Joseph Emerson "Joe" Brown played a pivotal role in the state of Georgia from 1850 until his death in 1894.
Family and early life
Emigrating to the colonies in 1745, Joe Brown's grandfather and namesake, Joseph Brown, was a South Carolina Whig who fought with Continental forces at Camden and Kings Mountain. Joseph Brown's son, Mackey Brown, moved to Tennessee as a young man and fought in the War of 1812 under General William Carroll as part of the army raised by Andy Jackson
. When Mackey Brown returned to Tennessee following the Battle of New Orleans he married Sally Rice and returned to Pickens District, South Carolina. It was here on April 4, 1821 that Joseph Brown was born.
As a youth he spent his years in North Georgia, first near Dahlonega and later in Canton. Another North Georgia notable, humorist Bill Arp
wrote of helping the future Georgia governor in his move to Canton:
In 1839, I think, I was riding to Canton Cherokee County in a buggy and I overtook a young man walking in a very muddy lane. He had a striped bag hung over his shoulder and looked very tired. I asked him if he would not take a seat, and he looked down at himself and said he was too muddy, and that he would dirty up the buggy. I insisted and he broke off a splinter from a rail and scraped his shoes and got in. I learned from him that his name was Joe Brown and he was going to Canton to get something to do. I have kept an eye on him for forty years. He is a wonder to me.
A year later he returned to South Carolina for college, but returned to Canton, Georgia following his graduation to open a school in Canton while studying law. In October, 1845 Joe Brown went to Yale, where he studied law until he graduated in June 1846. Returning from Yale, Brown continued practice as a lawyer. In 1846 he purchase $450 of land and turned it into a copper mine, eventually selling his share for $25,000. By the time he married Elizabeth Gresham in 1847 the penniless young boy had become the wealthy suitor fit to marry the daughter of a Baptist minister. Together they raised a large family.
In 1849 Joseph Brown ran for state senator from Cherokee
and Cobb County
as a Democrat, serving in one of the most dramatic sessions of the state legislature in history. Joe Brown became a leader of the Democratic Party. With George Washington Towns as the openly pro-secession governor, he led the approval of sending Georgia's delegation to the Nashville Convention of 1850
against his Whig counterpart, Andrew J. Miller. Brown also led the successful floor battle against Miller's Woman's Bill, which would allow married women to own property. When a postal route was proposed from Marietta to Roswell and Cumming, Brown made a motion to strike those cities and replace them with Canton. After his term as state senator Andrew Miller commented that "Joe Brown will yet stamp the impress of his greatness upon the future history of the state."
During the early 1850's Joseph Emerson Brown served as an elector for Franklin Pierce
in 1852, then as circuit judge for the 11 county Blue Ridge District from 1853-1855. At the Democratic gubernatorial convention of 1857, Brown was a compromise candidate after the convention deadlocked for 19 votes. Brown, selected by committee, was affirmed by voice vote at the age of 31. His opponent was golden-tongued orator Ben Hill, a Know-Nothing at the time, whom Brown easily defeated.
Just before becoming governor local banks suspended specie payments to protect themselves from fallout since the national banks had done the same thing and the Georgia banks were seeing an unusual demand for hard currency. The national banks move caused the Panic of 1857
, but in Georgia, Joe Brown decided it was the banks legal responsibility to maintain the liquidity of the Georgia financial system. By June, 1858, 12 of the threatened banks failed, but the others did manage to maintain the financial system in Georgia. In 1859 Brown was renominated for governor by the Democrats. This time his opponent was Warren Akin, a Cass County
lawyer, whom he easily defeated.