Robert Augustus Toombs


Biographical Information: Born: July 2nd, 1810, in Wilkes County, GA. Died: Dec. 15th, 1885, in Washington, GA. Political Stature: An American Southern Antebellum Politician--turned to an extreme secessionist. Schooling: Attended Georgia University, but graduated from Union College in N.Y. in 1828. Law: Admitted to the bar in 1830, and began his own practice in Washington, GA. Which was very successful. During this time he developed a large plantation and owned many slaves in Southwest GA. Georgia Legislature: Served from 1837-1840, and from 1842-1843, and was considered an expert in fiscal matters. U.S. House of Representative: He was a Whig, and joined in 1844; was also re-elected in 46', 48', and 50'.

He was a strong thick man who spoke with a tremendous vitality and was seen as an "indomitable warrior," and an everlasting symbol of the days when "Georgia was Georgia," as written. He spoke very fast and had no inhibitions about his opinions or remarks in conversation. He was described sometimes as an incessant talker, and a well articulated, yet looselipped orator. And one even suggested it was impossible to take in everything he said, suggesting, "it would be comparatively an easier task to gather up a handful of gold dust fired from a shotgun."

Toombs spoke strongly and without reservation of his enemies and showed no concern for the consequences. It was said he enjoyed shocking the newspapers of the north. Topics such as slavery branded him unreconstructed, as he thought very little of the African-American race.

{As might be expected from one so unreconstructed, Toombs thought little of the Negro in the role of citizen. "You might as well expect a ball to maintain itself in the air with our support and against the laws of physics, than that this people shoud become an element in our social system," he once said. And again, "They are a lower order of human beings." On one of his last visits to Atlanta, a reporter confronted him again with the problem of the Negro in Southern Society. Toombs replied: "I have placed my opinion of the negro on record ..... and I stand by every word of it. I have always maintained, and still hold, that so long as the African and Caucasian races co-exist in the same society, the subordination of the African is the necessary, proper, and normal condition, and that such subordination is the condition best calculated to promote the highest interest and greatest happiness of both races and consequently of society at large."} Robert Toombs of Georgia by William Y. Thompson.

Here is Toombs delivering an oration at Emory College, again expressing strong racial views, but this in a well organized speech: "The slaveholders, acting upon these principles, finding the Africans already among them in slavery, unfit to be intrusted with political power, and incapable as freemen of either securing their own happiness or promoting the public prosperity, recognised their condition as slaves and subjected it to legal control. The justice and policy of this decision have both been greatly questioned, and both must depend upon the soundness of the assumptions upon which it was based. I hold that they were sound and true, and that the African is unfit to be intrusted with political power and incapable as a freeman of securing his own happiness or contributing to the public prosperity, and that whenever the two races co-exist a state of slavery is best for him and for society. And under it in our country he is in a better condition than any he has ever attained in any other age and country, ither in bondage or freedom....."

In 1850, Toombs began to emerge as a state's rights leader and secessionist. Demanding, then, that the south had just as much right to the new territories as the North. At this time, he made his Hamilcar Speech which made him famous throughout the South: "She will divide with you if you wish it; but the right to enter all or divide I shall never surrender. In my judgment this right, involving as it does political equality, is worth a thousand times more valuable than this. I speak not for others but for myself. Deprive us of this right and appropriate this common property to yourselves, it is then your government, not mine. Then I am its enemy, and I will then, if I can, bring my children and my constituents to the altar of liberty, and like Hamilcar I would swear them to eternal hostility to your foul domination. Give us our just rights, and we are ready, as ever heretofore, to stand by the Union, every part of it, and its every interest. Refuse it and for one I will strike for independence."

Alexander Stephens, Toombs best friend and colleague considered this impromptu speech the greatest sensation ever witnessed in the House.

On Febuary 4th, 1861 Toombs met with other seceding states, including that of his own, Georgia, in Montgomery with hopes to ignite a Southern Union.

Toombs was upset at not being named president of the Confederacy, which was given to Jefferson Davis. So he accepted the position of Secretary of state, which he later grew contemptuous of under Davis. He then requested a military position as Commander of the Georgia Brigade. As a Commander, Toombs wanted to battle and disagreed with the defensive policy his superiors had enforced. Disappointed, Toombs once said the epitaph of the Confederate Army should read, "Died of West Point," referring to his superior officers, and then about Davis he said, "We shall get our independence, but it will be in spite of him." This revealed his temperment and control as a defective politician.

Toombs disagreed with and chose to expose the errors and oppressions of the government.He wanted his policies activated, so he ran for the second time to the Confederate Senate, but was defeated. Then came the fall of the Confederacy, and Toombs still wanted to overthrow what he saw as Radical rule. In 1877, he welcomed the policies of President Hayes and his plans to end Reconstruction, and disapproved of the Northern Democrats criticism, saying, "They fear it may split the party. So much the better if it does. It certainly needs sifting and cleansing..... they do not want to redress, but grievances to complain of. While it may be fun for the children it is death to the frogs. I hope Hayes will put honest men in office at the South and care not a copper for their politics."

That same year he contributed greatly to the state's revised Constitution in favor of White Supremacy, during and after Reconstruction. Toomb's last action under legislation was to seek state control over railroads and corporations.

Toombs statesman like image began to come apart. Overzealous about Southern Independence, he was convinced that breaking down the Union would insure Republican victory, but this was not a majority consensus. And during the Civil War, he became so aggravated with Jefferson Davis and the West Point Generals, whom he felt were unworthy, that he didn't provide much service to the Conferderate Government he fought for. Toombs became so disapproving and seemingly anal toward the politics of the New South, he denounced many and their ideas, which eventually lost him a great deal of his powerful influence. These be the reasons for his failure.

It was suggested that he had the potential for greatness, with his charismatic abilities and vivacious energy, but he failed to respond to the changing times.

He is most known for helping shape Georgia's state constitution and providing legal counsel for that state, but could have achieved much more.

In my opinion, Robert Toombs was consumed by the desire for power and control. If it meant the oppression of an entire race, or the secession from a thriving union, or the ignorance to conform to greater changes in American Society, then so be it lived Toombs. Stuck in the history that preceded him, were his efforts to be a part of history, stubborn and rooted to the way things were, and blinded toward the way things are and should be.

Thomas Rodney, MTR 9525