Bedford Brown

Bedford Brown (1795-1870)

Bedford Brown
(Courtesy H. G. Jones1)

Biographical Sketch

Brown, Bedford (6 June 1795-6 Dec 1870), farmer, legislator, and U.S. Senator, was born in what is now Locust Hill Township, Caswell County, the third of eight children of Jethro Brown and Lucy Williamson Brown. He attended the University of North Carolina for one year and then, when only twenty years old, was elected to the House of Commons; there he served from 1815 through 1818 and again in 1823. From 1824 to 1828 he operated his farm, Rose Hill, but upon the death of Bartlett Yancey in 1828, Brown was chosen in a special election to succeed him in the state senate, over which Yancey had presided for eleven terms. Following his reelection in 1829, Brown was chosen speaker of the senate. Then, shortly thereafter, he was elected by his colleagues to succeed John Branch as U.S. senator from North Carolina.

Brown's role in the Senate from 1829 until 1840 was characterized by President Martin Van Buren, who described him as "an old and constant friend of Genl. Jackson and my own, one on whom as much as any other man, we relied for support of our respective administrations in the Senate. . . ." On most issues of the day, Brown was a partisan Democrat: he opposed a high tariff, a national bank, and internal improvements at government expense; and he supported the Jackson and Van Buren administrations almost without exception. He could not bring himself to support the force bill, however, though he repudiated the doctrine of Nullification1 while arguing that the "high-toned doctrine of the Federal party produced it. . . . It is by an improper pressure of the Federal Government on the rights of the States, and by exercising doubtful powers, that the State of South Carolina has been thrown into this position." It was in this debate that Brown stated his opposition to sectional views:" . . . if I have any patriotism, it is not that narrow, contracted patriotism which is confined to geographical limits. I trust it is that patriotism which looks abroad over the Union, and embraces every portion of my fellow-citizens." Brown's criticism of South Carolina's action and his opposition to the force bill represented a position that became characteristic of the states' rights Unionist.

His dedication to the Union led him first to caution and then to berate southern senators like John C. Calhoun, who, Brown felt, were alienating moderate northerners by exaggerating the dangers of a small group of abolitionists. Brown argued that abolitionist petitions should be received and tabled, thus ignoring them, rather than debating them upon a motion to refuse to receive. In 1850 he wrote, "That the Abolitionists of the North have been greatly strengthened by the imprudent and violent course of a certain class of violent disunion politicians of the South by the most improvident course, for fifteen years past, I am positively certain. It has been the course of that class to which I refer, to abuse the whole North in their speeches and addresses for the acts of what at one time were the acts of a few. I remember for many years, while I was in the Senate, and when the Northern Democrats were warmly voting with us, that this was the language with Mr. Calhoun and his party for much of the time till they have left us with few friends in the North. . . . This can mean nothing but Disunion! Disunion! Slave question or no Slave question!"

In an effort to show popular approbation of their support of the Democratic administration in Washington, Brown and his colleague Robert Strange resigned in 1840 and placed their political fate upon the general election. The Whigs, however, won control of the General Assembly; Brown was replaced in the U.S. Senate by Willie P. Mangum and Strange by William A. Graham. The latter's term expired in 1842, and, with the Democrats again in control of the General Assembly, Brown offered himself for the seat. The Calhoun wing of the Democratic party, however, was determined to prevent Brown's return to Washington. They therefore put into nomination the name of another resident of Caswell County, Romulus M. Saunders. With the two factions unable to agree, and neither candidate willing to yield to the other, both eventually withdrew and William H. Haywood was elected.

Hurt and disillusioned, Brown sold Rose Hill and moved his family to Howard County, Mo., where they lived until 1847. In the latter year they moved to Virginia, settling first in Albemarle County and later in Fauquier County, where they lived until 1855, except for the winters of 1849-50 in Baltimore and 1853-54 in Savannah. In 1855, Brown repurchased Rose Hill and moved back to Caswell County. Within a year he was again active in politics, serving as vice-president of the state's Democratic convention delegation in 1856 and again in 1860. He was elected to the senate in 1858 and was reelected in 1860 and 1862. He also served in the wartime convention.

Though Brown remained a staunch Unionist until the beginning of the Civil War, he voted for secession on 20 May 1861. Following the war, he served in the convention of 1865 and advocated a speedy return to the Union. In the same year he was narrowly defeated for Congress. Two years later, Governor Johathan Worth sent him to Washington as a commissioner to discuss readmission to the Union.

In 1868, Brown was again vice-president of the state's delegation to the Democratic National Convention, and in the fall he was elected again to the state senate. The Republican-controlled senate, however, refused to allow him to be seated. His place was taken by John Walter Stephens, who two years later was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.

Brown married Mary Lumpkin Glenn on 13 July 1816, and they had seven children: William Livingston, Bedford, Jr., Wilson Glenn, Isabella, Virginia, Laura, and Rosalie. Brown was buried on the grounds at Rose Hill.


1The principle of "force" and "nullification" are related. In 1932, South Carolina asserted that it had the right to ignore, or nullify any federal law it did not like. At the time, South Carolina opposed federal tariffs it felt aided the North at the South's expense. The state passed its Ordinance of Nullification, which brought a swift and powerful rebuke from President Andrew Jackson. That response is printed in a broadside, The PROCLAMATION of Andrew Jackson, President... In it, Jackson labels nullification an act of treason and pledges to enforce the laws of the United States with military force if necessary. Congress passed the Force Act in 1833 to assure he had the power. Meanwhile, it also offered South Carolina some compromises on the tariffs, and with that, the state, unable to get support from any other southern state, backed down from the brink. Many believe this was the first salvo of the Civil War. There would be no backing down twenty-eight years later when South Carolina responded to the election of Lincoln by seceding from the Union. This time, the rest of the southern states joined her.

SEE: Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, vol. 1 (1905); Brown papers (Manuscript Department, Library, Duke University, Durham; Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill); Houston G. Jones, "Bedford Brown," North Carolina Historical Review 32 (1955); David Schenck, Personal Sketches of Distinguished Delegates to the State Convention 1861-62 (1885).

From DICTIONARY OF NORTH CAROLINA BIOGRAPHY, Volumes 1-7, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.




Rose Hill

Bedford Brown House, Rose Hill, c. 1802. Handsome two-story frame early Federal House built by Jethro Brown, who kept a tavern here where an early intellectual society met. It was the seat of Bedford Brown, one of Caswell County's best known statesmen, a leader of the Southern Democratic Party who opposed secession in 1860. Brown added an elaborate late Federal parlor, which features a remarkably complete survival of original marbleized woodwork, wallpaper, and carpet. Source: An Inventory of Historic Architecture--Caswell County, North Carolina, Ruth Little-Stokes (1979) at 93.

First called Locust Hill, this Rose Hill always owned by the Brown family is not to be confused with another Rose Hill in Person County and also on Highway 158 (road between Yanceyville and Roxboro that runs through Leasburg). This Person County Rose Hill became in 1793 the home of Alexander Rose (c. 1738-1807)and his wife Eunice Lea. For further information on the Rose family see Alexander Rose of Person County North Carolina and His Descendants, Ben Lacy Rose (1979).

National Register of Historic Places

Rose Hill ** (added 1973 - Building - #73001305)
Also known as Bedford Brown House
On U.S. 158 at jct. with NC 150, Locust Hill
Historic Significance: Architecture/Engineering, Person
Architect, builder, or engineer: Unknown
Architectural Style: Federal
Historic Person: Brown, Bedford
Significant Year: 1835, 1802
Area of Significance: Politics/Government, Architecture
Period of Significance: 1800-1824, 1825-1849
Owner: Private
Historic Function: Domestic
Historic Sub-function: Secondary Structure, Single Dwelling2
Current Function: Domestic
Current Sub-function: Secondary Structure, Single Dwelling2

National Register of Historic Places--Rose Hill

See Mary Lumpkin Glenn for an interesting article on the family of Bedford Brown's wife. According to this article: Rose Hill, built by Colonel Jethro Brown in 1800, was given to his son, along with 1000 acres and 100 slaves, as a wedding gift. After a wedding trip to England, Mrs. Brown supervised the planting of the grounds with hundreds of rose bushes and more than 2000 boxwoods. The estate still is owned and occupied by the Brown family.

Groom: Bedford Brown
Bride: Mary Glenn
Bond Date: 06 Jul 1816
Bond #: 000014266
Level Info: North Carolina Marriage Bonds, 1741-1868
ImageNum: 002974
County: Caswell
Record #: 01 031
Bondsman: Griffin Gunn
Witness: Azariah Graves
Source: Ancestry.Com North Carolina Marriage Bonds, 1741-1868

1This photograph (carte-de-viste) by famous Civil War photographer Matthew Brady probably was made when Bedford Brown was in Washington, D.C., as commissioner seeking readmission of North Carolina into the Union after the Civil War. As a pre-war Unionist, Brown was one of only a few Southern politicians for whom Brady had enough sympathy to grant the favor of a sitting. Note that images of Senator Bedford Brown often are confused with those of his son, Dr. Bedford Brown, M.D. Even the Library of Congress link given above uses an incorrect photograph in its Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

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