James Z. GeorgeMississippi's Great Commoner

James Z. GeorgeMississippi's Great Commoner

Timothy B. Smith

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9781617032318

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi


“When the Mississippi school boy is asked who is called the ‘Great Commoner’ of public life in his State,” wrote Mississippi’s premier historian Dunbar Rowland in 1901, “he will unhesitatingly answer James Z. George.” While George’s prominence, along with his white supremacist views, have decreased through the decades since then, many modern historians still view him as a supremely important Mississippian, with one writing that George (1826–1897) was “Mississippi’s most important Democratic leader in the late nineteenth century.” Certainly, the Mexican War veteran, prominent lawyer and planter, Civil War officer, Reconstruction leader, state Supreme Court chief justice, and Mississippi’s longest-serving United States senator to that time deserves a full biography. And, Georg’s importance was greater than just on the state level, as other Southerners copied his tactics to secure white supremacy in their own states. That James Z. George has never had a full, academic biography is inexplicable. This book seeks to rectify the lack of attention to George’s life. In doing so, it utilizes numerous sources never before or only slightly used, primarily a large collection of George’s letters held by his descendents and never used by historians. Such sources allow a glimpse not only into the life and times of J. Z. George, but perhaps, more importantly, an exploration of the man himself, his traits, personality, and ideas. The result is a picture of an extremely commonplace individual on the surface, but an exceptionally complicated man underneath.