digital Library of Georgia. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Toombs, Robert. "Letters to Martha Juliann DuBose Toombs, 1850-1867". Digital Library of Georgia. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  5. ^ 1950 U.S. Federal Census for Washington, Wilkes County Georgia family 677
  6. ^ William Y. Thompson, Robert Toombs of Georgia (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1966, Library of Congress No. 66-25722, p. 38)
  7. ^ 1840 United States Census, United States Census, 1840; District 164, Wilkes, Georgia;. Retrieved on 22 August 2018.
  8. ^ 1850 United States Census, Slave Schedule, United States Census, 1850; Subdivision 94, Wilkes, Georgia;. Retrieved on 21 February 2016.
  9. ^ 1860 United States Census, Slave Schedule, United States Census, 1860; Wilkes, Georgia; page 85,. Retrieved on 22 August 2018.
  10. ^ 1860 United States Census, Slave Schedule, United States Census, 1860; District 22, Stewart, Georgia; page 8-9,. Retrieved on 21 February 2016.
  11. ^ 1860 U.S. Federal Census for Wilkes County, Georgia, family 547
  12. ^ "Jackson Chapel to celebrate 150 years in special service with Bishop Jackson - - News-Reporter".
  13. ^ Thompson, p 58
  14. ^ Thompson, p. 25
  15. ^ Jacob S. Clawson, "A Georgia Firebrand in the Midst of the Sectional Crisis" (H-CivWar March 2012) online
  16. ^
  17. ^ F. N. Boney (1997). Rebel Georgia. Mercer University Press. pp. 19–20.
  18. ^ Mark Scroggins (2011). Robert Toombs: The Civil Wars of a United States Senator and Confederate General. McFarland. p. 134.
  19. ^ Chesson 2000
  20. ^
  21. ^ Garrison, Ellen (Winter 2006). "Reactionaries or Reformers? Membership and Leadership of the Georgia Constitutional Convention of 1877". Georgia Historical Quarterly. 90 (4). Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  22. ^ Chesson, 2000
  23. ^
  24. ^ Washington-Wilkes County
  25. ^
  26. ^ Piper's Pit on PodcastOne, Episode 28, "Andre the Giant and Ghost Stories" (32:30)
  27. ^ [1]


  • Chesson, Michael. "Toombs, Robert Augustus"; American National Biography Online 2000
  • Davis, William C., The Union That Shaped the Confederacy: Robert Toombs and Alexander H. Stephens. University Press of Kansas, 2001. Pp. xi, 284.
  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-8047-3641-1.
  • Phillips, Ulrich B. The Life of Robert Toombs (1913), a scholarly biography focused on his antebellum political career. online
  • Scroggins, Mark. Robert Toombs: The Civil Wars of a United States Senator and Confederate General (Jefferson McFarland, 2011) 242 pp. ISBN 978-0-7864-6363-3 online review, scholarly biography
  • Sifakis, Stewart. Who Was Who in the Civil War. New York: Facts On File, 1988. ISBN 978-0-8160-1055-4.
  • Thompson, William Y. Robert Toombs of Georgia (1966), scholarly biography
  • Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959. ISBN 978-0-8071-0823-9.

Primary sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • "Rebel Lion Redux", by Ray Chandler, Georgia Backroads, Summer 2008, pp. 19–23.

External links[edit]