George Badger

George E. Badger“While there may be some question as to who should be regarded as the greatest North Carolinian, certainly in a list of the five greatest, the name of George E. Badger should be included.”

We’ll bet he wasn’t on your list. That quote, and the portrait, are from volume seven of Samuel Ashe’s Biographical History of North Carolina, published in 1908. Badger (1795-1866), a native of New Bern, held a number of government posts, including Secretary of the Navy under William Henry Harrison. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1846.

We ran across Badger in researching North Carolinians who had been nominated to the Supreme Court. In 1853, President Millard Fillmore nominated Badger to fill a seat left vacant by the death of Justice John McKinley. The discussion over Badger’s nomination focused on his views on a strong federal government and slavery. Southern, pro-slavery Democrats ultimately turned against Badger, a Whig, and his nomination was defeated by a vote of 26-25. After leaving the Senate in 1855, and with the demise of the Whig party, Badger did not hold another prominent position in government.

6 thoughts on “George Badger”

  1. The Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies at UNC-CH have a large portrait collection which visually commemorates a number of the state’s lumniaries. Among these are TWO of George Badger, and the members of teh Societies tell them apart by the designation of the “Younger Badger” and the “Older Badger.”

  2. Badger was one of most influential political figures the state produced in the antebellum period. He was a brilliant party leader who helped orchestrate the rise of the Whig Party circa 1840. He served his state and nation in many capacities, often showing independence and courage. For a balanced assessment, readers may wish to consult his biography in the ANB. His views on secession were also featured in a 2011 installment of the “Disunion” series published by the New York Times.

    Susan Barsy, PhD Chicago

  3. After extensively researching and writing on George Edmund Badger for nearly twenty-five years, I certainly agree that he is one of the most impressive, and influential, individuals North Carolina has ever produced. Not only was he a compeer of Webster, Clay, Crittenden, et al., in the U.S. Senate, but he was also one of the nation’s leading attorneys (790 cases before the NC Supreme Court, 50 before the US Supreme Court, etc.) I am hoping that at least some of Mr. Badger’s current obscurity will be lifted by the projected two-volume biography which I am currently completing; the first volume, tracing his life up to his election to the U.S. Senate in 1846, is complete and now being shopped to publishers.

    Tom Hunter
    University of West Georgia

  4. I look forward to reading Tom Hunter’s two-volume work on Senator (and, briefly, Secretary of the Navy) George Badger. I will be especially eager to read Volume Two, as that volume would discuss Badger’s unsuccessful nomination to the Supreme Court by President Fillmore. It should be noted that Badger’s nomination to the Court was the only instance in US history where Senatorial courtesy fell through. For now, the best discussion of that nomination is in Charles Warren’s excellent three-volume study of the Court.

  5. After Badger left the Senate, he did do one more notable service for his country. In the Election of 1860, he was John Bell’s leading supporter in North Carolina (and, for that matter, outside of Bell’s home state of Tennessee). Also, Bell was supported by three of his four former Cabinet colleagues who were still living who had served under President William Henry Harrison from March-September, 1841 (Badger, John J Crittenden, and Francis Granger)! Badger’s subsequent service (or disservice) in North Carolina’s secession convention was more negligable.

  6. In my previous reply, I might’ve overstated Badger’s support for the Constitutional Union candidacy of his former Cabinet colleague John Bell in 1860 throughout the country, at least in the sense that he wouldn’t have campaigned in such faraway states as Maine and Oregon. However, he would’ve quite likely campaigned for Bell and the Constitutional Union ticket throughout a good chunk of the South (including at least four of the five Upper South states: North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee). If I were to one day do a book on him (and it seems that Thomas Hunter’s book is, unfortunately, only available at the University of Virginia), I would call it: George Edmund Badger: Forgotten Lawyer and Politician of the Antebellum Era.

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