Digital Library of Georgia > Materials from the Hargrett Library > Robert Toombs, Letters to Julia Ann DuBose Toombs, 1850-1867

Robert Toombs, letters to Julia Ann DuBose Toombs
Biographical Note

Robert Augustus Toombs was born July 27, 1810, in Wilkes County, Georgia, about 40 miles east of Athens. His parents, Major Robert Toombs and Catharine Huling Toombs, had three other children: Sarah Ann, James, and Augustus, and after Robert, another son, Gabriel Jr. Major Toombs died five years after Robert's birth.

Robert, or "Bob" Toombs as he came to be known, was from a long line of politically active men, and he was no exception. He began his career at Franklin College (from 1801 until 1859, the University of Georgia was only Franklin College) in Athens, Georgia, in 1824. Following a volatile history as a student, Toombs was expelled around 1827 and transfered to Union College in Schenectady, New York. He graduated from Union College in 1828 with a Bachelor of Arts. In 1829, Toombs began law studies at the University of Virginia. By March of 1830, the Bar at Elbert County, Georgia licensed him.

In the late fall of that same year, Robert Toombs married Julia Ann DuBose. Their first child, a son named Lawrence Catlett Toombs (incidentally, also the name of Toombs' half-brother by his father's deceased second wife), died in childhood. Their second child, a daughter named Mary Louisa Toombs, lived long enough to marry William Felix Alexander, but died shortly thereafter in February 1855. Their youngest daughter, Sallie, married General Dudley McIver DuBose, who served with her father during the Civil War; they had four children, but Sallie also died in 1866 while her father was in exile in Europe following the War.

From 1830 to 1837, Toombs practiced law as a circuit lawyer in the Georgian counties of Wilkes, Columbia, Oglethorpe, Elbert, Franklin, and Green. It was during these years when he met many of the men who would become prominent political figures in Georgia during the period: Charles J. Jenkins, a lawyer in Richmond County; Joseph Henry Lumpkin, Oglethorpe County; William C. Dawson, Greene County; Howell Cobb, Clarke County; and his great friend Alexander H. Stephens, Taliaferro County. Many of these names appear in his letters to his wife.

In 1837, he joined the Georgia government as a member of the lower House; between 1837 and 1843, he practiced law the majority of the year but attended the General Assembly in Milledgeville annually. Within that same time period, between 1840 and 1843, Toombs became partners-in-law with William M. Reese, who later became a judge. Toombs gradually became involved in national politics, and in 1845, he became a Congressman in the 29th Congress in December. On March 4, 1853 Toombs began his career as a U.S. senator. Toombs quickly and easily distinguished himself as an able orator, using the same speaking skills that won him so much acclaim as a lawyer in earlier years. He developed a reputation for speaking his mind and often incited criticism from his audiences. For example, he delivered an inflammatory pro-slavery lecture in Boston, a strongly anti-slavery northern state, during an 1856 political trip. In another instance, Toombs directly confronted squatters on his 30,000 acres in Texas.

Toombs' political opinions and positions were clear. He was a Whig (Republican) senator and therefore supportive of both a national bank and a protective tariff. In addition, he was pro-slavery and adamantly pro-states' rights. Between that time and 1861, Toombs acted as a Congressman in Washington, D.C., and though he maintained a home there, he periodically returned home to Washington, Georgia, until the Civil War. On January 7, 1861 he resigned from the Senate, in anticipation of Georgia's secession from the Union. When the Congress of Seceded States met on February 4, 1861 at Montgomery, Alabama, Toombs went as a Georgia delegate; however, on July 21, 1861, Toombs resigned his position and accepted a commission as Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. In 1862, he was involuntarily elected by the General Assembly as a Senator in the Confederate States Senate. Wanting to remain in the army, he declined.

After fighting in the war and gaining a reputation as a very capable officer, Toombs returned to his home in Washington, Georgia. The United States Government intended to arrest him as one of the major leaders of the Confederacy so Toombs escaped to Europe, where he spent at least a year in exile. His wife joined him for a period time, but upon the death of their daughter Sallie in 1866, she returned home. Unable to stay away from home any longer, Toombs returned from Paris on February 26, 1867. He landed in New Orleans, stayed for 2 days, went to Mobile where he stayed for a single day, and finally made the journey home. Though prepared to leave for Canada to protect himself, his wife, and their grandchildren, Toombs was able to remain in the country. In an April 1867 letter to his friend General John C. Breckinridge, Toombs lamented that upon his return, "everything looked much worse than I expected, changes had been rapid & radical, the spirit of the great body of the people wholly broken, bankruptcy & ruin widespread throughout the land the presence of physical wants absorbing the time & thoughts of all the people, & the best & truest people in utter despair at the prospect before them."

Between 1867 and 1877, Toombs resumed his law practice, and though he remained primarily in the South, he maintained his national reputation. His last case was in Oglethorpe County. In 1883, his wife Julia passed away. He followed two years later, at the age of seventy-five, on December 15, 1885.

Biographical Note by Megan J. Hall

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