This is the grave of Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar.
The most pretentiously named man in American history (well, tied with his father and his son who had the same name) was born in 1825 into the class that would name their kids something like this–the southern plantation elite. He was born in Putnam County, Georgia on the family plantation. Like many of these southern families, it was elite, profligate with money, and with some members of it reaching significant political success and others being total disasters. Lamar’s father was one of the latter and he committed suicide when the boy was 9. But his overall path was set, being related to multiple Supreme Court justices as well as Mirabeau Lamar, who would become the second president of Texas when that place committed treason in defense of slavery against Mexico.
Lamar went to the best schools in Georgia, which I grant weren’t really much at this time, but included the precursor to Emory. He was surrounded by slavery the whole time and his entire existence pointed him to be a huge defender of the institution. Moreover, as he aged into adulthood, the South was becoming increasingly fanatical about its beloved slavery. He learned to defend it against evil northerners who thought humans maybe shouldn’t be property and he developed excellent rhetorical skills, always valued in southern politics. He passed the bar in Georgia in 1847 and attended the state Democratic convention that year as well, where he became well known for his loud and vociferous denunciations of the Wilmot Proviso. That was the kind of Democrat on the rise in the South.
Like many southerners from older states, Lamar moved west to the newer slave territories. Specifically, he moved to Oxford, Mississippi in 1849 where he became a prominent lawyer and then a math professor at the University of Mississippi, which was headed by one A.B. Longstreet. He became active in fireeating politics. By the 1850s, southern politics weren’t divided between the two political parties any longer. It was divided between extremists who wanted to secede from the union to defend slavery and those who thought the Union was more important. Lamar was firmly in the former camp. He did return to Georgia for a few years in the 1850s and actually served in the state legislature there. He ran for Congress in 1854 but did not win and then moved back to Mississippi. There, he bought a fair sized plantation of about 1,000 acres and owned at least 26 humans to run it.
In 1857, due to his strong support for the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the extreme actions of pro-slavery settlers in Kansas that was causing an early civil war there, Lamar won election to Congress. In 1858 he and the abolitionist congressman Owen Lovejoy got into a brawl on the House floor over slavery. Other than being a terrible human being, he did little in Congress before leaving when Mississippi committed treason in defense of slavery, which he supported. He was Jefferson Davis‘ close friend and his representative at the 1860 Democratic convention, where he helped lead the walkout against Stephen Douglas, even though the senator had done more for the Slave Power than any other northerner. Lamar was actually less extreme than other leading Mississippians and both he and Davis had to be convinced at first to go all in on treason in defense of slavery but once it was done, they were both all in.
Lamar didn’t do much in the Civil War. He funded his own regiment at first–the 19th Mississippi. But in 1862, he had an attack of vertigo, which was a problem for him generally. That ended his military career and he spent the rest of the war managing his plantation from abroad after Davis sent him to be the Confederate representative to St. Petersburg. What is notable about this is only that for all that the Confederates talked about independence and such, the reality was that the big landowners like Lamar were not going to what was necessary to make that happen–plow up their cotton and grow food. No, cotton was their lord and they were going to grow cotton for the export market even if the Union blockade made it impossible to sell it and even if the soldiers they had fight for their beloved institution of slavery starved.
After the war, Lamar really did have to work for a living since he lost all his human property. He went back to Ole Miss and was a professor there for several years. With the restoration of whites controlling Mississippi and the lack of continued interest in the North to punish the leaders of the treason, Lamar returned to Congress in 1873, continuing his advocacy of racism. He was totally open about that, talking a lot about the Anglo-Saxon race being superior to all others and using all of your typical stereotypes about Black Americans. Like any good Gilded Age politician, Lamar was very open to getting paid off. In 1875, a story came out that the Central Pacific had given Lamar $5,000 to delay a favorable report on a rival railroad for the congressional committee he chaired from coming out. None of this hurt him in Mississippi.
In 1877, he went onto the Senate, a demonstration of just how awful the new post-Reconstruction governments in the South would be and, again, the indifference about this in the North. Lamar was considered among the most prominent “redeemers,” joining absolute scumbags like Wade Hampton in “saving” the South from the horrors of racial equality or Black people having anything remotely looking like civil or labor rights. Now, Lamar was not a dumb guy. He could play the North, increasingly sentimental about its again leaders and indifferent to Black rights, like a fiddle. When Charles Sumner died in 1874, Lamar led the way in giving speeches honoring his colleague. Sure, they hated each other in real life, but Sumner was now gone and he could make hay for the South by talking about what a great man Sumner was while opposing everything the now dead abolitionist senator had fought for. It worked like a charm. Lamar was praised in newspapers throughout the North for this.
In 1885, Grover Cleveland became president in the first of his non-consecutive terrible terms. He appointed Lamar as Secretary of the Interior. That was the Democratic Party–appointing treasonous leaders to be Cabinet officials. This was the peak of oppressing the tribes, which fell under Interior, and Lamar was just a bog-standard racist on this issue as well, as well as managing the corrupt patronage that was a huge part of the job of Interior Secretary. But he did well enough, or Cleveland just didn’t care either way, that he gave his southern buddy another huge boost in 1888–he named Lamar to the Supreme Court.
Yes, that’s right, an architect of treason was now on the highest court in the land.
Lamar’s appointment really was controversial. I mean, my God, a Confederate leader? He was only confirmed by a 32-28 vote. But confirmed he was.
He didn’t really do much on the Court. He was as bad on all issues around race as you could imagine. But he was also in declining health and he didn’t make it for what would have been his inevitable vote supporting segregation in Plessy. That’s because he died in 1893, at the age of 67.
L.Q.C. Lamar is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, Oxford, Mississippi. I’m not sure how long he has been there, but he was originally buried back in Georgia before he was moved.
If you would like this series to visit other Secretaries of the Interior, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. William Vilas is in Madison, Wisconsin and John Noble is in St. Louis. Previous posts in this series are archived here.