ENTRY

Booker, George William (1821–1884)

SUMMARY

George William Booker’s political career, which included a term in Congress (1869–1871), provides an example of the shifting political alliances during and after the American Civil War (1861–1865). A strong Unionist during the secession crisis, he voted for the Ordinance of Secession to avoid reprisals from his neighbors. A post as justice of the peace kept him from military service during the Civil War. Booker won election to the House of Delegates in 1865 representing Henry County and aligned himself with former Whig John Minor Botts during the formation of Virginia’s Republican Party. The Republicans nominated him for attorney general in 1868, but elections were postponed. The next year he won a seat in the House of Representatives as a True Republican, an alliance between moderate members of his party and Democratic-aligned Conservatives in opposition to the Radical Republicans. He moderated his earlier anti-secession views and advocated an amnesty for former Confederates. Declining a run for a second term, he returned to the House of Delegates where he became one of the Conservative Party’s floor leaders. He died near Martinsville in 1884.

Early Years

Virginia's Ordinance of Secession

Booker was born on December 5, 1821, in Patrick County, the son of Edward Booker and Elizabeth Anglin Booker. Educated locally, he farmed and taught school before reading law. Booker was admitted to the bar in Henry County on March 8, 1847, and practiced there the remainder of his life. Elected to the county court in 1856, he served as its presiding justice from 1858 until 1864. Booker was a strong Unionist at the time of the secession crisis, but according to his later testimony he voted for the Ordinance of Secession because he feared reprisals from his neighbors. He avoided being conscripted in 1864 because he was a justice of the peace, and the only part he took in the Civil War was the performance of his duties as a magistrate.

Political Career

John Minor Botts and Family

Booker was elected to represent Henry County in the House of Delegates on October 12, 1865, and served until 1867. During the first session he sat on the Committee on Military Affairs and the Committee to Examine the Clerk’s Office; during the second he sat on the Committees on Propositions and Grievances and on Militia and Police. He allied himself with other former Unionists and John Minor Botts, the Virginia politician whom he most admired. Although Booker had begun his political career as a Democrat, he took an active role in the emerging Republican Party. The military government of Virginia entrusted him with a series of temporary appointments in 1869 as commonwealth’s attorney for the counties of Franklin, Patrick, and Prince Edward. On May 7, 1868, the Republican state convention nominated Booker for attorney general, but no election was held that year, and when the party’s radical wing reassembled to nominate candidates for statewide office in March 1869, he did not attend and was dropped from the ticket.

Gilbert C. Walker

In June 1869 Booker announced his candidacy for the House of Representatives from the Fourth Congressional District comprising Brunswick, Charlotte, Franklin, Halifax, Henry, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Patrick, and Pittsylvania counties. Identifying himself as a “True,” or Liberal, Republican, he moderated his earlier contemptuous statements about secessionists and sought to promote reconciliation by advocating removal of all remaining political disabilities from former Confederates. For statewide office he endorsed the Conservative Party ticket headed by gubernatorial candidate Gilbert Carlton Walker. On July 6, 1869, Booker defeated two Radical Republicans by a margin of 3,533 votes out of 27,308 cast, after which one of the defeated candidates unsuccessfully challenged Booker’s eligibility because of his service on the Henry County Court during the Civil War. Acquaintances of Booker testified that he had been consistently and conspicuously loyal to the Union during the war and that even though he was too poor to leave Virginia he had vowed to do so if the Confederacy had won. Booker took his seat in Congress on February 1, 1870, partway into the second session, and during his abbreviated term he served on the Committee on Freedmen’s Affairs. Although active in introducing bills to remove civil and political disabilities from individual constituents, he submitted no major legislation and seldom spoke. In December 1870 he submitted for printing in the Congressional Globe set remarks supporting a bill providing a general amnesty for all Confederates and Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War.

Booker did not seek reelection in 1871 but instead ran for and regained his former seat in the House of Delegates, in which he served two more years. He became one of several floor leaders of the Conservative Party, chaired the Committee on Banks, Currency, and Commerce, and on at least one occasion acted as Speaker pro tempore. Booker also served as acting chairman of a special committee appointed in 1872 to investigate allegations that agents for northern bondholders had bribed members of the previous assembly to pass the Funding Act of 1871. He supported free public schools for all of the state’s children, and, although his personal views on the issue are unknown, he agreed to submit a petition from a Richmond woman, Anna Whitehead Bodeker, asking that women be permitted to vote.

Later Years

Greeley and Brown

In June 1872 Booker attended the Conservative Party state convention and was elected a delegate to the Democratic National Convention that nominated Horace Greeley, the candidate of the Liberal Republican Party, for president of the United States. Booker then retired to Henry County, where he continued to practice law. Sometime between 1850 and 1855 he had married Maria Philpott, and they had two or three daughters, one set of twin boys, and a son, born about 1868, whom they named for John Minor Botts. Booker died of a stroke at his home near Martinsville on June 4, 1884.

MAP
TIMELINE
December 5, 1821
George William Booker is born in Patrick County, the son of Edward Booker and Elizabeth Anglin Booker.
March 8, 1847
George William Booker is admitted to the bar in Henry County. He will practice law there for the remainder of his life.
1850—1855
At some point during this time George William Booker marries Maria Philpott.
1856
George William Booker is elected to the Henry County court.
1858—1864
George William Booker serves as the presiding justice on the Henry County court.
October 12, 1865
George William Booker is elected to represent Henry County in the House of Delegates. He serves until 1867.
May 7, 1868
The Republican state convention nominates George William Booker for attorney general, but no election is held this year.
1869
George William Booker serves a temporary appointment as commonwealth's attorney for the counties of Franklin, Patrick, and Prince Edward.
March 1869
When the Republican Party's radical wing reassembles to nominate candidates for statewide office, George William Booker does not attend and is dropped from the ticket as the candidate for attorney general.
June 1869
George William Booker announces his candidacy for the House of Representatives from the Fourth Congressional District comprising Brunswick, Charlotte, Franklin, Halifax, Henry, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Patrick, and Pittsylvania counties. He identifies himself as a "True," or Liberal, Republican.
July 6, 1869
George William Booker defeats two Radical Republican candidates for the House of Representatives from the Fourth Congressional District.
February 1, 1870
George William Booker takes his seat in the House of Representatives.
December 1870
George William Booker submits for printing in the Congressional Globe set remarks supporting a bill providing a general amnesty for all Confederates and Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War.
1871
Rather than seek reelection to the House of Representatives, George William Booker runs for and regains his former seat in the House of Delegates.
1872
George William Booker serves as acting chairman of a special committee in the House of Delegates appointed to investigate allegations that agents for northern bondholders have bribed members of the previous assembly to pass the Funding Act of 1871.
June 1872
George William Booker attends the Conservative Party state convention and is elected a delegate to the Democratic National Convention that nominates Horace Greeley for U.S. president.
June 4, 1884
George William Booker dies of a stroke at his home near Martinsville.
FURTHER READING
  • Baggett, James Alex. The Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003.
  • Tarter, Brent. “Booker, George William.” In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 2, edited by Sara B. Bearss, et al., 83–84. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2001.
CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Tarter, Brent. Booker, George William (1821–1884). (2021, February 12). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/booker-george-william-1821-1884.
MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent. "Booker, George William (1821–1884)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (12 Feb. 2021). Web. 18 Oct. 2021
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