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George Washington Julian

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George Washington Julian

George Washington Julian
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Indiana's 4th & 5th district
In office
March 4, 1849 – March 3, 1851
March 4, 1861 – March 3, 1871
Preceded by Caleb Blood Smith
David Kilgore
William S. Holman
Succeeded by Samuel W. Parker
John Coburn
Jeremiah M. Wilson
Personal details
Born (1817-05-05)May 5, 1817
Centerville, Indiana, U.S.
Died July 7, 1899(1899-07-07) (aged 82)
Irvington, Indiana, U.S.
Political party Whig, Free-Soil, Republican, Liberal Republican
Spouse(s) Laura Giddings Julian
Profession Politician, Lawyer, Writer
Religion Quaker

George Washington Julian (May 5, 1817 – July 7, 1899) was a nineteenth-century politician, lawyer and writer who served in Congress from Indiana. He was one of the leading opponents of slavery in politics before the war, the Free Soil party's candidate for vice president in 1852, and a noted radical Republican during the Civil War and Reconstruction. He also was the son-in-law of Joshua Reed Giddings.


  • Biography 1
  • Works 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Born in Centerville, Indiana, Julian received a common school education. At the age of eighteen, Julian began a short lived career as a school teacher. In 1839 an unfulfilled Julian expressed his disinterest in teaching to a friend who suggested he practice law instead.[1] He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1840 and practiced out of Greenfield, Indiana. He started to take part in politics and was elected a Whig to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1845. Julian, who was raised a Quaker, started to question slavery. He helped found the Free Soil Party in 1848. He was a delegate to the convention in Buffalo, New York and the same year was elected to the United States House of Representatives, thirty-first congress.

Julian was elected as a Free Soil congressman, but it came through a coalition with the Democratic party in the Fourth Indiana Congressional District, the so-called "Burnt District," in the central southeastern part of the state. The selection seemed, on its face, peculiar: the Democratic party in Indiana was, if anything, even less friendly to antislavery beliefs than those in Ohio or Illinois, though many of its members went as far as to favor excluding slavery from territories acquired from Mexico in the recent war. But Julian's district was emphatically Whig. No straight-out Democratic nominee had a chance of winning. Its large Quaker population made it one of the stronger antislavery districts as well. On economic issues, too, Julian leaned more towards Democratic doctrines than Whig ones. He opposed high protective tariffs; he had no interest in creating a new national bank. So Julian was nominated by the Democrats and in the August election, carried into power.[2]

By 1851, political conditions had changed. Under the influence of Senator Jesse Bright, the Indiana Democratic party had become far more rigidly against any Congressional restriction on slavery in the Mexican cession, and support for the Compromise of 1850, Fugitive Slave Law and all, had become a required part of the Democratic creed. A new constitution had just been written, excluding black people from the state. Under the circumstances, any Democratic coalition with Julian would look outlandish and was sure to run into serious difficulties. Julian did find some Democratic support, but not the backing that he had enjoyed two years before, and it was not enough to keep a conservative Whig from being elected to the House in his place.

In 1852, the free-soilers, needing a western man to balance the ticket and recognizing that the land-reformers in their midst saw Julian as closer to their principles than any other practical choice, nominated him for the vice-presidency. John P. Hale was the presidential candidate. The two did not win any electoral votes, but received 155,210 popular votes. Two years later, when the Kansas-Nebraska bill disrupted the Jacksonian party system, Julian ranked among the first to enter the new Republican party in the state. He was a delegate to the convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and to the 1856 Republican National Convention where he was its vice president and chairman of the committee on organization.

In 1860, he was elected a Republican to the thirty-seventh congress, winning reelection to the thirty-eighth, thirty-ninth, fortieth and forty-first.

Julian ranked among the most radical of House Republicans. Six feet tall, broad shouldered, with a bit of a stoop, Julian was impossible to miss, and a trial to his more moderate colleagues, because there was little or no give in him. A reporter noticed, "the worn, scarred, seamed and earnest face" from the galleries. "It is not a pleasant countenance to look upon, but rather grim and belligerent, touched perhaps with a little sense of weary sadness, which grows as you observe. Mr. Julian's head, face, and figure, is of the Round-head, Cromwellian type."[3] An early supporter of slavery's abolition as a wartime measure, he was quick to call for enlisting and arming blacks as United States soldiers. In 1862, he proposed a bill repealing the Fugitive Slave Law; it was tabled by 66 to 51, though two years later a similar bill did become law. Pleas that the war must be fought within the limits of the Constitution sickened Julian. Taking the floor to counter "the never-ending gabble about the sacredness of the Constitution," he told his colleagues, "It will not be forgotten that the red-handed murderers and thieves who sete this rebellion on foot went out of the Union yelping for the Constitution which they had conspired to overthrow by the blackest perjury and treason that ever contronted the Almighty." [4] Serving on the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, he investigated Confederate atrocities and the mistreatment of prisoners of war, hectored generals who showed insufficient zeal in pressing on the fight, and pushed hard for the removal of General George B. McClellan, whose slowness in advancing on the enemy Julian saw as nearly treasonable.

Liking Abraham Lincoln personally but distrusting his will and judgment, he was appalled at the fatalism of a president who could claim that instead of shaping events, he had allowed events to shape him. To the end of his days, Julian believed that Lincoln had only issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation because he had been forced to do so by popular demand, and that he had been even more reluctant to issue the final one: that at heart, Lincoln's real aim was to deport black Americans to some other country. "But he saw no way of escape," Julian wrote in his memoirs. "The demand for such an edict was wide-spread and rapidly extending in the Republican party....It was in yielding to [radical] pressure that he finally became the liberator of the slaves through the triumph of our arms which it ensured." [5] Not surprisingly, Julian was initially friendly to a radical Republican challenge to the president's renomination and briefly joined the campaign to nominate Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase instead. He opposed Lincoln's Reconstruction plan, preferring that in the Wade-Davis bill of 1864.and became a strong advocate of giving the former slaves voting rights.

Unlike many other radical Republicans, he wanted the former Confederates punished. He called for hanging Jefferson Davis. "And I would not stop with Davis," he told an Indianapolis crowd in November, 1865. "Why should I? There is old General Lee, as hungry for the gallows as Davis. [Applause.] ... I would hang liberally while I had my hand in." A score of former Confederate leaders, he thought, should be executed, and after that, the work was only begun: their estates should be taken and parceled out among the poorer people, white and black, in the South, and among Union soldiers and sailors.[6] Julian was one of the first to call for President Andrew Johnson's impeachment, though he was not chosen for the board of managers assigned to prosecute the case before the Senate. Later, he came to see the impeachment movement as an act of political madness.[7]

He was the chairman of the Committee on Public Lands 1863 to 1871 and chairman of the Expenditures in the Navy Department 1865 to 1867.

As early as 1847, Julian espoused the cause of Seneca Falls Convention. Although Julian supported the effort for women to become enfranchised, he was more concerned with the issue of slavery. During the 1850s he focused his politics on the defense against slavery and expansion. Following the Civil War, Julian returned to the issue of woman's rights and in 1868 proposed to congress a constitutional amendment conferring the right to vote on women.

A Washington correspondent spotted him at a congressional reception. "Nature was in one of her most generous moods when she formed him," he wrote, "for he towers above the people like a mountain surrounded by hills. He dwells in a higher atmosphere and snuffs a purer air than most Congressmen, and this may account for his always being found in the right place, never doubtful. People know just what George Washington Julian will do in any national crisis." [9] An unkinder way of saying it would be to say that Julian was wholly predictable, and detested not only by Democrats but by many moderate Republicans, who saw in him a fanaticism embarrassing to the Indiana party as a whole. "He uses vinegar when he might scatter sugar," a Republican newspaper complained. As it noted, the congressman had little forgiveness for those who opposed him and a prickly personality, in any case. Those who crossed him discovered his "unfortunate temper and his determination to fight to the bitter end."[10] Among those most alienated from him was the powerful Republican governor of the state, Oliver P. Morton. Morton's views on the treatment of former Confederates was pretty close to Julian's, but he came late to the cause of Negro suffrage, and as late as 1865 had given a speech arguing why southern blacks were not yet fitted for the vote. Where Julian had broken early with Johnson, Morton continued to give him support into early 1866, hoping to prevent a party split between Congress and the President. The governor also was determined to rule the Indiana party with an iron hand, and in such a party, free agents like Julian were worse than inconvenient. In 1867, Morton saw to it that Julian's district, strongly antislavery and unshakeable in its support for him, would be gerrymandered so that several of the most radical counties would be replaced with Democratic ones.[11] As a result, in 1868 the congressman had a hard fight and was very nearly counted out by vote frauds in Richmond, Indiana.[12] In 1870, he had a strong conservative challenger, Judge Jeremiah M. Wilson, for the nomination. Among the eleven Republican newspapers in the Fourth District, only three backed Julian, and eight his opponent. Finding himself several delegates short of renomination, withdrew from the race.[13] He voted the whole Republican ticket that fall, but his endorsement for the winning nominee lagged until late in the campaign, and was not accompanied by any active work on the stump.[14]

Never a fan of Ulysses S. Grant, who he insisted was a Democrat and a drunk, deeply disillusioned with the corruption in the Grant Administration and the cynical, ruthless management of the Republican party in Indiana, Julian joined the Liberal Republicans in 1872 and supported Horace Greeley for the presidency. In the election, Julian received five electoral votes for the vice-presidency. Sharing Democratic views on the tariff, on currency questions, and on the fight against the land-grabbing railroads and monopolists, sickened at the abuses of the patronage power, he found it easy to support the Democratic ticket in 1877 and to convince himself that reconciliation between North and South was of a higher priority than using national power to make sure that black southerners kept their right to vote. He would not have put the issue in those terms. With the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, he persuaded himself that the fight against slavery and in favor of equal rights had been won, and as his memoirs noted, some of the most prominent and consistent enemies of slavery—Salmon P. Chase, Charles Sumner, and Horace Greeley, especially—had been all but read out of the Republican party that they had helped to create.[15]President Grover Cleveland appointed Julian surveyor general of New Mexico in May, 1885. He served until September, 1889.

Afterwards, he settled in Irvington, Indiana and focused on literary pursuits, writing for magazines and newspapers. His memoirs, published in 1884, were unusually truthful, for a politician's recollections, based as they were in part on his diaries, some of which have since been lost, and occasionally they even noted Julian's own mistakes; but for the most part, they reflect not only his uprightness and principles, but his own awareness of his own rightness, and the wrongheadedness or malice of just about everybody else. Unlike many old radicals, he prospered in retirement. His work on the Lands Committee in the House made him much in demand as a legal counsel in land cases, with very substantial fees. He died July 7, 1899 in Irvington and was interred in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana.


  • The Rebellion, The Mistakes of the Past, The Duty of the Present (1863)
  • Homesteads for Soldiers on the Lands of Rebels (1864)
  • Sale of Mineral Lands (1865)
  • The Rights of Pre-emptors on the Public Lands of the Government Threatened, The Conspiracy Exposed (1866)
  • Suffrage in the District of Columbia (1866)
  • Regeneration before Reconstruction (1867)
  • Speeches on Political Questions (1872)
  • Political Recollections (1884)
  • The Rank of Charles Osborn as an Anti-slavery Pioneer (1891)
  • The Life of Joshua R. Giddings (1892)


  1. ^ a b Clark, Grace Julian (1931). George W. Julian. Indianapolis, Ind: Indianapolis Historical Commission. pp. 45–48. 
  2. ^ Patrick W. Riddleberger, George Washington Julian: Radical Republican (Indianapolis: Indiana History Bureau, 1966), 16-49.
  3. ^ "Observer," Worcester Spy, June 14, 1866.
  4. ^ George W. Julian, Political Recollections, 1840 to 1872 (Jansen, McClurg & Co., 1884), 215.
  5. ^ George W. Julian, Political Recollections, 1840 to 1872 (Jansen, McClurg & Co., 1884), 227.
  6. ^ Cincinnati Gazette, November 21, 1865.
  7. ^ George W. Julian, Political Recollections, 1840 to 1872 (Jansen, McClurg & Co., 1884), 314-19. Julian was careful, in his memoirs, to downplay his own share in pushing for that impeachment.
  8. ^ Julian, George W. (1884). Political Recollections, 1840-1872. Jansen, McClurg, & Co. p. 324. 
  9. ^ "Olivia," Philadelphia Press, March 3, 1868.
  10. ^ Cincinnati Gazette, February 14, 1870.
  11. ^ George W. Julian, Political Recollections, 1840 to 1872 (Jansen, McClurg & Co., 1884), 303-04.
  12. ^ Cincinnati Gazette, February 7, 1870.
  13. ^ Cincinnati Gazette, February 14, March 1, April 13, 1870.
  14. ^ Winchester (Randolph County) Journal, October 19, November 2, 1870.
  15. ^ George W. Julian, Political Recollections, 1840 to 1872 (Jansen, McClurg & Co., 1884), 345-52.

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Caleb Blood Smith
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Indiana's 4th congressional district

March 4, 1849 – March 3, 1851
Succeeded by
Samuel W. Parker
Preceded by
David Kilgore
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Indiana's 5th congressional district

March 4, 1861 – March 3, 1869
Succeeded by
John Coburn
Preceded by
William S. Holman
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Indiana's 4th congressional district

March 4, 1869 – March 3, 1871
Succeeded by
Jeremiah M. Wilson
Party political offices
Preceded by
Charles Francis Adams, Sr.
Free Soil Party vice presidential candidate
1852 (lost)
Succeeded by
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