George F. Edmunds
|George Franklin Edmunds|
|Former U.S. Senator from Vermont|
From: April 3, 1866 – November 1, 1891
|State Senator from Vermont|
|Predecessor||John H. Woodward, Asahel Peck, Elmer Beecher|
|Successor||Leverett B. Englesby, Amos Hobart, A. J. Crane|
|State Representative from Vermont|
|Predecessor||Edward C. Palmer|
George Franklin Edmunds (February 1, 1828 – February 27, 1919) was a lawyer and Republican from northwestern Vermont who was the state's U.S. senator from 1866 to 1891. He previously served in the state legislature from Burlington (located in Chittenden County), obtaining leadership positions in both houses.
In the Senate, Edmunds was known in part for his involvement in the Half-Breed Republican faction and advocacy of civil service reform. Refusing to lend support to party nominee James G. Blaine in 1884, his vain personal inclinations obstructed Republican efforts to safeguard the constitutional rights of blacks, and came at the cost of the party. Like other Northeastern liberal elitists, Edmunds increasingly held racist views against blacks and the Chinese, supporting immigration restriction that would increasingly culminate in the Progressive Era.
According to Republican maverick Richard F. Pettigrew, Edmunds was the "distinctly dishonest senatorial bribe-taker" referenced in the autobiography of Charles Francis Adams, one of John Quincy Adams's sons.
Edmunds was born on a farm in Richmond, Vermont to Ebenezer Edmunds and the former Naomi Briggs. After attending local public schools, he studied law and was admitted to the state bar in 1849. He then proceeded to commence practice in Burlington.
Considered to have legal talent, Edmunds was elected to the Vermont legislature, serving as a state representative from Burlington in the 1850s. During this time, he became the speaker of the lower legislative chamber for some time, and proceeded to become a state senator.
Edmunds was appointed to Vermont's Class I Senate seat by Governor Paul Dillingham, filling the vacancy left upon the death of Solomon Foot. He won election to a full Senate term two years later in 1868,
During Reconstruction, Edmunds helped pass the Tenure of Office Act that functioned as a rebuke to President Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat who continuously pushed for lenient policies against the South to little avail. When Johnson violated the Act and faced impeachment charges, Edmunds was among the majority of Senate Republicans who voted for conviction.
Although considering himself devoted heavily to the principles of the Republican Party, like most Half-Breeds which he was among, Edmunds staunchly supported civil service reform that would result in a racist bloated bureaucracy favored by many Democrats. This was opposed by the conservative Stalwarts, who supported maintaining the spoils system and the subsequent patronage to safeguard the constitutional rights of Southern blacks.
Opposing Blaine, 1884
Although Sen. James Gillespie Blaine came to become the leader of the Half-Breeds in the 1880 presidential election, he was viewed with suspicion and distrust by Edmunds, who believed that a Half-Breed must truly support civil service reform. Indeed, Blaine's inclinations in the late 1870s were closer to that of the Stalwarts, evident in his opposition towards civil service reform and policies pursued by Half-Breed Rutherford B. Hayes.
Blaine joined the Half-Breed faction in 1880, identifying with the wing's emphasis on industry and support for higher protective tariffs. However, he did not join the rest of the Half-Breeds on the issue of civil service reform. When the Vermont senator and his Massachusetts colleague George F. Hoar pushed for the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, Blaine declined to show any support for the bill.
In the 1884 presidential election, when Blaine was nominated along with Illinois Stalwart John Logan to head the party ticket for the general election, Edmunds declined to join the Mugwumps, though refused to endorse the Maine Republican. Had he gave support to Blaine, the latter may have garnered considerably more support. One paper at the time reported:
|“||To the Blaine Republicans the silence of Edmunds. . . [was]. . . most exasperating... In order that the overwhelming tide of Independent Revolt might be stemmed, they had entertained the hope that the can-didate who received the bulk of the independent votes would raise his voice in approval.||”|
—New York newspaper, 1884
Although Republicans had hoped Edmunds would potentially endorse Blaine in a speech at Burlington, Vermont, they faced disappointment when the address made no mention of the Maine Half-Breed. Edmunds instead sympathized with the criticisms and skepticisms of Blaine, and vaguely urged citizens to "vote their conscience."
Intraparty backlash, 1886
Edmunds' refusal to support Blaine consequentially led to immense opposition from Republicans who pushed to deny him re-election in the 1886 midterms. A supporter of Blaine said of the Vermont senator:
|“||Do you believe, [Edmunds] sulked during the campaign of 1884, and refused to assist the party that gave him all the eminence he ever had as a statesman, and thereby on account of his personal dislike to James G. Blaine refused to contribute his support. . . There are honest, intelligent Republicans who believe he is guilty.||”|
—Blaine supporter Daniel Tarbell
When the election drew closer, newspapers covering the race became either increasingly supportive or opposing towards Edmunds. The Vermont Watchman, which was noted for defending his stance on Blaine in 1884, turned the other direction and harshly attacked Edmunds. A number of smaller papers split, and the Burlington Free Press affirmed its support for the incumbent senator.
Blaine himself held a strong contempt for Edmunds, and many of the former's supporters likely financed the movement to oust him. Despite such a fierce effort, Edmunds ultimately retained his seat when the state legislature soundly re-elected him.
In 1891, Edmunds chose to resign from the Senate, which The New York Times dubbed as a "public calamity." He proceeded to enter private law practice in Pennsylvania before fully retiring in California, where he spent the rest of his life.
- Edman to Edwarde. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
- Ward, Benjamin. The Downfall of Senator George F. Edmunds: The Election of 1884. Vermont History. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
- Pettigrew, Richard F. (1921). Triumphant Plutocracy: The Story of American Public Life from 1870 to 1920, pp. 215–16. Google Books. Retrieved June 8, 2023.
- February 28, 1919. GEORGE F. EDMUNDS DEAD AT 91 YEARS; Vermont Senator for 25 Years, from 1866 to 1891, Dies in Pasadena, Cal. ADVISER OF PRESIDENTS Author of Act for Suppression of Polygamy in Utah, Also Helped Draft Anti-Trust Law. The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
- VT US Senate Race - Sep 01, 1868. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
- Welch, Richard E., Jr. George Edmunds of Vermont: Republican Half-Breed. Vermont History. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
- Matthews, Dylan (July 20, 2016). Donald Trump and Chris Christie are reportedly planning to purge the civil service. Vox. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
- March 1, 1919. GEORGE F. EDMUNDS. The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
- Weisberger, Bernard A. James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
- VT US Senate Race - Sep 07, 1886. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
- April 10, 1891. GEORGE F. EDMUNDS. The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2021.