Southern men, especially white Southern men, have been both mocked and praised for their stubborn defense of lost causes. The most shameful examples, of course, are those of slavery and segregation. While it would be easy to paint antebellum Southern men with a broad anti-federalist, pro-slavery brush, one who defied those easy characterizations (while stubbornly fighting for his own lost causes) is Robert Toombs.
A United States Senator from Georgia, Toombs often found himself at odds with the majority. He opposed American claims on Mexican territory between the Nueces and the Rio Grande (to become part of the newly annexed stated of Texas) and opposed the resulting Mexican-American War. He supported the rights of slave owners and fought to keep the newly gained Western territories open to slavery. On the other hand, he opposed the Nashville Convention, a gathering of Southern states to consider secession should slavery be banned in the territories.
He fought against secessionists in Georgia, preferring a more diplomatic tack to resolve intersectional differences. However, following the election of Abraham Lincoln, he reported back to his home state, “secession by the 4th of March next should be thundered forth from the ballot-box by the united voice of Georgia.”
Following secession and the creation of the Confederate States of America, Toombs aimed to become its first president. Though he lost that bid, he was named the first Secretary of State. His defeat to Jefferson Davis, however, left him antagonistic toward the new government.
150 years ago today, on April 9, 1861, the Confederate cabinet endorsed Davis’ decision to seize the Union Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Toombs was the lone dissenting voice, presciently arguing in the defense of yet another lost cause,
“Mr. President, at this time it is suicide, murder, and will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet’s nest which extends from mountain to ocean, and legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal.”