Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb

Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb (1823-1862), one of antebellum Georgia’s leading lawyers and politicians, penned the South’s preeminent legal defense of slavery.  He strongly favored secession in 1860-61. As a delegate to the Confederate Provisional Congress he served as the primary author of the Confederate constitution. He suffered a mortal wound at the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862.

Born on his father’s Jefferson County plantation on April 10, 1823, Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb established himself as one of Georgia’s preeminent lawyers and constitutional scholars. His father, John Addison Cobb, moved the family to Athens in the early 1820s to take advantage of the educational opportunities the town offered his children. Young Cobb graduated first in his class from the University of Georgia and, after reading law with Joseph Henry Lumpkin, gained admission to the Bar in 1842. In 1844, he married Lumpkin’s daughter Marion.

Although Cobb devoted considerable effort to furthering his brother Howell’s political career, his primary focus remained the law. In addition to serving as the reporter of the state Supreme Court, he published an extensive number of volumes including The Digest of the Statute Laws of the State of Georgia (1851) and the Code of the State of Georgia (1861). In 1858, he published his most significant work, An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America. Cobb offered a complex and comprehensive defense of the South’s peculiar institution based on legal precedents and assumptions of African-American racial inferiority.

Cobb had embraced Howell’s moderate support for sectional compromise during the increasingly bitter sectional conflicts over slavery in the western territories. The election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in 1860, however, convinced both brothers of the need for immediate secession. Convinced that the Republican-ruled North intended to deny Southerners their constitutional rights to own slaves and reduce them to a helpless sectional minority, the Cobbs spearheaded the Georgia secession movement.

Following Georgia’s withdrawal from the Union, he served in the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America, which assembled in Montgomery, Alabama. Employing his extensive legal skills, Cobb served as primary author of the Confederate constitution. He soon resigned to raise a combined arms unit named Cobb’s Georgia Legion. Promoted to Brigadier General in late 1862, he died of his wounds while defending the sunken road at the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862.

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