Charles Lynch, Eighth and Eleventh Governor of Mississippi: June to November 1833; 1836-1838
Charles Lynch migrated to Mississippi from his native South Carolina, where he was born in 1783. Lynch is one of the few governors of Mississippi who held office in all three branches of state government. He is also one of the very few men in the state’s history who served as a judge even though he was not a lawyer. Lynch was a farmer when he was appointed probate judge of Lawrence County by the Mississippi Legislature in 1821.
From 1827 to 1833, Lynch represented Lawrence County in the state senate. He was a leader of the Jacksonian Democrats in Mississippi, and strongly opposed South Carolina’s 1832 attempt to nullify the tariff. While serving as president of the Mississippi Senate, Lynch became governor in June 1833 upon the death of Governor Abram Scott. Under the 1832 Mississippi Constitution the office of lieutenant governor was abolished and the line of succession passed from the governor to the president of the state senate. He served until November when Hiram Runnels, who was elected governor in the May 1833 election, assumed the office of governor. During his brief six-month administration, Lynch urged the legislature to establish a state system of public schools but the legislature considered his plan too expensive and did not enact it.
In the 1835 governor’s race Charles Lynch, who ran as a Whig candidate, was elected by only 426 votes, the second smallest margin in state history. Governor Lynch, who was inaugurated January 7,1836, was the first governor to hold an elaborate inaugural ceremony. He was formally escorted into the chamber of the House of Representatives and introduced to a joint session of the Mississippi Legislature. Before the joint assembly, the chief justice of the state supreme court administered the oath of office and officially installed him as the governor and commander-in-chief of the army, navy, and militia of the state of Mississippi. His inaugural address was read to the assembly by a prominent Mississippi statesman, Adam L. Bingaman.
During his administration, Governor Lynch brought about extensive changes in Mississippi’s criminal code, which he called the “Bloody Code” because it imposed the death penalty on a large number of offenses. He also recommended the establishment of a state penitentiary, which was authorized by the legislature and opened in 1840.
Lynch became governor during a period of great economic prosperity. But at the peak of that prosperity, the Panic of 1837 caused Mississippi’s economy to collapse, and the state suffered through several years of severe depression. During that depression, thousands of Mississippians fled to Texas to escape foreclosure on their farms and slaves. It was during that brief period that the phrase, “G. T. T.,” meaning “Gone to Texas.” was so often heard in explaining the whereabouts of many individuals.
In an effort to shore up the state’s banking system and alleviate the shortage of money and credit, Mississippi issued $5,000,000 in bonds and invested them in the Union Bank, a newly established state bank. But land prices continued to decline and the Union Bank failed within a year. The state was left with the worthless bank stock and a huge debt. Governor Lynch, whose popularity declined along with the state’s economy, did not seek re-election in 1837.
Following his term as governor, Lynch served briefly as president of the Alabama and Mississippi Railroad Company and commissioner of public buildings. After his tenure as building commissioner, Lynch retired to his plantation home near Jackson where he remained until his death February 9, 1853.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Posted December 2003
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 54.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form II, 151-157.
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