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Robert Toombs

This article is from the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 and may contain errors

Robert Toombs (1810-1885), American political leader, was born near Washington, Wilkes county, Georgia, on the 2nd of July 1810. He was educated at Franklin College (university of Georgia), at Union College, Schenectady, New York, from which he graduated in 1828, and at the law school of the university of Virginia. He was admitted to the bar in 1830, and served in the Georgia House of Representatives (1838, 1840-1841 and 1843-1844), in the Federal House of Representatives (1845-1853), and in the United States Senate (1853-1861). He opposed the annexation of Texas, the Mexican War, President Folk's Oregon policy, and the Walker Tariff of 1846. In common with Alexander H. Stephens and Howell Cobb, he supported the Compromise Measures of 1850, denounced the Nashville Convention, opposed the secessionists in Georgia, and helped to frame the famous Georgia platform (1850). His position and that of Southern Unionists during the decade 1850-1860 has often been misunderstood. They disapproved of secession, not because they considered it wrong in principle, but because they considered it inexpedient. On the dissolution of the Whig party Toombs went over to the Democrats. He favoured the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, the admission of Kansas under the Lecompton Constitution, and the English Bill (1858), and on the 24th of June 1856 introduced in the Senate the Toombs Bill, which proposed a constitutional convention in Kansas under conditions which were acknowledged by various anti-slavery leaders as fair, and which mark the greatest concessions made by the pro-slavery senators during the Kansas struggle. The bill did not provide for the submission of the constitution to popular vote, and the silence on this point of the territorial law under which the Lecompton Constitution of Kansas was framed in 1857 was the crux of the Lecompton struggle (see KANSAS). In the presidential campaign of 1860 he supported John C. Breckinridge, and on the 22nd of December, soon after the election of Lincoln, sent a telegram to Georgia which asserted that " secession by the 4th of March next should be thundered forth from the ballot-box by the united voice of Georgia." He delivered a farewell address in the Senate (Jan. 7, 1861), returned to Georgia, and with Governor Joseph E. Brown led the fight for secession against Stephens and Herschel V. Johnson (1812-1880). His influence was a most powerful factor in inducing the "old-line Whigs " to support immediate secession. After a short term as secretary of state in President Davis's cabinet, he entered the army (July 21, 1861), and served first as a brigadier-general in the Army of Northern Virginia and after 1863 as adjutant and inspector-general of General G. W. Smith's division of Georgia militia. He then spent two years in exile in Cuba, France and England, but returned to Georgia in 1867, and resumed the practice of law. Owing to his refusal to take the oath of allegiance, he was never restored to the full rights of citizenship. He died at his home in Washington, Georgia, on the 15th of December 1885.