Many Emory law students today might be surprised to learn that their school was not always simply Emory Law School. When the trustees established the school in 1916, they named it the Lamar School of Law, after Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, Emory College Class of 1845.
The minutes of the trustees don’t reveal their reasons for tacking the Lamar name onto the new law school. At the time, he was Emory’s most famous graduate, and he would later merit a chapter in John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. When he died, in 1893, Lamar was remembered as a great voice for reconciliation between the North and the South after the Civil War and during Reconstruction.
But Lamar also happened to have been a prominent Confederate official. Was the name a way of memorializing the Lost Cause? It’s hard to know; the record is silent.
A native Georgian, Lamar married the daughter of Emory president Augustus Baldwin Longstreet and later moved to Oxford, Mississippi, to practice law and teach at the university. Elected to Congress before the Civil War, Lamar resigned in January 1861 as sentiment for secession grew. He helped draft the Mississippi ordinance of secession and raised an infantry regiment, earning himself the rank of colonel, although health problems prevented him from serving in the field. Appointed by Confederate president Jefferson Davis as a special envoy, Lamar sought to bring Russia, England, and France into the war on the side of the Confederacy. After the war, he resumed teaching law at Ole Miss and eventually returned to Congress as a senator. President Cleveland appointed him as secretary of the interior and, later, to the US Supreme Court, where Lamar served until his death.
In 1916, the trustees no doubt thought it fitting to attach the name of this well-known jurist and alumnus to the new law school. By the 1980s, however, the Lamar name was being used less and less in the school catalogue and stationery, ostensibly because “Emory Law” was a better brand, but perhaps also from some embarrassment at the association of Lamar with slavery and the Confederacy. Although his return to Congress required him to swear an oath to defend the Constitution, including the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, he continued to believe in white supremacy. He opposed Reconstruction and helped to negotiate its end during the compromise that followed the controversial presidential election of 1876.
To be sure, Lamar also demonstrated apparent repentance and redemption. As a US Senator in 1874, he offered a stirring and famous eulogy after the death of Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, signalling an end to sectional recrimination. As Secretary of the Interior, he pursued a more progressive policy toward American Indians and sought to clean up the corrupt department. On the Supreme Court during the period of “Chinese exclusion,” Lamar joined in a unanimous opinion supporting the right of immigrants to habeas corpus and helped establish the authority of the Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal.
The timing of the naming of the Lamar School of Law at Emory, however, raises questions. In 1916, white supremacy was resurgent throughout the nation, and the Ku Klux Klan had been reborn atop Stone Mountain just the previous year. Was the honoring of a former Confederate a way of ratifying that noxious philosophy? It is impossible to know from the trustee minutes.
The minutes do say that the trustees aimed to establish a law school that would be among the finest in the South and as good as any in the country. It’s at least as likely that the trustees were drawn to Lamar’s eminence as a renowned political figure with a reputation for fostering national interests over sectional interests. Thankfully, the removal of the name in the 1990s makes the question moot.
Next blog: another name associated with a mixed history.