Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (1825-1893)

   I can think of no better politician to post first than the man who occupied the #1 slot on the political strange names list for over a decade: Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar of Mississippi. One of the most eminent politicians of his day, Lamar served in a variety of public offices during his life, both at the state and national level. He was named after his father, who himself was named in honor of the Roman General and aristocrat Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. Public service (as well as a penchant for odd names) are of some note in the Lamar family. Besides having a father who served as a jurist, Lucius Lamar II also had two prominent uncles, Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar (a former President of the Texas Republic and later Minister to Nicaragua) and Gazaway Bugg Lamar, a Confederate banker, businessman, and financier. Lucius Q.C. Lamar Sr. was a distinguished jurist in Georgia and in 1830 was named to a seat on the Superior Court of that state for the Ocmulgee district. Strangely, he committed suicide on July 4, 1834, allegedly because he had sentenced a man to death for a crime he hadn't committed. This account of Lamar's suicide bears scrutiny, and other sources relate that he had suffered from a deep depression for several months leading up to taking his own life.
   Lucius Q.C. Lamar II was born on September 17, 1825, near Eatonton, Georgia. He attended Emory University and graduated from this institution in the class of 1845. He married in 1847 to Ms. Virginia Longstreet (1826-1884), the daughter of former Emory College president Augustus Baldwin Longstreet and in 1849 traveled with his father-in-law to Mississippi, where he took on a mathematics professorship at the newly established University of Mississippi. In addition to his teaching career, Lamar opened a law practice in the city of Oxford, and later established a cotton plantation in the nearby town of Abbeville. Lamar and his wife Virginia later became the parents of four children, Frances Eliza (1849-1923), Lucius Q.C. Lamar III (1854-1936), Sarah Augusta (1860-1926) and Virginia Longstreet (1865-1884). Lucius III followed in his father's footsteps and became a public official, serving as a receiver of the General Land Office in Washington for a number of years.
   Lucius Q.C. Lamar remained in the Mississippi area until 1852, when he relocated back to Georgia. He made his first jump into politics in 1853, when he ran for and was elected to the Georgia State House of Representatives. He moved back to Mississippi in 1855 and in the following year won election to the U.S. House of Representatives, ultimately serving until 1860. At the outbreak of the Civil War that year, Lamar resigned his congressional seat to join in his state's Secession movement, and later helped draft the Mississippi Ordinance of Secession. 

                  The Mississippi Congressional delegation that resigned in 1860. Lucius Lamar is located at 
                  bottom left, while fellow strangely named congressman Otho Robards Singleton is shown at 
                  top right. Confederate President Jefferson Davis is shown at the very top of the print.

   In 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis appointed Lamar as Confederate Minister to Russia, and later as Special Envoy to England and France. After the conclusion of the Civil War, he resumed his earlier career as a professor, teaching social science and law at the University of Mississippi. In addition to this Lamar was also a delegate to Mississippi's constitutional conventions before being returned to Congress as a Representative in 1873. His election took place after he had sworn allegiance to the Union, and Lamar had the honor of being as the first Democrat from Mississippi to sit in the House since before the Civil War. He retained his House seat until 1877, and in that year won election to the U.S. Senate, and here served eight years. 
  Throughout his two Senate terms Lamar became known as a truly polarizing political figure, so much so that sixty-two years after his death, then U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy profiled Lamar in his 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage. Lamar's placement in said book was earned by his moving eulogy of Charles Sumner on the Senate floor in 1874 (delivered when he was a Representative) as well as his efforts to mend the still tense relations between the North and South. 

                                                  Lamar during his  Congressional tenure.

    In 1885, Lamar was chosen by President-elect Grover Cleveland to be his Secretary of the Interior. Cleveland wanted Lamar's appointment to the office to be a symbol of reconciliation between North and South, and he officially joined the cabinet on March 6, 1885. Lamar's tenure in the Interior Department was largely uneventful, and the Congressional Quarterly's Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court gives mention that he "directed the reclamation of thousands of acres of public lands" and later had a hand in implementing new policies that saved Native American lands from private development. Also during Lamar's cabinet service, a geological survey was taken in Yellowstone National Park. This survey was completed in 1885 and a number of park features were subsequently named in his honor, including the Lamar River and Lamar Valley.
  Earlier in 1884, Lamar's wife of over thirty years passed away. Three years following Virginia Longstreet Lamar's death, Lucius remarried to Ms. Henrietta J. Holt (1827-1903) in Columbus, Georgia.

                        Lamar (pictured on the end of the 2nd row) during his cabinet service.

   Lamar's tenure at the Interior Department was short-lived (just short of three years) and in 1888 he was nominated by Cleveland to a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court to succeed Associate Justice William Burnham Woods. The Senate confirmed Lamar by a narrow margin (32 to 28) and it is noted that at age 62, he was the oldest man yet appointed to a seat on the nation's highest court. He took his seat on January 16, 1888. To date, Lamar remains the only Mississippian to have served on the high court. Despite his lack of judicial experience, Lamar was highly regarded by his colleagues on the bench, and then Chief Justice Melville Fuller remarked of his fellow justice: "His was the most suggestive mind I ever knew, and not one of us but has drawn from its inexhaustible store."
   Lamar's service on the court was cut short by his death from a series of strokes, the last of which felled him on January 23, 1893, in Vineville, Georgia. In the days following his demise, Lamar was interred in a cemetery in Macon, Georgia. In 1894 his remains were subsequently removed to his current resting place in Oxford Memorial Cemetery in Oxford, Mississippi. He was survived by three of his children, as well as his second wife Henrietta, who died a decade after her husband at age 76.

                           The U.S. Supreme Court in 1890. Lamar is second from left in the top row.

From the January 24, 1893 Maysville Evening Courier.

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