Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Poindexter, George

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POINDEXTER, George, senator, b. in Louisa county, Va., in 1779; d. in Jackson, Miss., 5 Sept., 1853. He was of Huguenot ancestry. He was left an orphan early in life, and became a lawyer in Milton, Va., but in 1802 removed to Mississippi territory, where he soon attained note, both at the bar and as a leader of the Jeffersonian party. In 1803 he was appointed attorney-general of the territory, and in this capacity he conducted the prosecution of Aaron Burr when the latter was arrested by the authorities in his first descent to New Orleans. His violent denunciations of Federalists resulted in a challenge from Abijah Hunt, one of the largest merchants in the southwest, whom Poindexter killed in the duel that followed. Poindexter was accused by his enemies of firing before the word was given, and bitter and prolonged controversies followed, but the charge was never substantiated. He became a member of the territorial legislature in 1805, and in 1807 was chosen delegate to congress, where he won reputation as an orator. Here he remained till 1813, when, notwithstanding the remonstrance of the majority of the territorial bar, he was appointed U. S. judge for the district of Mississippi. This office, contrary to general expectation, he administered firmly and impartially, doing much to settle the controversies that had arisen from conflicting land grants, and to repress the criminal classes. He had assisted to prepare the people of the territory for the war of 1812, and when the British invaded Louisiana he joined Jackson and served as a volunteer aide at the battle of New Orleans. During this service a soldier brought to him a piece of paper bearing the British countersign “Beauty and Booty,” which he had found on the field. Poindexter took it to Jackson, and it was the cause of much excitement through the country. The Federalists subsequently claimed that the paper had been forged by Poindexter. He was active in the Mississippi constitutional convention of 1817, being chairman of the committee that was appointed to draft a constitution for the new state, and, on its admission to the Union in that year, was elected its first representative in congress, serving one term. Here, in 1819, he made his best-known speech, defending Gen. Jackson's conduct in the execution of Arbuthnot and Ambrister, and in the occupation of the Spanish ports in Florida (see Jackson), and it was largely due to his efforts that Jackson was not censured by congress. At the end of his term he was elected governor of Mississippi, notwithstanding attempts to show that he had been guilty of gross cowardice at New Orleans. While he held this office the legislature authorized him to revise and amend the statutes, and the result was the code that was completed in 1822 and published as “Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi” (Natchez. 1824). In 1821 he resumed his practice at the bar, which he continued till his appointment to the U. S. senate in November, 1830, in place of Robert H. Adams, deceased. He was subsequently elected to fill out the term, and served till 1835. Here he gradually became estranged from Jackson, occupying, as he contended, a middle ground between Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, but his views were practically those of the latter. He especially resisted the appointment of the president's personal friends to office in Mississippi, and he also voted for Clay's resolution of censure. The breach widened, and Jackson finally suspected Poindexter of complicity in the attempt that was made on his life at the capitol. In 1835 he removed to Louisville, Ky., but was disappointed in his hopes of political promotion there, and, after being commissioned by President Tyler to investigate frauds in the New York custom-house, returned to Mississippi, where he affiliated with his old political friends. Poindexter had more than ordinary ability, but his career was marred by violent personal controversies and by dissipation, and he was embittered by domestic troubles and by the unpopularity that his opposition to Jackson aroused against him in Mississippi. See a “Biographical Sketch” of him (Washington, 1835).