The American Civil War Erupts: The Attack on Fort Sumter
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Robert Augustus Toombs

Title: Robert Toombs
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Politician, diplomat, and Confederate Army officer. Born in Washington, Georgia, on July 2, 1810, Robert Augustus Toombs attended Franklin College but graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York, in 1828. He attended the University of Virginia law school before being admitted to the Georgia bar in 1830. The next year he was appointed second lieutenant in the Washington Guards of Wilkes County, Georgia, and in 1836 saw duty as a captain during a Creek revolt.

Toombs represented Wilkes County in Georgia's lower legislative assembly for two terms between 1836 and 1842 as a Whig. In 1844 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he endorsed the Mexican-American War. Reelected in 1846, he criticized the war effort. Toombs disliked the 1846 Wilmot Proviso and worried about U.S. territorial acquisition because it stirred sectional tensions over the expansion of slavery.

In 1848 Toombs urged Zachary Taylor's presidential nomination on the Whig ticket, won reelection, and called for disunion if Congress violated Southern interests in California and New Mexico and if slavery was abolished in Washington, D.C. In 1851 Toombs became a U.S. senator, endorsing the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act's dismissal of the Missouri Compromise and advocating popular sovereignty for slavery in the territories.

By 1855 Toombs had gravitated toward the Democrats. Reelected to the Senate in 1857, he articulated Southern Democratic expectations. By December 1859 he foresaw disunion unless a Southern Democrat won the presidency in 1860. Republican Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860 occasioned the fiery Toombs to declare on November 13, 1860, his section of the country to be unsafe within the Union. Despite fear of so-called Black Republicans and their alleged menace to slavery, he proposed conciliation through constitutional amendments that would ensure Southern rights. Seeing that conciliation was impossible, on December 23 he advocated Georgia's departure from the Union and the next month attended its secessionist convention. He was chosen by the Georgian convention on February 4 to serve at the Montgomery Convention, where he lost his bid for the Confederate presidency to Jefferson Davis.

Soon after the Montgomery Convention, Davis appointed Toombs secretary of state. In that position he sought cordial ties with Mexico because it was a source of Southern provisions. However, he was miserable in his post and contemptuous of Davis's policies. On July 24, 1861, Toombs quit and received a commission as brigadier general.

Toombs fought well in the Seven Days' Campaign (June 25–July 1, 1862) and in several other battles including at Antietam (September 17, 1862), where he was severely wounded. In 1863 he resigned his commission, having been passed over for promotion and resenting Davis and his war policies. In August, Toombs became a colonel in the Georgia Militia, took sick, went home to convalesce, and then returned to his unit at Augusta.

Toombs came to dislike Davis enormously and remained one of his harshest critics. Toombs held in contempt West Point officers, denounced conscription, opposed supply impressments, condemned paper money issues, and protested martial law as well as the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

At war's end in 1865, Toombs evaded Union arrest and fled abroad. He returned to Georgia two years later. There he practiced law, administered his land investments, and dabbled in Democratic politics, although he never again held elected office. Toombs died in Washington, Georgia, on December 15, 1885.

Rodney J. Ross


Further Reading
Davis, William C. The Union That Shaped the Confederacy: Robert Toombs and Alexander H. Stephens. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001; Phillips, Ulrich B. The Life of Robert Toombs. New York: Macmillan, 1913; Thompson, William Y. Robert Toombs of Georgia. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1966.
 

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