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TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully as possible; please see detailed list of corrections at the end of the text (after the index).
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STATESMAN, SPEAKER, SOLDIER, SAGE
HIS CAREER IN CONGRESS AND ON THE HUSTINGS—HIS WORK IN THE COURTS—HIS RECORD WITH THE ARMY—HIS LIFE AT HOME
PLEASANT A. STOVALL
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"The blood which mingled at Cowpens and at Eutaw cannot be kept at enmity forever."—Toombs.
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NEW YORK CASSELL PUBLISHING COMPANY 104 & 106 FOURTH AVENUE
Copyright, 1892, BY CASSELL PUBLISHING COMPANY.
All rights reserved.
THE MERSHON COMPANY PRESS, RAHWAY, N. J.
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TO ROBERT TOOMBS DU BOSE, WHOSE INTEREST AND AID WERE INVALUABLE, AND WITHOUT WHOSE COOPERATION THE BIOGRAPHY COULD NOT HAVE BEEN PREPARED, THIS WORK IS DEDICATED BY THE AUTHOR.
"There are courageous and honest men enough in both sections to fight. There is no question of courage involved. The people of both sections of this Union have illustrated their courage on too many battlefields to be questioned. They have shown their fighting qualities shoulder to shoulder whenever their country has called upon them; but that they may never come in contact with each other in fratricidal war, should be the ardent wish of every true man and honest patriot."—Robert Toombs, Speech in U. S. Senate, 1856.
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I. Family, Boyhood, Life at College, 1
II. At the Bar, 13
III. In the Legislature, 29
IV. Elected to Congress, 43
V. In the Lower House, 56
VI. The Compromise of 1850, 67
VII. The Georgia Platform, 83
VIII. The Campaign of 1852, 97
IX. Toombs in the Senate, 107
X. The "Know-nothing" Party, 121
XI. Toombs in Boston, 129
XII. Buchanan's Administration, 140
XIII. "On the Stump" in Georgia, 144
XIV. The Campaign of 1856, 155
XV. John Brown's Raid, 169
XVI. The Charleston Convention, 175
XVII. Toombs as a Legislator, 186
XVIII. Election of Lincoln, 199
XIX. Farewell to the Senate, 205
XX. Toombs and Secession, 209
XXI. Toombs as Premier of the Confederacy, 222
XXII. Brigadier-General in Army of Northern Virginia, 236
XXIII. With the Georgia Militia, 277
XXIV. Toombs as a Fugitive, 286
XXV. Without a Country, 308
XXVI. Commencing Life Anew, 315
XXVII. Days of Reconstruction, 324
XXVIII. His Last Public Service, 337
XXIX. Domestic Life of Toombs, 353
XXX. His Great Fault, 364
XXXI. His Last Days, 369
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FAMILY, BOYHOOD, LIFE AT COLLEGE.
Gabriel Toombs was one of General Braddock's soldiers who marched against Fort DuQuesne in 1755. He was a member of the sturdy Virginia line which protested against the dangerous tactics of the British martinet, and when the English regulars were ambushed and cut to pieces, Gabriel Toombs deployed with his men in the woods and picked off the savages with the steady aim and unerring skill of the frontiersman. Over one hundred years later Robert Toombs, his grandson, protested against the fruitless charge at Malvern Hill, and obliquing to the left with his brigade, protected his men and managed to cover the retreat of his division.
This was a family of soldiers. They were found in the old country fighting Cromwell's army of the rebellion.
Robert Toombs of Georgia was fond of tracing his lineage to the champions of the English king who defended their sovereign at Boscobel. But the American family was made up of lovers of liberty rather than defenders of the King. It was one of the anomalies in the life of the Georgia Toombs, who resisted all restraint and challenged authority in every form, that he should have located his ancestry among the sworn royalists of the seventeenth century.
William Toombs, the great-grandfather of Robert, was the first of the English family to come to America, about 1650. He settled in Virginia. Gabriel, who fought with Braddock, was the son of William. Major Robert Toombs, the father of the Georgia statesman, commanded a Virginia regiment during the Revolution and rendered conspicuous service in Georgia against the British. Major Toombs came to Georgia in 1783 and received a rich tract of 3000 acres of land in Wilkes County. This was their share in the award to distinguished soldiers of "the Virginia line."
"They fought for their estates like feudal barons," General Toombs used to say, when speaking of his ancestors, now sleeping in the red hills of Georgia. When he was asked after the civil war why he did not petition for relief of political disabilities, he declared that "no vote of Congress, no amnesty proclamation, shall rob me of the glory of outlawry. I shall not be the first of my name for three centuries to accept the stigma of a pardon."
The elder Gabriel Toombs in 1795 made his last will and testament. He commended his soul to God who gave it, and blessed his Maker for the worldly goods that he was possessed of. Distributing his estate among his wife, Ann Toombs, and his six children, he expressly directed that his negroes and their increase must be appraised together; that they were not to be sold out of the family, and that they should be "used in a Christian-like manner." He divided up parcels of land in Greene and Wilkes counties among his sons, Robert Toombs and Dawson Gabriel Toombs, and his four daughters. Gabriel Toombs died in 1801.
When Major Robert Toombs, the Virginia veteran, and son of Gabriel, came to Georgia to claim his award of land, he settled on Beaverdam Creek, five miles from the town of Washington. It is probable that he stopped in Columbia County, for he married Miss Sanders, of that county. She died, leaving no children, and Major Toombs went back to Virginia and married Miss Catlett. One son was born, and this lady died. Miss Catharine Huling was the third wife. The Hulings were also Virginians, and by this marriage six children were reared. Sarah, who finally became Mrs. Pope; James, who was killed by accident while hunting; Augustus, Robert, and Gabriel.
Catharine Huling, the mother of Robert Toombs of Georgia, was a most excellent woman, of strong and exalted piety. She was of Welsh ancestry, a devout Methodist, and after accompanying her son to college, and seeing him married, prosperous, and distinguished, died in 1848, when he was a member of Congress. Mrs. Toombs gave generously of her own means, to family and friends. Robert Toombs proved to be a dutiful son. He visited his mother constantly, and carefully managed her property. Finally he induced her to move to Washington, so that he might be near her.
Robert Toombs was the fifth child of Robert and Catharine Toombs. He was born in Wilkes County, about five miles from Washington, July 2, 1810. His brother Gabriel, who still lives, was three years his junior, and was throughout his life his close and confidential adviser and friend.
Robert Toombs, in childhood, was a slender, active, mischievous lad, and it will be a surprise to those who remember his superb physical manhood, to hear that at school and college he bore the nickname of "Runt." He was marked for his energy and vivacity. He was not precocious. Nature gave no signs of her intentions in his youth. His development, physical and mental, was not rapid, but wholesome. He was fond of horseback riding, and the earliest glimpse we have of him is as a slender lad, with dark eyes and hair slightly touched with auburn, flying through the village, and sometimes carrying on his pony behind him his little brother to school.
He was always in good health. He boasted that he never took medicine until he was thirty-four years old. His mother said that he grew up almost without her knowledge, so little trouble had he given her. He was a fine horseman. Possibly this practice had much to do with his good spirits and physical strength.
In his younger days he rode sixty-five miles to Milledgeville, covering the distance in one day, and was fresh enough to attend a dance at night. He delighted in fox-hunting, although never a racer or in any sense a sporting man. During the earlier years of his career he practiced law in the saddle, as was the custom with the profession at that time, and never thought of riding to court on wheels until later in life. Throughout his active participation in the Civil War he rode his famous mare, "Gray Alice," and was a striking figure as, splendidly mounted and charged with enthusiasm, he plunged along the lines of the Army of Northern Virginia. In his long wandering from capture in 1865, he was in the saddle six months, riding to and from the wilds of northeast Georgia to the swamps of the Chattahoochee. There was something in his picturesque figure upon the horse which suggests John Randolph of Roanoke.
His first training was at what was known as an "old field school," taught by Welcome Fanning, a master of good attainments and a firm believer in the discipline of the rod. Afterward, Robert Toombs was drilled by a private tutor, Rev. Alexander Webster—an adjunct professor of the University of Georgia and a man of high repute as scholar and instructor. Mr. Webster was the friend and early preceptor of Alexander H. Stephens.
Young Toombs was christened Robert Augustus, and carried his middle name until 1840, when he seems to have dropped it as a useless piece of furniture. There is a report that some of his political foes, playing upon his initials, saddled him with the sobriquet of "Rat." Having out-grown one nickname he was prepared to shed another.
Young Toombs proved to be a great reader. Most of his learning developed in the Humanities; and a cultured visitor from Maryland who once stopped at his father's house declared that this boy of fourteen was better posted in history than anyone he had ever seen.
It was about this time that Robert Toombs was fitted out for Franklin College—now the State University—located in Athens, Ga., forty miles from Washington.
This institution, to which he was devotedly attached and of whose governing board he was a member at the time of his death, was chartered in 1785 by the State of Georgia. It was the early recipient of the deed of western lands, which the State subsequently purchased, assuming the perpetual endowment of the college. It has been to Georgia what Jefferson's school has proved to Virginia, the nursery of scholars and statesmen. Governor John Milledge had given the institution a home upon a beautiful hill overlooking the Oconee River, and this lovely spot they had named Athens. Here in 1824 young Robert Toombs repaired, animated with the feelings which move a college boy, except that his mother went with him and relieved him of the usual sense of loneliness which overtakes the student. Major Robert Toombs, his father, who was an indigo and tobacco planter, was reputed to be a wealthy man for those times, but it was the comfort of the early settler who had earned his demesne from the government rather than the wealth of the capitalist. He had enough to support his family in comfort. He died when Robert was five years old, and the latter selected as his guardian Thomas W. Cobb, of Greene County, a cousin of Governor Howell Cobb, a member of Congress himself and a man of high legal attainment.
When Robert Toombs entered college that institution was under the Presidency of Moses Waddell, a born educator and strict disciplinarian. Three generations of this family have served the State as preceptors in Franklin College.
It may well be imagined that the college had not at that time reached the dignity of a university, for an entry in President Waddell's diary was this: "Caught Jones chewing tobacco: whipped him for it." Those were the old days when boys were boys until they were twenty-one. There is no record to show that Robert Toombs in college was a close scholar. Later in life he became a hard student and laborious worker. But if these industrious habits were born to him in Athens there is no trace of them. That he was a reader of Shakespeare and history he gave ample evidence in his long career, but if the legends of his college town are to be trusted, he was more noted for outbreaks of mischief than for close application. Full of life and spirits, a healthy, impetuous boy, he was on good terms with his classmates, and took life easily. That was a time when students were required to get up at sunrise and attend prayers.
One night, the story goes, the vigilant proctor actually found young Toombs playing cards with some of his friends. Fearing a reprimand, Toombs sought his guardian, who happened to be in Athens on a visit from his home in Greenesboro. It is not certain that young Toombs communicated the enormity of his offense, but he obtained leave to apply to Dr. Waddell for a letter of discharge. The learned but severe scholar had not received the proctor's report, and gave the young student a certificate of honorable dismissal.
Later in the day the President met Toombs walking around the campus.
"Robert Toombs," said he, "you took advantage of me early this morning. I did not then know that you had been caught at the card-table last evening."
Toombs straightened up and informed the doctor that he was no longer addressing a student of his college, but a free-born American citizen.
The halls of Athens are fragrant with these stories of Toombs. No man ever left so distinctive a stamp upon the place or gave such spicy flavor to its traditions.
Among the college-mates of Robert Toombs at Athens were Stephen Olin, Robert Dougherty, and Daniel Chandler, the grandfather of the unfortunate Mrs. Maybrick of England, and the man whose chaste and convincing appeal for female education resulted in the establishment of Wesleyan Female College—the first seminary in the world for the higher culture of women.
The closest of these companionships was that of George F. Pierce, a young man like Toombs, full of brains and energy—even then a striking and sparkling figure. The path of these men commenced at the door of their alma mater, and although their ways were widely divergent, the friends never parted. Two of the finest orators in Georgia, one left his impress as strongly upon the Church as did the other upon the State. One became bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the other a Whig senator. One day these men met, both in the zenith of power, when Toombs said: "Well, George, you are fighting the devil, and I am fighting the Democrats."
Closer in friendship their hands clasped as age swept over their raven locks and stalwart shoulders. Bishop Pierce never hesitated to go to Robert Toombs when his churches or his schools needed money. Toombs would give to the Methodist itinerant as quickly as he would to the local priest. Whether he was subscribing for a Catholic Orphans' Home or a Methodist College he would remark, as he gave liberally and freely, "I always try to honor God Almighty's drafts."
Pierce and Toombs had much in common—although the one was full of saintly fire and the other, at times, of defiant irreverence. It was Pierce whose visits Toombs most enjoyed at his own home, with whom he afterward talked of God and religion. The good bishop lived to bury the devoted Christian wife of the Georgia statesman, and finally, when the dross of worldliness was gone, to receive into the Methodist Church the bowed and weeping figure of the giant Toombs.
When Robert Toombs became prominent in Georgia, there is a story that his State university, in order to win back his friendship, conferred upon him an honorary degree. Toombs is represented as having spurned it with characteristic scorn. "No," said he, "when I was unknown and friendless, you sent me out disgraced, and refused me a diploma. Now that I would honor the degree I do not want it."
There is no record that the college ever conferred a degree upon Toombs at all. Later in life he was elected a trustee of this university, and each year his familiar figure was seen on the stage during commencement, or his wise counsel heard about the board. His attendance upon these duties was punctilious. He would leave the courthouse, the legislative halls, or Virginia Springs—wherever he happened to be—and repair to Athens the first week in August. Once or twice he delivered the annual address before the alumni; several times he secured appropriations for his alma mater from the State. His visits to Athens were always occasions of honor. Young men flocked wherever his voice was heard, fascinated by his racy conversation. No "Disinherited Knight" ever returned to more certain conquest or more princely homage.
There is a regular mythology about Toombs at his State university. The things he said would fill a volume of Sydney Smith, while the pranks he played would rival the record of Robin Hood. There is still standing in the college campus in Athens a noble tree, with the crown of a century upon it. Under its spreading branches the first college commencement was held one hundred years ago; under it the student Toombs once stood and addressed his classmates, and of all the men who have gone in and out beneath its shade, but one name has been found sturdy enough to link with this monument of a forgotten forest. The boys to this day call it "The Toombs Oak."
AT THE BAR.
After Robert Toombs left the University of Georgia, he entered Union College at Schenectady, N. Y., under the presidency of Dr. Eliphalet Knott. Here he finished his classical course and received his A. B. degree. This was in 1828, and in 1829 he repaired to the University of Virginia, where he studied law one year. In the Superior Court of Elbert County, Ga., holden on the 18th day of March, 1830, he was admitted to the bar. The license to practice recites that "Robert A. Toombs made his application for leave to practice and plead in the several courts of law and equity in this State, whereupon the said Robert A. Toombs, having given satisfactory evidence of good moral character, and having been examined in open court, and being found well acquainted and skilled in the laws, he was admitted by the court to all the privileges of an attorney, solicitor, and counsel in the several courts of law and equity in this State."
The license is signed by William H. Crawford, Judge, Superior Court, Northern Circuit. Judge Crawford had served two terms in the United States Senate from Georgia. He had been Minister to Paris during the days of the first Napoleon. He had been Secretary of War and of the Treasury of the United States. In 1825 he received a flattering vote for President, when the Clay and Adams compact drove Jackson and Crawford to the rear. Bad health forced Mr. Crawford from the field of national politics, and in 1827, upon the death of Judge Dooly, Mr. Crawford was appointed Judge of the Northern Circuit. He held this position until his death in Elbert County, which occurred in 1834. Crawford was a friend and patron of young Toombs. The latter considered him the full peer of Webster and of Calhoun.
Robert Toombs was married eight months after his admission to the bar. His career in his profession was not immediately successful. A newspaper writer recently said of him that "while his contemporaries were fighting stubbornly, with varying luck, Toombs took his honors without a struggle, as if by divine right." This was no more true of Toombs than it is true of other men. He seems to have reached excellence in law by slow degrees of toil. Hon. Frank Hardeman, Solicitor-General of the Northern Circuit, was one of the lawyers who examined Toombs for admission to the bar. He afterward declared that Robert Toombs, during the first four or five years of his practice, did not give high promise. His work in his office was spasmodic, and his style in court was too vehement and disconnected to make marked impression. But the exuberance or redundancy of youth soon passed, and he afterward reached a height in his profession never attained by a lawyer in Georgia.
His work during the first seven years of his practice did not vary in emolument or incident from the routine of a country lawyer. In those days the bulk of legal business lay in the country, and the most prominent men of the profession made the circuit with their saddle-bags, and put up during court week at the village taverns. Slaves and land furnished the basis of litigation. Cities had not reached their size and importance, corporations had not grown to present magnitude, and the wealth and brains of the land were found in the rural districts. "The young lawyers of to-day," says Judge Reese of Georgia, "are far in advance of those during the days of Toombs, owing to the fact that questions and principles then in doubt, and which the lawyers had to dig out, have been long ago decided, nor were there any Supreme Court reports to render stable the body of our jurisprudence."
The counties in which Robert Toombs practiced were Wilkes, Columbia, Oglethorpe, Elbert, Franklin, and Greene. The bar of the Northern Circuit was full of eminent men. Crawford presided over the courts and a delegation of rare strength pleaded before him. There were Charles J. Jenkins, Andrew J. Miller, and George W. Crawford of Richmond County; from Oglethorpe were George R. Gilmer and Joseph Henry Lumpkin; from Elbert, Thomas W. Thomas and Robert McMillan; from Greene, William C. Dawson, Francis H. Cone; from Clarke, Howell Cobb; from Taliaferro, Alexander H. Stephens. Across the river in Carolina dwelt Calhoun and McDuffie. As a prominent actor in those days remarked: "Giants seem to grow in groups. There are seed plats which foster them like the big trees of California, and they nourish and develop one another, and seem to put men on their mettle." Such a seed plat we notice within a radius of fifty miles of Washington, Ga., where lived a galaxy of men, illustrious in State and national affairs.
In 1837 the great panic which swept over the country left a large amount of litigation in its path. Between that time and 1843, Lawyer Toombs did an immense practice. It is said that in one term of court in one county he returned two hundred cases and took judgment for $200,000. The largest part of his business was in Wilkes and Elbert, and his fees during a single session of the latter court often reached $5000. During these six years he devoted himself diligently and systematically to the practice of his profession, broken only by his annual attendance upon the General Assembly at Milledgeville. It was during this period that he developed his rare powers for business and his surpassing eloquence as an advocate. He made his fortune during these years, for after 1843, and until the opening of the war between the States, he was uninterruptedly a member of Congress.
There was no important litigation in eastern or middle Georgia that did not enlist his services. He proved to be an ardent and tireless worker. He had grown into a manhood of splendid physique, and he spent the days and most of the nights in careful application. He never went into a case until after the most thorough preparation, where preparation was possible. But he had a wonderful memory and rare legal judgment. He was thoroughly grounded in the principles of law. He possessed, as well, some of that common sense which enabled him to see what the law ought to be, and above all else, he had the strongest intuitive perception of truth. He could strip a case of its toggery and go right to its vitals. He was bold, clean, fearless, and impetuous, and when convinced he had right on his side would fight through all the courts, with irresistible impulse. He was susceptible to argument, but seemed absolutely blind to fear.
The brightest chapters of the life of Toombs are perhaps his courthouse appearances. There is no written record of his masterly performances, but the lawyers of his day attest that his jury speeches were even better than his political addresses.
A keen observer of those days will tell you that Mr. Stephens would begin his talk to the jury with calmness and build upon his opening until he warmed up into eloquence; but that Mr. Toombs would plunge immediately into his fierce and impassioned oratory, and pour his torrent of wit, eloquence, logic, and satire upon judge and jury. He would seem to establish his case upon the right, and then defy them to disregard it.
In spite of this vehement and overpowering method he possessed great practical gifts. He had the knack of unraveling accounts, and while not technically skilled in bookkeeping, had a general and accurate knowledge which gave him prestige, whether in intricate civil or criminal cases. He was a rash talker, but the safest of counselors, and practiced his profession with the greatest scruple. On one occasion he said to a client who had stated his case to him: "Yes, you can recover in this suit, but you ought not to do so. This is a case in which law and justice are on opposite sides."
The client told him he would push the case, anyhow.
"Then," replied Mr. Toombs, "you must hire someone else to assist you in your damned rascality."
On one occasion a lawyer went to him and asked him what he should charge a client, in a case to which Mr. Toombs had just listened in the courthouse.
"Well," said Toombs, "I should have charged a thousand dollars; but you ought to have five thousand, for you did a great many things I could not have done."
Mr. Toombs was strict in all his engagements. His practice remained with him, even while he was in Congress, and his occasional return during the session of the Superior Court of the Northern Circuit gave rise at one time to some comment on the part of his opponents, the Democrats. The nominee of that party, on the stump, declared that the demands upon Mr. Toombs's legal talent in Georgia were too great to admit of his strict attendance to public business in Washington. When Mr. Toombs came to answer this point, he said: "You have heard what the gentleman says about my coming home to practice law. He promises, if elected to Congress, he will not leave his seat. I leave you to judge, fellow-citizens, whether your interest in Washington will be best protected by his continued presence or his occasional absence." This hit brought down the house. Mr. Toombs's addresses to the Supreme Court were models of solid argument. During the early days of the Supreme Court of Georgia, it was a migratory body; the law creating it tended to popularize it by providing that it should hold its sessions in the different towns in the State convenient to the lawyers. The court once met in the little schoolroom of the Lumpkin Law School in Athens. One of the earliest cases heard was a land claim from Hancock County, bristling with points and involving about $100,000 worth of property. A. H. Stephens, Benjamin H. Hill, Howell and Thomas Cobb were employed, but in this splendid fight of Titans, Justice Lumpkin declared that the finest legal arguments he ever heard were from the lips of Robert Toombs.
Hon. A. H. Stephens said the best speech Mr. Toombs ever made was in a case in which he represented a poor girl who was suing her stepfather for cruel treatment. The defendant was a preacher, and the jury brought in a verdict for $4000, the maximum sum allowed, and petitioned the Judge to allow them to find damages in a heavier amount.
One of the most celebrated causes Mr. Toombs was engaged in before the war was a railroad case heard in Marietta, Ga., in September, 1858. Howell Cobb and Robert Toombs were employed on one side, while Messrs. Pettigru and Memminger, of Charleston, giants of the Carolina bar, were ranged in opposition. The ordeal was a very trying one. The case occupied seven days. Mr. Toombs, always an early riser, generally commenced his preparation in this case at half-past five in the morning. The hearing of the facts continued in the courthouse until seven in the evening, and the nights were passed in consultation with counsel. Attendants upon this celebrated trial declared that Toombs's manner in the courtroom was indifferent. That, while other lawyers were busy taking notes, he seemed to sit a listless spectator, rolling his head from side to side, oblivious to evidence or proceeding. And yet, when his time came to conclude the argument, he arose with his kingly way, and so thorough was his mastery of the case, with its infinite detail, its broad principles, and intricate technicalities, that his argument was inspiring and profound. His memory seemed to have indelibly pictured the entire record of the seven days, and to have grouped in his mind the main argument of counsel. It was a wonderful display of retentiveness, acumen, learning, and power. On one occasion, while a member of the United States Senate, he came to Georgia to attend a session of the Supreme Court in Milledgeville. He writes his wife: "I have had a hard, close week's work. The lawyers very kindly gave way and allowed my cases to come on this week, which brought them very close together, and as I was but ill prepared for them, not having given them any attention last winter, and but little this spring, I have been pretty much speaking all day and studying all night." In March, 1856, Mr. Toombs wrote to his wife, whom he had left in Washington City, that the spring term of Wilkes court would be the most laborious and disagreeable he ever attended. Says he: "For the first time in my life, I have business in court of my own—that is, where I am a party. The Bank of the State of Georgia has given me a year's work on my own account. If I live I will make the last named party repent of it."
At another time he wrote: "I had fine weather for Elbert, and a delightful trip. Everything went well in Elbert with my business." It usually did. There was no county in which he was more of an autocrat than in Elbert. He never failed to carry the county in politics, even when Elbert had a candidate of her own for Congress. His legal advice was eagerly sought, and he was more consulted than any other man in Georgia about public and private affairs. The reason of his phenomenal success as counsel was that, united with his learning and forensic power, he had a genius for detail. He was a natural financier. He used to tell President Davis, during the early days of the Confederacy, that four-fifths of war was business, and that he must "organize" victory.
During the sessions of Elbert court his arguments swept the jury, his word was law outside. His talk was inspiring to the people. His rare and racy conversation drew crowds to his room every night, and to an occasional client, who would drop in upon his symposium to confer with him, he would say, with a move of his head, "Don't worry about that now. I know more about your business than you do, as I will show you at the proper time." His fees at Elbert were larger than at any other court except his own home in Wilkes. It was during the adjournment of court for dinner that he would be called out by his constituents to make one of his matchless political speeches. He never failed to move the crowds to cheers of delight.
On one occasion he was at Roanoke, his plantation in Stewart County, Ga. He writes his wife: "I was sent for night before last to appear in Lumpkin to prosecute a case of murder: but as it appeared that the act was committed on account of a wrong to the slayer's marital rights, I declined to appear against him." Mr. Toombs was the embodiment of virtue, and the strictest defender of the sanctity of marriage on the part of man as well as woman. His whole life was a sermon of purity and devotion.
Judge William M. Reese, who practiced law with Mr. Toombs, and was his partner from 1840 to 1843, gives this picture of Toombs at the bar: "A noble presence, a delivery which captivated his hearers by its intense earnestness: a thorough knowledge of his cases, a lightning-like perception of the weak and strong points of controversy; a power of expressing in original and striking language his strong convictions; a capacity and willingness to perform intellectual labor; a passion for the contest of the courthouse; a perfect fidelity and integrity in all business intrusted to him, with charming conversational powers—all contributed to an immense success in his profession. Such gifts, with a knowledge of business and the best uses of money, were soon rendered valuable in accumulating wealth."
Although Mr. Toombs often appeared in courts to attend to business already in his charge, he gave out that he would not engage in any new causes which might interfere with his Congressional duties. The absorbing nature of public business from 1850 to 1867 withdrew him from the bar, and the records of the Supreme Court of Georgia have only about twenty-five cases argued by him in that time. Some of these were of commanding importance, and the opinions of the Justices handed down in that time bear impress of the conclusiveness of his reasoning and the power of his effort before that tribunal. Judge E. H. Pottle, who presided over the courts of the Northern Circuit during the later years of Toombs's practice, recalls a celebrated land case when Robert Toombs was associated against Francis H. Cone—himself a legal giant. Toombs's associate expected to make the argument, but Cone put up such a powerful speech that it was decided that Toombs must answer him. Toombs protested, declaring that he had been reading a newspaper, and not expecting to speak, had not followed Judge Cone. However, he laid down his paper and listened to Cone's conclusion, then got up and made an overmastering forensic effort which captured Court and crowd.
The last appearance Toombs ever made in a criminal case was in the Eberhart case in Oglethorpe County, Ga., in 1877. He was then sixty-seven years of age, and not only was his speech fine, but his management of his case was superb. He had not worked on that side of the court for many years, but the presiding Judge, who watched him closely, declared that he never made a mistake or missed a point.
It was during a preliminary hearing of this case that Toombs resorted to one of his brilliant and audacious motions, characteristic of him. The State wanted to divide the case and try the principals separately. Father and son were charged with murder. The defense objected, but was overruled by the Court. General Toombs then sprung the point that Judge Pottle was not qualified to preside, on the ground of a rumor that he had selected the men of the jury panel instead of drawing them. Toombs further argued that the Court was not competent to decide the question of fact. Judge Pottle vacated the bench and the clerk of court called Hon. Samuel H. Hardeman to preside. Toombs and Benjamin H. Hill, his assistant, contended that the clerk had no right to appoint a judge. Judge Hardeman sustained the point and promptly came down, when Judge Pottle resumed the bench and continued the case—just the result that Toombs wanted. This case attracted immense comment, and in the Constitution of 1877 a provision was made, growing out of this incident, providing for the appointment of judges pro hac vice.
He was a bitter enemy to anything that smacked of monopoly, and during the anti-railroad agitation of 1879-80, he said: "If I was forty-five years old I would whip this fight." Still, he was an exceedingly just man. Linton Stephens, noted for his probity and honor, said he would rather trust Robert Toombs to decide a case in which he was interested than any man he ever saw.
During the last five years of General Toombs's life he was seldom seen in the courtroom. He was sometimes employed in important causes, but his eyesight failed him, and his strength was visibly impaired. His addresses were rather disconnected. His old habit of covering his points in great leaps, leaving the intervening spaces unexplained, rendered it difficult to follow him. His mind still acted with power, and he seemed to presume that his hearers were as well up on his subject as he was. His manner was sometimes overbearing to the members of the bar, but no man was more open to reason or more sobered by reflection, and he was absolutely without malice. He was always recognized as an upright man, and he maintained, in spite of his infirmities, the respect and confidence of the bench and bar and of the people.
Chief Justice Jackson said: "In the practice of law this lightning-like rapidity of thought distinguished Toombs. He saw through the case at a glance, and grasped the controlling point. Yielding minor hillocks, he seized and held the height that covered the field, and from that eminence shot after shot swept all before it. Concentrated fire was always his policy. A single sentence would win his case. A big thought, compressed into small compass, was fatal to his foe. It is the clear insight of a great mind only that shaped out truth in words few and simple. Brevity is power, wherever thought is strong. From Gaul Caesar wrote 'Veni, vidi, vici.' Rome was electrified, and the message immortalized. Toombs said to this Court, 'May it please your Honor—Seizin, Marriage, Death, Dower,' and sat down. His case was won, the widow's heart leaped with joy, and the lawyer's argument lives forever."
IN THE LEGISLATURE.
When Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun were waging their "irrepressible conflict," the county of Wilkes in the State of Georgia was nursing discordant factions. Just across the river in Carolina lived the great Nullifier. The Virginia settlers of Wilkes sided with him, while scores of North Carolinians, who had come to live in the county, swore by "Old Hickory." This political difference gave rise to numerous feuds. The two elements maintained their identity for generations, and the divisions became social as well as political. The Virginians nursed their State pride. The sons of North Carolina, overshadowed by the Old Dominion, clung to the Union and accepted Andrew Jackson, their friend and neighbor, as oracle and leader. The earliest political division in Georgia was between the Clarke and Crawford factions. General John Clarke, a sturdy soldier of the Revolution, came from North Carolina, while William H. Crawford, a Virginian by birth and a Georgian by residence, led the Virginia element. The feud between Clarke and Crawford gave rise to numerous duels. Then came George M. Troup to reenforce the Crawford faction and defend States' Rights, even at the point of the sword. Troup and Clarke were rival candidates for Governor of Georgia in 1825, and the Toombs family ardently fought for Troup. Young Toombs was but fifteen years of age, but politics had been burnt into his ardent soul. Wilkes had remained a Union county until this campaign, when the Troup and Toombs influence was too strong for the North Carolina faction. Wilkes, in fact, seemed to be a watershed in early politics. It was in close touch with Jackson and Calhoun, with Clarke and Crawford, and then with Clarke and Troup. On the one side the current from the mountain streams melted into the peaceful Savannah and merged into the Atlantic; on the other they swept into the Tennessee and hurried off to the Father of Waters.
Robert Toombs cast his first vote for Andrew Jackson in 1832. He abandoned the Union Democratic-Republican party, however, after the proclamation and force bill of the Administration and joined the States' Rights Whigs. When young Toombs was elected to the General Assembly of Georgia in October, 1837, parties were sharply divided. The Democrats, sustained by the personal popularity of "Old Hickory," were still dominant in the State. The States' Rights Whigs, however, had a large following, and although not indorsing the doctrines of Calhoun, the party was still animated by the spirit of George M. Troup. This statesman, just retired from public life, had been borne from a sick-bed to the United States Senate Chamber to vote against the extreme measures of President Jackson. The Troup men claimed to be loyal to the Constitution of their country in all its defined grants, and conceded the right of the Chief Magistrate to execute the office so delegated, but they resisted what they believed to be a dangerous latitude of construction looking to consolidated power. Robert Toombs was not a disciple of Calhoun. While admiring the generalities and theories of the great Carolinian, the young Georgian was a more practical statesman. The States' Rights Whigs advocated a protective tariff and a national bank. They believed that the depreciation of the currency had caused the distress of the people in the panic of 1837, and no man in this stormy era more vigorously upbraided the pet-bank and sub-treasury system than Robert Toombs. He introduced a resolution in the legislature declaring that President Van Buren had used the patronage of the government to strengthen his own party; that he had repudiated the practices and principles of his patriotic antecedents, and "had sought out antiquated European systems for the collection, safe keeping, and distribution of public moneys—foreign to our habits, unsuited to our conditions, expensive and unsafe in operation." Mr. Toombs contended, with all the force that was in him, that a bank of the United States, properly regulated, was "the best, most proper and economical means for handling public moneys." Robert Toombs would not have waited until he was twenty-seven years of age before entering public life, had not the sentiment of his county been hostile to his party. Wilkes had been a Union county, but in 1837 it returned to the lower house two Democrats, and Robert A. Toombs, the only Whig. Nothing but his recognized ability induced the people to make an exception in his favor. Besides his reputation as an orator and advocate, Toombs had just returned from the Creek war, where he had commanded a company and served under General Winfield Scott in putting down the insurrection of Neahmatha, the Indian chief. He now brought to public life the new prestige of a soldier. After this, "Captain Toombs" was never defeated in his county. He was returned at the annual elections in 1839, 1840, 1842, and 1843—and succeeded in preserving at home an average Whig majority of 100 votes. He did not care for the State Senate, preferring the more populous body, then composed of 200 members. Parties in the State were very evenly balanced, but Mr. Toombs preserved, in the varying scale of politics, a prominent place in the house. He was made chairman of the Judiciary Committee by his political opponents. He served as a member of the Committee on Internal Improvements, as chairman of the all-important Committee on Banking, chairman of the Committee on State of the Republic, and in 1842 received the vote of the Whig minority in the house for Speaker. In 1840 the Whigs gained control of the government. The Harrison tidal wave swept their best men to the front in State and national councils. Charles J. Jenkins of Richmond was elected speaker of the house, and Mr. Toombs, as chairman of the Banking Committee, framed the bill which repealed the law authorizing the issue of bank bills to the amount of twice their capital stock. He went right to the marrow of honest banking and sound finance by providing for a fund to redeem the outstanding bills, and condemned the course of the State banks in flooding the State with irredeemable promises to pay.
It was at this session of the General Assembly that Mr. Toombs displayed the skill and sagacity of a statesman in fearlessly exposing a seductive scheme for popular relief. He was called upon to confront public clamor and to fight in the face of fearful odds, but he did not falter.
Just before the General Assembly of 1840 adjourned, Governor McDonald sent an urgent message to both houses calling upon them to frame some means for the speedy relief of the people. The situation in Georgia was very distressing. The rains and floods of that year had swept the crops from the fields, and there was much suffering among the planters. Coming upon the heel of the session, the Whig members of the legislature looked upon the message as a surprise, and rather regarded it as a shrewd political stroke. Mr. Toombs was equal to the emergency. He quickly put in a resolution asking the Governor himself to suggest some means of popular relief—throwing the burden of the problem back upon the executive. But Governor McDonald was armed. He drew his last weapon from his arsenal, and used it with formidable power. He sent in an elaborate message to the houses recommending that the State make a large loan and deposit the proceeds in bank, to be given out to the people on good security. The Senate committee, in evident sympathy with the scheme for relief, reported a bill authorizing the issue of two million six-year eight-per-cent. bonds to be loaned to private citizens, limiting each loan to one thousand dollars, and restricting the notes to three years, with eight per cent. interest.
The report of the House Committee was prepared by Robert Toombs. It was the most admirable and statesmanlike document of that day. Mr. Toombs said that deliberation had resulted in the conviction that the measure suggested by His Excellency should not be adopted. While his committee was duly sensible of and deeply regretted the pecuniary embarrassment of many of their fellow-citizens, he felt constrained by a sense of public duty to declare that he deemed it unwise and impolitic to use the credit, and pledge the property and labor of the whole people, to supply the private wants of a portion only of the people. The use of the public credit, he went on to say, was one of the most important and delicate powers which a free people could confide in their representatives; it should be jealously guarded, sacredly protected, and cautiously used, even for the attainment of the noblest patriotic ends, and never for the benefit of one class of the community to the exclusion or injury of the rest, whether the demand grew out of real or supposed pecuniary difficulties. To relieve these difficulties by use of the public credit would be to substitute a public calamity for private misfortune, and would end in the certain necessity of imposing grievous burdens in the way of taxes upon the many for the benefit of the few. All experience, Mr. Toombs went on to declare, admonish us to expect such results from the proposed relief measures, to adopt which would be to violate some of the most sacred principles of the social compact. All free governments, deriving their just powers from, and being established for the benefit of, the governed, must necessarily have power over the property, and consequently the credit, of the governed to the extent of public use, and no further. And whenever government assumed the right to use the property or credit of the people for any other purpose, it abused a power essential for the perfection of its legislative duties in a manner destructive of the rights and interests of the governed, and ought to be sternly resisted by the people. The proposed measures, he contended, violated these admitted truths, asserted the untenable principle that governments should protect a portion of the people, in violation of the rights of the remainder, from the calamities consequent on unpropitious seasons and private misfortunes.
He must have been an indifferent or careless spectator of similar financial schemes, Mr. Toombs declared, who could persuade himself that this plan of borrowing money, to lend again at the same rate of interest, could be performed without loss to the State. That loss must be supplied by taxation, and to that extent, at least, it will operate so as to legislate money from the pocket of one citizen to that of another. The committee declared that it knew of no mode of legislative relief except the interposition of unconstitutional, unwise, unjust, and oppressive legislation between debtor and creditor, which did not need their condemnation.
The argument was exhaustive and convincing. Never were the powers of the State or the soundness of public credit more strongly set forth. The whole scheme of relief was abandoned, and the General Assembly adjourned.
The relief measures, however, had a great effect upon the campaign. Rejected in the legislature under the rattling fire and withering sarcasm of Toombs, they were artfully used on the hustings. "McDonald and Relief" was the slogan. Men talked airily about "deliverance and liberty." Mr. Toombs declared that "humbuggery was reduced to an exact science and demonstrated by figures." The Act compelling the banks to make cash payments was represented as an unwise contraction of the currency and a great oppression to the people. Governor McDonald was consequently reelected over William C. Dawson, the Whig nominee.
Robert Toombs was not a candidate for reelection in 1841. He worked hard at the polls for the Whig ticket, and although his candidate for Governor received a majority of one in Wilkes County, the Whigs were defeated for the legislature. When he returned to the Assembly in 1842 he still found Governor McDonald and the Democrats supporting a central bank and the sub-treasury. They clamored to restore public finances to the old system. The Democrats held the legislature and elected to the United States Senate Walter T. Colquitt over Charles J. Jenkins. Although a member of the minority party, Mr. Toombs was appointed chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Here his high character and moral courage shone conspicuously. He proved a stone wall against the perfect flood of legislation designed for popular relief. To use his own words: "The calendar was strong with a heterogeneous collection of bills proposing stay-laws." He reported as "unwise, inexpedient, and injurious," proposed Acts "to protect unfortunate debtors"; "to redeem property in certain cases"; also a bill to "exempt from levy and sale certain classes of property." He held with Marshall the absolute inviolability of contracts; he believed in common honesty in public and private life; he was strict in all business obligations; he denounced the Homestead Act of 1868, and declared in his last days that there was "not a dirty shilling in his pocket." Mr. Toombs was nothing of the demagogue. He was highminded, fearless, and sincere, and it may be said of him what he afterward declared so often of Henry Clay, that "he would not flatter Neptune for his trident or Jove for his power to thunder." He was called upon at this session to fight the repeal of the law he had framed in 1840, to regulate the system of banking. He declared in eloquent terms that the State must restrict the issue of the banks and compel their payment in specie. The experiment of banking on public credit had failed, he said. It had brought loss to the government, distress to the people, and had sullied the good faith of Georgia.
It was at this session of the legislature that the Democrats proposed a vote of censure upon John McPherson Berrien, United States Senator from Georgia, for his advocacy of a national bank. Mr. Toombs ardently defended Senator Berrien. He said that the State legislature was not the custodian of a senator's conscience, and held that the people of Georgia sanctioned the expediency and utility of a national bank. When the resolution of censure came up in the house, the Whigs refused to vote, and raised the point of "no quorum." Speaker pro tem. Wellborn, who presided, counted a quorum and declared the resolutions adopted. Mr. Toombs fired up at this unusual decision. He threw himself before the Speaker with impetuous appeal and called for a reversal of the decision. But it was a Democratic house, and the Speaker was sustained by a vote of 96 to 40.
The craze for internal improvements now swept over the country. The Whigs were especially active, and we find resolutions adopted by the General Assembly, calling on the Federal Government to create ports of entry and to build government foundries and navy yards on the Southern seaboard. Mr. Toombs was chairman of the Committee of Internal Improvements, but his efforts were directed toward the completion of the Western and Atlantic Railroad. These enterprises had overshadowed the waterways, and the railway from Charleston, S. C., to Augusta, Ga., one of the very first in the country, had just been completed. Already a company had embarked upon the construction of the Georgia Railroad, and on May 21, 1837, the first locomotive ever put in motion on the soil of Georgia moved out from Augusta. A local paper described the event in sententious terms:
This locomotive started beautifully and majestically from the depository and, following the impetus given, flew with surprising velocity on the road which hereafter is to be her natural element.
The General Assembly decided that these rail lines should have an outlet to the West. This great road was finally built and operated from Atlanta to Chattanooga, and is still owned by the State, a monument to the sagacity and persistency of Toombs and his associates in 1840. The great possibilities of these iron highways opened the eyes of the statesmen of that day, Mr. Calhoun seemed to drop for a time his philosophical studies of States and slavery and to dream of railroads and commercial greatness. He proposed the connection of the Atlantic Ocean with the Mississippi River and the great West, through Cumberland Gap—a brilliant and feasible scheme. Governor Gilmer of Georgia declared in his message that these projected roads "would add new bonds to the Union." But King Cotton, with his millions in serfdom, issued his imperial decrees, and not even this great railroad development could keep down the tremendous tragedy of the century.
One of the measures to which Mr. Toombs devoted great attention during his legislative term was the establishment of a State Supreme Court. This bill was several times defeated, but finally in 1843 passed the house by a vote of 88 to 86. It was the scene of many of his forensic triumphs. He also introduced, during the sessions of 1842 and 1843, bills to abolish suretyship in Georgia. This system had been severely abused. In the flush times men indorsed without stint, and then during the panic of 1837 "reaped the whirlwind." Fortunes were swept away, individual credit ruined, and families brought to beggary by this reckless system of surety. What a man seldom refused to do for another, Mr. Toombs strove to reach by law. But the system had become too firmly intrenched in the financial habits of the people. His bill, which he distinctly stated was to apply alone to future and not past contracts, only commanded a small minority of votes. It was looked upon as an abridgment of personal liberty. Mr. Toombs exerted all of his efforts in behalf of this bill, and it became quite an issue in Georgia. It is not a little strange that when Robert Toombs was dead, it was found that his own estate was involved by a series of indorsements which he had given in Atlanta to the Kimball House Company. Had he maintained the activity of his younger days, he would probably have turned this deal into a profitable investment. The complication was finally arranged, but his large property came near being swept away under the same system of surety he had striven to abolish.
ELECTED TO CONGRESS.
Entering public life about the same time, living a short distance apart, professing the same political principles, practicing in the same courts of law, were Alexander H. Stephens of Taliaferro and Robert Toombs of Wilkes. Entirely unlike in physical organism and mental make-up, differing entirely in origin and views of life, these two men were close personal friends, and throughout an eventful period of more than half a century, preserved an affectionate regard for each other.
Mr. Stephens was delicate, sensitive, conservative, and sagacious, while Toombs was impetuous, overpowering, defiant, and masterful. Stephens was small, swarthy, fragile, while Toombs was leonine, full-blooded, and majestic. And yet in peace and war these two men walked hand in hand, and the last public appearance of Robert Toombs was when, bent and weeping, he bowed his gray head at the coffin and pronounced the funeral oration over Alexander Stephens.
In the General Assembly of 1843, Robert Toombs was a member of the house, but his ability and power had marked him as a candidate for Congress, and Mr. Stephens had already been promoted from the State Senate to a seat in the national legislature at Washington. The law requiring the State to choose congressmen on the district plan had been passed, and the General Assembly was then engaged in laying off the counties into congressional districts. The bill, as first reported, included the counties of Wilkes and Taliaferro in the second district of Georgia. Here was a problem. Toombs and Stephens had been named as Whig candidates for the Clay campaign of 1844. To have them clash would have been to deprive the State of their talents in the national councils. It would be interesting to speculate as to what would have been the result had these two men been opposed. Stephens was naturally a Union man, and was no very ardent advocate of slavery. Toombs inherited the traditions of the Virginia landowners. It is not improbable that the firmness of the one would have been a foil for the fire of the other. History might have been written differently had not the conference committee in the Georgia Legislature in 1843 altered the schedule of districts, placing Taliaferro in the seventh and Wilkes in the eighth Congressional district. Both were safely Whig, and the future Vice-President and premier of the Southern Confederacy now prepared for the canvass which was to plunge them into their duties as members of the national Congress.
Robert Toombs had already made his appearance in national politics in 1840. Although still a member of the Georgia Legislature, he took a deep interest in the success of the Whig ticket for President. His power as a stump speaker was felt in eastern Georgia, where the people gathered at the "log cabin and hard cider" campaigns. The most daring feat of young Toombs, just thirty years old, was in crossing the Savannah River and meeting George McDuffie, the great Democrat of South Carolina, then in the zenith of his fame. An eye-witness of this contest between the champions of Van Buren and Harrison declared that McDuffie was "harnessed lightning" himself. He was a nervous, impassioned speaker. When the rash young Georgian crossed over to Willington, S. C., to meet the lion in his den, Toombs rode horseback, and it was noticed that his shirt front was stained with tobacco juice, and yet Toombs was a remarkably handsome man. "Genius sat upon his brow, and his eyes were as black as death and bigger than an ox's." His presence captivated even the idolators of McDuffie. His argument and invective, his overpowering eloquence, linger in the memory of old men now. McDuffie said of him: "I have heard John Randolph of Roanoke, and met Burgess of Rhode Island, but this wild Georgian is a Mirabeau."
In 1844 Robert Toombs was a delegate to the Baltimore convention which nominated Henry Clay, and during this visit he made a speech in New York which attracted wide attention. It threatened to raise a storm about his head in Georgia. In his speech he arraigned Mr. Calhoun for writing his "sugar letter" to Louisiana, and for saying that he would protect sugar because it was the production of slave labor. Mr. Toombs declared: "If any discrimination is made between free and slave labor it ought to be in favor of free labor." "But," said he, "the Whigs of Georgia want no such partial protection as Mr. Calhoun offers; they want protection for all classes of labor and home industry. The Whigs protest against these efforts to prejudice the South against the North, or the North against the South. They have a common interest as well as a common history. The blood that was mingled at Yorktown and at Eutaw cannot be kept at enmity forever. The Whigs of Bunker Hill are the same as the Whigs of Georgia." Mr. Toombs was actually charged in this campaign with being an Abolitionist. He was accused of saying in a speech at Mallorysville, Ga., during the Harrison campaign, that slavery was "a moral and political evil." This was now brought up against him. Mr. Toombs admitted saying that slavery was a political evil. He wrote a ringing letter to his constituents, in which he declared that "the affected fear and pretended suspicion of a part of the Democratic press in relation to my views are well understood by the people. I have no language to express my scorn and contempt for the whole crew. I have no other reply to make to these common sewers of filth and falsehood. If I had as many arms as Briareus they would be too few to correct the misrepresentations of speeches I have made in the past six months."
It was on the 3d of October, 1844, that Robert Toombs spoke at a memorable political meeting in Augusta, Ga. Augusta was in the heart of the district which he was contesting for Congress, and the Democrats, to strengthen their cause, brought over McDuffie from South Carolina. Large crowds were present in the shady yard surrounding the City Hall; seats had been constructed there, while back in the distance long trenches were dug, and savory meats were undergoing the famous process of barbecue. Speaking commenced at ten o'clock in the morning, and, with a short rest for dinner, there were seven hours of oratory. People seldom tired in those days of forensic meetings. Toombs was on his mettle. He denounced the Democrats for dragging the slavery question before the people to operate upon their fears. It was a bugbear everlastingly used to cover up the true question at issue. It was kept up to operate on the fears of the timid and the passions and prejudices of the unsuspecting.
The young Whig then launched into a glowing defense of the National Bank. The Democrats had asked where was the authority to charter a bank? He would reply, "Where was the authority, in so many words, to build lighthouses? Democrats were very strict constructionists when it was necessary to accomplish their political purposes, but always found a way to get around these doubts when occasion required." He taunted McDuffie with having admitted that Congress had power to charter a bank.
Mr. Toombs contended that a tariff, with the features of protection to American industry, had existed since the foundation of the government. This great system of "plunder" had been supported by Jefferson. Eloquently warming up under the Democratic charge that the tariff was a system of robbery, Mr. Toombs appealed to every Whig and Democrat as an American who boasted of this government as "a model to all nations of the earth; as the consummation of political wisdom; who asks the oppressed of all nations to come and place himself under its protection, because it upholds the weak against the strong and protects the poor against the rich, whether it has been going on in a system of plunder ever since it sprang into power." "It is not true," he said, "it is not true!"
Turning with prophetic ken to his Augusta friends, he asked what would be the effect were the Savannah River turned through the beautiful plains of Augusta, and manufactures built up where the industrious could find employment. Hundreds of persons, he said, would be brought together to spin the raw cotton grown in the State, to consume the provisions which the farmers raised, thus diversifying their employment and increasing their profits. "Would any man tell me," shouted the orator, his eyes blazing, and his arms uplifted, "that this would impoverish the country—would make paupers of the people? To increase the places where the laborer may sell his labor would never make him a pauper. Be controlled," said he, "in the administration of government and in all other things, by the improvement of the age. Do not tie the living to the dead. Others may despise the lights of science or experience; they have a right, if they choose, to be governed by the dreams of economists who have rejected practical evidence. But no such consistency is mine. I will have none of it."
McDuffie in his speech declared that all the plundering which England had been subjected to from the days of Hengist and Horsa could not equal the plundering which the people of the exporting States had sustained.
Toombs answered that if a man must pay tax to sustain the government it was better he should pay it in such a way as to benefit his own countrymen than for the benefit of foreign manufacturers and foreign capitalists.
Mr. Toombs alluded to a letter of James K. Polk to a Pennsylvania manufacturer, as leaning toward protection.
McDuffie said that Polk's letter was "composed for that meridian."
"Henry Clay does not need an interpreter," cried Toombs. "He is the same in the North as in the South. He would rather be right than President."
"Dallas, the Democratic nominee for vice president, is a high-tariff man," said Toombs. "He voted for the tariff of 1832 and against the compromise measures. Although the sword was drawn to drink the blood of McDuffie's friends in Carolina, Dallas would still adhere to his pound of flesh."
Toombs concluded his great reply to McDuffie: "We have lived under the present order of things for fifty years, and can continue to live under it for one thousand years to come, if the people of the South are but content to stand upon their rights as guaranteed in the Constitution, and not work confusion by listening to ambitious politicians: by taking as much pains to preserve a good understanding with our Northern brethren, the vast majority of whom are inclined to respect the limitations of the Constitution."
This was perhaps the greatest political meeting Georgia ever held. Politics were at white heat. Toombs and McDuffie each spoke two hours. The campaign cry was for the Whigs: "Clay, Frelinghuysen, Toombs, and our glorious Union," and by the Democrats: "Polk, Dallas, Texas, and Oregon." It was Whig vs. Loco-foco. The Whig leaders of the South were Pettigru, Thompson, and Yeadon of South Carolina, Merriweather, Toombs, and Stephens, of Georgia, while the Democratic lights were McDuffie, Rhett, and Pickens of South Carolina, and Charlton, Cobb, Colquitt, and Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia.
The campaign of 1844 was bitter in Georgia. The Whigs carried the burden of a protective tariff, while the memories of nullification and the Force bill were awakened by a ringing letter from George M. Troup, condemning the tariff in his vigorous style. This forced Mr. Toombs, in his letter accepting the congressional nomination, to review the subject in its relation to the States' Rights party in Georgia. "The tariff of 1824," said he, "which was voted for by Andrew Jackson, carried the principle of protection further than any preceding one. Jackson was the avowed friend of the protective policy, yet he received the vote of Georgia, regardless of party. In 1828 the Harrisburg convention demanded additional protection, and this measure was carried through Congress by the leading men of the Democratic party. It created discontent in the South, and the Act of 1832 professed to modify the tariff—but this measure not proving satisfactory was 'nullified' by South Carolina. General Jackson then issued his proclamation which pronounced principles and issues utterly at war with the rights of the States, and subversive of the character of the government. The opponents of consolidating principles went into opposition. Delegates met in Milledgeville in 1833, adopted the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, denounced the sentiments of Jackson's proclamation, and affirmed the doctrine of States' Rights."
"The Democratic party was then," said Toombs, "cheek by jowl with the whole tariff party in the United States, sustaining General Jackson, and stoutly maintaining that the leaders of that spirited little band in our sister State, whose talent shed a glory over their opposition, deserved a halter. They sustained John C. Forsythe in voting against the Compromise bill—that peace offering of the illustrious Henry Clay."
Mr. Toombs declared in this campaign that the effect of a tariff on the productive industries of a country has been a disputed question among the wisest statesmen for centuries, and that these influences are subject to so many disturbing causes, both foreign and domestic, that they are incapable of being reduced to fixed principles. Mr. Toombs did not hesitate, however, to condemn "the theories of the South Carolina school of politics."
Mr. Toombs opposed the acquisition of Texas. He did not believe the North would consent. "It matters not," he said, "that Mexico is weak, that the acquisition is easy. The question is just the same: Is it right, is it just, is it the policy of this country to enlarge its territory by conquest? The principle is condemned by the spirit of the age, by reason, and by revelation. A people who love justice and hate wrong and oppression cannot approve it. War in a just cause is a great calamity to any people, and can only be justified by the highest necessity. A people who go to war without just and sufficient cause, with no other motive than pride and love of glory, are enemies to the human race and deserve the execration of all mankind. What, then, must be the judgment of a war for plunder?" He denounced the whole thing as a land job, and declared that he would rather have "the Union without Texas than Texas without the Union."
The Democratic opponent of Mr. Toombs in this canvass was Hon. Edward J. Black of Screven, who had been in Congress since 1838. The new district was safely Whig, but the young candidate had to fight the prestige of McDuffie and Troup and opposition from numberless sources. It was charged that he always voted in the Georgia Legislature to raise taxes. He retorted, "It is right to resort to taxation to pay the honest debt of a State. I did vote to raise taxes, and I glory in it. It was a duty I owed the State, and I would go to the last dollar to preserve her good name and honor."
While Mr. Toombs was making a speech in this canvass a man in the audience charged him with having voted for the free banking law and against the poor-school fund. "The gentleman," said Mr. Toombs, "seems to find pleasure in reveling in my cast-off errors. I shall not disturb him."
"How is this, Mr. Toombs," shouted a Democrat at another time, "here is a vote of yours in the house journal I do not like."
"Well, my friend, there are several there that I do not like: now what are you going to do about it?"
Especially was opposition bitter to Henry Clay. Cartoons were published from Northern papers, of Clay whipping a negro slave, with this inscription: "The Mill Boy of the Slashes." Pictures appeared in the Democratic papers of a human figure surmounted by a pistol, a bottle, and a deck of cards. To this a resume of Clay's misdeeds was appended:
"In 1805 quarreled with Colonel Davis of Kentucky, which led to his first duel. In 1808 challenged Humphrey Marshall, and fired three times at his breast. In 1825 challenged the great John Randolph, and fired once at his breast. In 1838 he planned the Cilley duel, by which a murder was committed and a wife made a mourner. In 1841, when sixty-five years old, and gray-headed, is under a five thousand dollar bond to keep the peace. At twenty-nine he perjured himself to secure a seat in the United States Senate. In 1824, made the infamous bargain with Adams by which he sold out for a six thousand dollar office. He is well known as a gambler and Sabbath-breaker."
But the eloquent Harry of the West had a large and devoted following. He visited Georgia in March of this year, and charmed the people by his eloquence and magnetism. Robert Toombs had met him at the social board and had been won by his superb mentality and fine manners. Women paid him the tribute of their presence wherever he spoke, and little children scattered flowers along his path. But the November election in Georgia, as elsewhere, was adverse to the party of Henry Clay. Toombs and Stephens were sent to Congress, but the electoral vote of Georgia was cast for Polk and Dallas, and the Whigs, who loved Clay as a father, regarded his defeat as a personal affliction as well as a public calamity.
IN THE LOWER HOUSE.
Robert Toombs took his seat in the twenty-ninth Congress in December, 1845. The Democrats organized the House by the election of John W. Davis of Indiana, Speaker. The House was made up of unusually strong men, who afterward became noted in national affairs. Hannibal Hamlin was with the Maine delegation; ex-President John Quincy Adams had been elected from Massachusetts with Robert C. Winthrop; Stephen A. Douglas was there from Illinois; David Wilmot from Pennsylvania; R. Barnwell Rhett and Armistead Burt from South Carolina; Geo. C. Droomgoole and Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, were members, as were Henry W. Hilliard and W. L. Yancey of Alabama, Jefferson Davis and Jacob Thompson of Mississippi, and John Slidell of Louisiana. Toombs, Stephens, and Cobb were the most prominent figures in the Georgia delegation.
The topics uppermost in the public mind of that day were the Oregon question, Texas, and the ubiquitous tariff. It looked at one time as if war with Great Britain were unavoidable. President Polk occupied an extreme position, and declared in his message to Congress that our title to the whole of Oregon was clear. The boundary of the ceded territory was unsettled. The Democrats demanded the occupation of Oregon, with the campaign cry of "fifty-four forty or fight."
Mr. Toombs did not accept President Polk's position. His first speech in the House was made January 12, 1846, and at once placed him in the front rank of orators and statesmen. He said that it was not clear to him that our title was exceptional up to 54 deg.40'. Our claim to the territory north of the Columbia River was the Spanish title only, and this had been an inchoate right.
Mr. Toombs wanted the question settled by reason. He impetuously declared that "neither the clamors within nor without this hall, nor the ten thousand British cannon, floating on every ship, or mounted on every island, shall influence my decision in a question like this." He was for peace—for honorable peace. "It is the mother of all the virtues and hopes of mankind." No man would go further than he to obtain honorable peace; but dishonorable peace was worse than war—it was the worst of all evil.
War was the greatest and the most horrible of calamities. Even a war for liberty itself was rarely compensated by the consequences. "Yet the common judgment of mankind consigned to lasting infamy the people who would surrender their rights and freedom for the sake of a dishonest peace."
"Let us," cried the speaker, turning to his Southern colleagues, "let us repress any unworthy sectional feeling which looks only to the attainment of sectional power."
His conclusion was an apotheosis of Georgia as a Union State. He said: "Mr. Speaker, Georgia wants peace, but she would not for the sake of peace yield any of her own or the nation's rights. A new career of prosperity is now before her; new prospects, bright and fair, open to her vision and lie ready for her grasp, and she fully appreciates her position. She has at length begun to avail herself of her advantages by forming a great commercial line between the Atlantic and the West. She is embarking in enterprises of intense importance, and is beginning to provide manufactures for her unpaid laborers. She sees nothing but prosperity ahead, and peace is necessary in order to reveal it; but still, if war must come, if it has been decreed that Oregon must be consecrated to liberty in the blood of the brave and the sufferings of the free, Georgia will be found ready with her share of the offering, and, whatever may be her sacrifice, she will display a magnanimity as great as the occasion and as prolonged as the conflict."
Mr. Toombs indorsed the conservative action of the Senate, which forced President Polk from his extreme position and established the parallel of 49 deg. as the northern boundary.
The tariff bill of 1846 was framed, as President Polk expressed it, in the interest of lower duties, and it changed the basis of assessment from specific, or minimum duties, to duties ad valorem.
Mr. Toombs made a most elaborate speech against this bill in July, 1846. If his Oregon speech had shown thorough familiarity with the force and effect of treaties and the laws of nations, his tariff speech proved him a student of fiscal matters and a master of finance. His genius, as Jefferson Davis afterward remarked, lay decidedly in this direction. Mr. Toombs announced in his tariff speech that the best of laws, especially tax laws, were but approximations of human justice. He entered into an elaborate argument to controvert the idea that low tariff meant increased revenue. The history of such legislation, he contended, had been that the highest tariff had raised the most money. Mr. Toombs combated the ad valorem principle of levying duty upon imports.
Mr. Toombs declared to his constituents in September, 1846, that the President had marched his army into Mexico without authority of law. "The conquest and dismemberment of Mexico, however brilliant may be the success of our arms," said he, "will not redound to the glory of our republic."
The Whigs approached the Presidential campaign of 1848 with every chance of success. They still hoped that the Sage of Ashland might be the nominee. George W. Crawford, ex-Governor of Georgia, and afterward member of the Taylor Cabinet, perceiving that the drift in the West was against Mr. Clay, offered a resolution in the Whig convention that "whatever may have been our personal preferences, we feel that in yielding them at the present time, we are only pursuing Mr. Clay's own illustrious example." Mr. Toombs stated to his constituents that Clay could not be nominated because Ohio had declared that no man who had opposed the Wilmot Proviso could get the vote of that State. The Whigs, who had opposed the Mexican war, now reaped its benefits by nominating one of its heroes to the Presidency, and Zachary Taylor of Louisiana became at once a popular candidate. Millard Fillmore of New York was named for vice president, and "Rough and Ready" clubs were soon organized in every part of Georgia. The venerable William H. Crawford headed the Whig electoral ticket in Georgia, while Toombs, Stephens, and Thomas W. Thomas led the campaign.
The issue of the campaign in Georgia was the Clayton compromise which the Georgia senators had sustained, but which Stephens and Toombs had defeated in the House. This compromise proposed that all questions concerning slavery in the governments of the ceded territory be referred to the Supreme Court of the United States. Mr. Toombs declared that the Mexican law prohibiting slavery was still valid and would so remain; that Congress and not the courts must change this law.
The Clayton compromise, Mr. Toombs said, was only intended as "the Euthanasia of States' Rights. When our rights are clear, security for them should be free from all ambiguity. We ought never to surrender territory, until it shall be wrested from us as we have wrested it from Mexico. Such a surrender would degrade and demoralize our section and disable us for effective resistance against future aggression. It is far better that this new acquisition should be the grave of the republic than of the rights and honor of the South—and, from present indications, to this complexion it must come at last."
Mr. Toombs demanded that what was recognized by law as property in the slaveholding States should be recognized in the Mexican territory. "This boon," he pleaded, "may be worthless, but its surrender involves our honor. We can permit no discrimination against our section or our institutions in dividing out the common property of the republic. Their rights are not to be abandoned, or bartered away in presidential elections."
So Toombs and Stephens were central figures in this national campaign. It was during this canvass that Mr. Stephens became embroiled with Judge Francis H. Cone, a prominent lawyer of Georgia and a near neighbor. Mr. Stephens heard that Judge Cone had denounced him as a traitor for moving to table the Clayton compromise. Stephens had retorted sharply that if Cone had said this he would slap his face. After some correspondence the two men met in Atlanta, September 4, 1848. The trouble was renewed; Judge Cone denounced Mr. Stephens, who rapped him over the shoulders with a whalebone cane. Mr. Stephens was a fragile man, and Judge Cone, with strong physique, closed in and forced him to the floor. During the scuffle Mr. Stephens was cut in six places. His life for a while was despaired of. Upon his recovery he was received with wild enthusiasm by the Whigs, who cheered his pluck and regarded his return to the canvass as an omen of victory.
Shortly afterward he wrote to Mrs. Toombs, thanking her for her interest and solicitude during his illness. He managed to write with his left hand, as he could not use his right. "I hope," he says, "I will be able to take the stump again next week for old Zach. I think Mr. Toombs has had the weight of the canvass long enough, and though he has done gallant service, this but inspires me with the wish to lend all aid in my power. I think we shall yet be able to save the State. My faith is as strong as Mr. Preston's which, you know, was enough to move mountains. I got a letter the other day from Mr. C——, who gives it as his opinion that Ohio would go for General Taylor. If so, he will be elected. And you know how I shall hail such a result."
During Mr. Stephens' illness Mr. Toombs canvassed many of the counties in the Stephens district. Both men were reelected to Congress, and Zachary Taylor received the electoral vote of Georgia over Lewis Cass of Michigan, and was elected President of the United States.
The Democrats, who put out a candidate this year against Mr. Toombs, issued an address which was evidently not inspired by the able and deserving gentleman who bore their standard, but was intended as a sharp rebuke to Mr. Toombs. It is interesting as showing how he was regarded by his friends, the enemy.
"Of an age when life's illusions have vanished," they said of the Democratic candidate, "he has no selfish aspirations, no vaulting ambition to carry him astray: no vanity to lead where it is glory enough to follow." They accorded to Mr. Toombs "a very showy cast of talent—better suited to the displays of the stump than the grave discussions of the legislative hall. His eloquence has that sort of splendor mixed with the false and true which is calculated to dazzle the multitude. He would rather win the applause of groundlings by some silly tale than gain the intelligent by the most triumphant course of reasoning." Mr. Toombs carried every county in the district and was returned to Congress by 1681 majority.
When Mr. Toombs returned to Washington he had commanded national prominence. He had not only carried his State for Zachary Taylor, but his speech in New York, during a critical period of the canvass, had turned the tide for the Whig candidate in the country. Toombs and Stephens naturally stood very near the administration. They soon had reason to see, however, that the Taylor Cabinet was not attentive to Southern counsels.
During the fight over the compromise measure in Congress the Northern papers printed sensational accounts of a rupture between President Taylor and Messrs. Toombs and Stephens. According to this account the Georgia congressmen called on the President and expressed strong disapprobation of his stand upon the bill to organize the Territory of New Mexico. It was said that they even threatened to side with his opponents to censure him upon his action in the case of Secretary Crawford and the Golphin claim. The President, the article recited, was very much troubled over this interview and remained despondent for several days. He took his bed and never rallied, dying on the 9th of July, 1850. Mr. Stephens published a card, promptly denying this sensation. He said that neither he nor his colleague Mr. Toombs had visited the President at all during or previous to his last illness, and that no such scene had occurred.
Toombs and Stephens, in fact, were warm personal friends of George W. Crawford, who was Secretary of War in Taylor's Cabinet. He had served with them in the General Assembly of Georgia and had twice been Governor of their State. The Golphin claim, of which Governor Crawford had been agent, had been collected from the Secretary of the Treasury while Governor Crawford was in the Cabinet, but President Taylor had decided that as Governor Crawford was at the head of an entirely different department of the government, he had been guilty of no impropriety. After the death of President Taylor, Governor Crawford returned to Augusta and was tendered a public dinner by his fellow-citizens, irrespective of party. He delivered an eloquent and feeling address. He made an extensive tour abroad, then lived in retirement in Richmond County, enjoying the respect and confidence of his neighbors.