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Lamar’s career blossoms after move here

By Jack Mayfield

In a publication of the “Library of Southern Literature,” historian Charles B. Galloway wrote the following of Justice L.Q.C. Lamar: “Born and educated in the State of Georgia, Lamar came to Mississippi in the morning of a brilliant manhood, and generously gave his adopted state all the powers of his splendid genius.”

In the 10 years before the Civil War, Justice Lamar would move from Oxford, Georgia, to Oxford, Mississippi and then back to Oxford, Georgia, and then again back to Oxford, Mississippi. When he finally settled in Oxford, Mississippi, he would be elected for the first time to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The main reasons, I believe, for Lamar’s moving back and forth between the two Oxfords are varied. His wife was the daughter of the new chancellor of the University of Mississippi and she wanted to be close to her father. He wanted to live the life of a gentleman planter with a law practice on the side. He wanted to enter politics and what better place to do all of these than Oxford, Mississippi.

Lamar was born in Putnam County, Georgia, on Sept. 17, 1825, the oldest of five children of L.Q.C. Lamar Sr. and his wife Sarah Williamson Bird. His father, who was a judge on the highest court in Georgia and the author of the “Laws of Georgia 1810 to 1819,” had attended the celebrated School of Law of Reeve and Gould in Litchfield, Connecticut. He would commit suicide, due to chronic depression in 1834 when the young Lucius was only 9.

The young widow of Lamar would move her family to Oxford, Georgia, which would play a prominent role in the life of her eldest son. In Oxford, he would meet the man that would become, as some historians state, his surrogate father. That man was Augustus B. Longstreet who was then president of Emory College and had been schooled in the law at the same law school as young Lucius’ father, the law school of Reeve and Gould.

In 1870, Lamar would state his love for Emory College, “No spot on Earth has so helped to form and make me what I am….” Lamar had graduated from Emory in 1845 at the young age of 20 and then he was admitted to the Bar of Georgia in 1847.

That same year he would marry the daughter of the college president that had helped him learn to navigate the pitfalls of the world and his new father-in-law would become the chancellor of the University of Mississippi. In 1850, Lamar would move his family to Oxford.

This move to Oxford, Mississippi, would have a great influence into making him what he became in his political life. But first he was to lead the life of a gentleman planter at his home, Solitude, near Abbeville, and the life of an academic at the university. Lamar was employed by the university to be an adjunct professor of mathematics. He would hold that position from 1850 to 1852.

In 1852, Lamar and his family would return to Georgia and live in Covington. He was elected a member of the Georgia House of Representatives in 1853, but he longed for his home and plantation in Oxford and Lafayette County and made it his home, on and off, during his life in Washington. In 1855, he would move back to Oxford, Mississippi, and make it his home until he died in 1893. He never purchased a home while serving the state in Washington and he always lived in a hotel.

Lamar’s main purpose in moving back to Mississippi was that he wanted the quiet, luxurious, literary life of the “Southern Planter.” This was the life that I wrote about last week. He wanted the same life that of Uncle Zachariah. But there was a more important and responsible service for his adopted state and for the country that Lamar was to later lead.

A man with his remarkable abilities and accomplishments could not sit on the sidelines for very long. He entered the race for Congressman from the First Congressional District of Mississippi in 1857. This had been the same seat that his friend and mentor, Jacob Thompson, held from 1839 to 1851. In fact, it was Thompson that first put Lamar’s name out to the Democratic Party members at a reception at his home. He defeated James L. Alcorn Jr. for the seat and started his life in national politics for his two countries, the USA and then the CSA, which would last from 1857 to 1893.

On the eve of the disruption of the Union, who could Mississippi have had that would be a more steadying force, and pragmatic at the same time? Lamar in the next three or four years would see the withdrawal of his state from the Union and he would be the author of the Ordinance of Secession for his adopted state. He had resigned his seat in Congress in 1860 when he saw the war clouds looming on the horizon and returned to Oxford and the university. He would hold the Chair of Ethics and Metaphysics at the university, but he was not too far away from the politics of the time.

Jack Mayfield is an Oxford resident and historian. Contact him at
jlmayfield@dixie-net.com.