Robert Toombs was
a U.S. congressman, U.S. senator, Confederate secretary of
state, and Confederate general. He was born near Washington,
Georgia, on July 2, 1810, to Catharine Huling Toombs and Robert
Toombs, a wealthy planter. He attended Franklin College (now
the University of Georgia) in Atlanta (1824-1828), but was
expelled for various offenses before graduation. He transferred
to Union College in Schenectady, New York, where he completed
his degree in the summer of 1828. After a year at the
University of Virginia Law School (where he ranked last in his
class), Toombs began practicing law in Georgia. In 1830, he
married Julia Ann DuBose; they later had three children. The
next year, he joined the state militia as a lieutenant, and saw
action in the Creek War of 1836. He served in the Georgia House
of Representatives (1837-1839, 1841-1843) before being elected
to Congress in 1844 as a Whig.
In the U.S. House (1845-1853), Toombs opposed the policies of
Democratic president James K. Polk (1845-1849), espoused the
Whig doctrines of protective tariffs and a national bank, and
supported the Compromise of 1850. During the 1850s, Toombs
and his allies, Alexander Stephens and Howell Cobb, dominated
Georgia politics. In 1851, the three founded the
short-lived Constitutional Union Party, which won control of the
state legislature and elected Toombs to the U.S. Senate.
In the Senate, Toombs continued to affiliate with the Whigs
until the party collapsed in the mid-1850s. He supported
Stephen Douglas and his
Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, and endorsed
the Democratic slate in the Georgia elections the next year.
As sectional tensions increased in the late 1850s, Toombs
became increasingly radical. He condemned the anti-slavery
legislature in the Kansas Territory, defended Congressman
Preston Brooks’s caning of Senator Charles Sumner, and argued
that the election of Republican presidential nominee John C.
Frémont in 1856 would justify Southern secession. Toombs
angrily resigned from the Senate in January 1861 before
Republican Abraham Lincoln took office as president, and
returned to Georgia as a delegate to the state convention that
voted to secede from the Union. He represented Georgia at the
provisional congress of the Confederate government in
Montgomery, Alabama, but his bouts of drunkenness ended his
chances of being elected president. He was appointed the first
Confederate secretary of state, but was unable to secure
official recognition of the Confederacy by Britain and France.
The temperamental Toombs soon resigned as Confederate
secretary of state on July 24, 1861, and joined the Confederate
army as a brigadier general. Although popular with his men,
Toombs proved to be a poor military commander, and was arrested
twice for insulting a superior officer. Although he did perform
well at the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), he resigned
on March 4, 1863, after being passed over for promotion. For
the rest of the war, he criticized the military draft,
suspension of habeas corpus, and other policies of the
Confederate government. He escaped capture at the end of the
war by fleeing to Europe.
1867, Toombs returned to Georgia and resumed his law practice.
He refused to ask for a pardon, so remained disfranchised during
Reconstruction. He remained committed to the Confederate “Lost
Cause” and denounced the “New Departure” Democrats who wanted to
put the issues of the Civil War behind them. In 1883, his wife,
who had gone insane, died, and he retired, spending his final
years blind and alcoholic. Toombs died in Washington, Georgia,
on December 15, 1885.