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This Day in Georgia History

April 15, 1821

Joseph E. Brown Born

To view an image of Joseph E. Brown, see the Digital Library of Georgia.

Georgia politician and Civil War governor Joseph Emerson Brown was born in Long Creek, South Carolina. Brown began his political career with an election to the Georgia Senate in 1849. Despite being popular with voters and his fellow Democrats, he refused to run for a second term. With the Democratic Party deeply divided in 1857, Brown emerged as a compromise candidate for governor. He went on to serve three more terms, including the Civil War years. Brown was wary of the secessionist movement early on, fearing it would do more harm than good, but with the election of Abraham Lincoln he became an ardent supporter of secession. He even took early military action, seizing Fort Pulaski before secession, and the federal arsenal at Augusta soon after. But Brown soon found himself in conflict with Confederate authorities over most legislation, primarily the conscription of soldiers. Brown claimed such dictatorial actions were the reason southern states had originally seceded from the Union. While he continued to care deeply and work tirelessly for Georgia, he was a thorn in the sides of Confederate authorities. At the war’s end, Brown was arrested and taken to Washington but was soon paroled and returned home. His support for Reconstruction (believing it the quickest method to recover from the war’s devastation) earned him a pardon from President Andrew Johnson, but brought him enmity at home. Still, Brown remained popular with most Georgians, and was influential in seeing the state through Reconstruction and adoption of a new state constitution. He was appointed chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court in 1868, serving for two years. During the 1870s, he expanded his business interests to include mining, railroads, and real estate. But the taste for politics never fully left him. In 1880, Brown was appointed to fulfill the U.S. Senate seat of the resigned John B. Gordon. He went on to be elected to two more terms in the Senate. Brown, Gordon, and Alfred H. Colquitt, known as the Bourbon Triumvirate, dominated Georgia politics during the 1880s. Failing health forced Brown to retire in 1890. He returned to his home in Atlanta, where he died on Nov. 30, 1894. Following his death, he was buried in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery.