Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar is a forgotten titan of American history and one of the greatest statesmen ever produced by Mississippi. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy featured Lamar along with only seven other prominent national leaders, such as John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, and Sam Houston.
Vanderbilt historian Dr. Frank Owsley declared Lamar “one of the few truly great men of American history” and “had he not been born a Southerner would probably have been president.”
- In 1874, Lamar, the first former Confederate from Mississippi allowed back into Congress after the Civil War, electrified the still-divided and wounded nation with a surprising and moving eulogy of Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, considered by many in the South their greatest enemy. Although initially very unpopular with Southerners, Lamar’s eulogy is considered a turning point in reuniting the nation.
- Lamar continued to promote reconciliation through other important symbolic actions like being the only Southerner in Congress to support a public pension for a broke and ailing Ulysses S. Grant.
- In the 1970s, a group of Southern writers, politicians, business leaders, and journalists, including Willie Morris, Hodding Carter, and William Winter, created an organization to improve race relations and encourage economic development. They named their new group the L. Q. C. Lamar Society in honor of Lamar, whose “struggle for reconciliation between the races and the regions of the country in the divisive 1870s is worthy of emulation by his fellow Southerners in the 1970s.”
- Was the first and now one of only two persons in American history to serve in the President of the United States’ Cabinet, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Remains the only Mississippian ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
- Served as ambassador to the Russian Empire.
- Was a national figure with celebrity appeal, considered by many to be one of the greatest speakers of the 19th century.
- Encouraged the South and the nation to accept the new social realities by taking the extraordinary step of publicly encouraging the President to appoint the first black member of the Cabinet – almost a century before Lyndon Johnson did in 1966.
- Defended black voting rights in general and specifically opposed James Z. George’s successful push for a new state constitution in 1890, which was expressly designed to disenfranchise blacks.
- Lamar’s transformation from a slave owner and reluctant secessionist to a defender of black civil rights and education is one of the great American stories of personal redemption and is an example for us today.
- Responding to Yellow Fever epidemics by sponsoring bills giving the federal government responsibility for public health, instead of relying on various state health boards, which eventually led to today’s United States Public Health Service.
- Introduced a distinctly more progressive policy of relations with American Indians during his tenure as Secretary of the Interior, while fighting to protect their lands from illegal homesteading and corrupt and abusive Indian agents.
- Helped prepare the way for the first national conservation policy under Theodore Roosevelt through his environmental policies, which were enlightened for the times. Lamar fought exploitation of public lands, returned between 40 and 80 million illegally held acres to the public domain, and protected America’s relatively new experiment with national parks such as Yellowstone. The Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park is named for him today.