Toombs, Robert A.

Born: 1810-07-02 Wilkes County, Georgia

Died: 1885-12-15 Washington, Georgia

Born into a wealthy slaveholding planter family in Georgia, Robert A. Toombs originally attended Franklin College but was dismissed in 1828 and enrolled in Union College in New York. He graduated that year and began studying law at the University of Virginia. He was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1829, despite being a minor, and married Julia Ann DuBose in 1830, with whom he had three children. Toombs became involved in Whig politics and formed an alliance and friendship with follow Georgia Whig leader Alexander H. Stephens. After serving in the Creek War as a militia lieutenant, Toombs won election to the Georgia General Assembly in 1836 and remained there until 1843, although he was absent in 1841. In 1844, voters elected him to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served until 1852. During his tenure, he followed his fellow Whigs, such as Abraham Lincoln, in opposing the annexation of Texas and the expansionist policies of James K. Polk.

Beginning with the Wilmot Proviso and the movement to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, Toombs became increasingly radical and began to support possible disunion. He was integral to the formation of the Georgia Constitutional Union Party, which selected him for the U.S. Senate in 1853. However, he switched to the Democratic Party in 1855 and increasingly supported southern nationalism. He supported the pro-slavery movement in Kansas and publicly stated that John C. Fremont's election in 1856 would lead to secession. He supported John C. Breckinridge in the 1860 election and, by that point, had become a key member of the southern "Fire Eaters."

Following Abraham Lincoln's election, Toombs resigned his Senate seat and attended Georgia's secession convention. He helped establish the Confederate government and Jefferson Davis appointed him secretary of state. Although his responsibilities were limited, Toombs was responsible for the eventual dispatch of James M. Mason and John Slidell to Europe, which resulted in the Trent Affair but did not win recognition of the Confederacy from the United Kingdom or France. Frustrated by the lack of activity in his department, Toombs resigned in July 1861 and secured a commission as brigadier general in what would become the Army of Northern Virginia. Toombs' leadership of a brigade of Georgians was largely ineffectual and problematic with the significant exception of his conduct at the Battle of Antietam, where he held the Confederate right flank at Burnside Bridge for hours with a dramatically outnumbered force. After the battle, he lobbied for promotion to major general and resigned in March 1863 when it was denied. Returning to Georgia, Toombs spent the remainder of the war protesting the centralizing policies of the Davis administration.

Michael Chesson, "Toombs, Robert Augustus," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 21:749-50; William C. Davis, The Union that Shaped the Confederacy: Robert Toombs & Alexander H. Stephens (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001); William Y. Thompson, Robert Toombs of Georgia (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1966).