Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

William J. Cooper


Throughout his political career in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, Howell Cobb of Georgia (1815-1868) struggled to reconcile southern rights--particularly regarding slavery--with the continued existence of a national Union. As a member of the House of Representatives during the 1840s, as Speaker of the House in 1850-1851, as governor of Georgia from 1851-1853, and as secretary of the treasury from 1857-1860, he consistently advocated a pro-Union policy of compromise in times of sectional controversy. In pursuit of his moderate policy, Cobb never hesitated to confront extreme southern state-rights men with the same vigor that he directed toward northern antislavery forces. As a consequence of his battles with southern-rights extremists, he found his path to higher offices such as the Senate or the presidency effectively stifled by his opponents within the Georgia Democratic party. Prior to 1860, Cobb never wavered in his conviction that true sectional security lay within a federal Union of equal partners based upon adherence to the Constitution. Equally unwavering had been his belief that the best means of securing such a Union lay within the national Democratic party. The growing sectional divisions over slavery in the territories during the 1850s, however, placed an unbearable strain on the Democratic structure. With the collapse of the national Democracy in 1860 and the election of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, Cobb abandoned his faith in the viability of the Union as a safe haven for southern interests. Assuming a position of leadership in the secession movement, Cobb served as president of the Confederate Provisional Congress. He then entered the Confederate army and rose to the rank of Major General. He saw service during the Peninsula Campaign, the Seven Days battles, and the Antietam Campaign. Following the Antietam Campaign, Cobb was transferred to the District of Middle Florida and then to command of Georgia state troops. He surrendered his command to Union forces at Macon, Georgia in April, 1865. He died while vacationing in New York in October, 1868.