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George Poindexter, Second Governor of Mississippi: 1820-1822

George Poindexter

George Poindexter
(1779-1855)
Second Governor
1820-1822
Courtesy, Mississippi Department of Archives and History

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A contemporary historian wrote that the history of George Poindexter’s public career is “the history of the Territory and the State of Mississippi, so closely and prominently was he connected with everything that occurred.”

Poindexter, who was born in Louisa County, Virginia, in 1779, practiced law in Richmond before migrating to Natchez in 1802. From his successful law practice in Natchez he launched a long and distinguished political career during which he served as delegate to the territorial assembly, attorney general of the Mississippi Territory, territorial judge, territorial representative to the United States Congress, United States congressman, governor, and United States senator. Poindexter was elected president pro tempore of the U. S. Senate in 1834.

At the 1817 Constitutional Convention, Poindexter was chairman of the committee that drafted the constitution and is generally recognized as the “Father of Mississippi’s First Constitution.” He later compiled the Poindexter Code, the state’s first legal compendium. In 1819, while serving in the U. S. Congress, Poindexter was elected as Mississippi’s second governor.

During Poindexter’s administration, the judicial system was restructured and a court of chancery was created, the militia was reorganized, enlarged, and strengthened, public assistance for indigent school children was established through the Literary Fund, the second Choctaw land cession was finalized in 1820 under the Treaty of Doak's Stand, and it was established that the capital of the growing state should be moved from Natchez to a location nearer its geographic center.

Approximately two weeks after he was inaugurated, Governor Poindexter signed a bill emancipating William Johnson, the famous Barber of Natchez. Johnson eventually became Mississippi’s most famous and prosperous free black and often loaned money to his white friends, including George Poindexter.

In 1822, rather than seek re-election as governor, Poindexter ran for the U.S. Congress but was defeated. After that temporary setback, he practiced law in Jackson until his appointment to the U. S. Senate in 1830. During the great tariff controversy in 1832-1833, Poindexter sided with John C. Calhoun in opposition to President Andrew Jackson. In the other great national controversy of that period, the rechartering of the national bank, Poindexter supported the rechartering of the bank, a position that again placed him in opposition to President Jackson. He had very low regard for President Jackson and is credited by some as being the first to use the term “Kitchen Cabinet” in reference to Jackson’s intimate circle of advisors.

Poindexter’s opposition to Jackson, who was immensely popular in Mississippi, caused his defeat for reappointment to the U. S. Senate in 1835. He left the state an embittered and defeated man. After moving to Lexington, Kentucky, for a short time, Poindexter returned to Jackson in 1841 and resumed his law practice which he maintained until his death in 1855. J. F. H. Claiborne, Mississippi’s premier historian of the 19th century, considered Poindexter "the ablest man who ever lived in the state."

David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.

Posted December 2003

Sources:

Bailey, Robert. "George Poindexter." Journal of Mississippi History, XXXV. Jackson: Mississippi Historical Society, (August, 1973); 227-247.

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (1950), 169, 1689.

Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 49.

Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form II. 438-444 on "Kitchen Cabinet;" 448 on "ablest man;" 450.

Swearingin, Mack. Early Life of George Poindexter. New Orleans: Tulane University, 1934.

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