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Edmunds, George Franklin


Age: 0, credited to Richmond, VT
Unit(s): State
Service: U.S. Senator

See Legend for expansion of abbreviations


Birth: 02/01/1828, Richmond, VT
Death: 02/27/1919

Burial: Greenmount Cemetery, Burlington, VT
Marker/Plot: Not recorded
Gravestone photographer: Kathy Valloch
Findagrave Memorial #: 21276


Alias?: None noted
Pension?: Not eligible
Portrait?: Unknown
College?: Not Found
Veterans Home?: Not Found
(If there are state digraphs above, this soldier spent some time in a state or national soldiers' home in that state after the war)

Remarks: more off-site


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Copyright notice



Greenmount Cemetery, Burlington, VT

Check the cemetery for location/directions and other veterans who may be buried there.


(Matthew Brady photograph)


Edmunds, George Franklin, of Burlington, son of Ebenezer and Naomi (Briggs) Edmunds, was born in Richmond, Feb. 1, 1828.
His preliminary education was had in the public schools and under a private tutor. When but eighteen he began the study of law in Burlington, and continued it at Richmond in the office of his brother-in-law, A. B. Maynard, in 1846-'47. In the two following years he was a student in the office of Smalley & Phelps in Burlington. In March, 1849, he was admitted to the bar of Chittenden county, and to partnership with Mr. Maynard at Richmond. The new firm was very successful. In November, 1851, he removed to Burlington, which thenceforward became his home. At the time of Mr. Edmunds' removal to Burlington the legal fraternity of the state was exceptionally strong. Ex-Governor Underwood, D. A. Smalley, E. J. Phelps, L. E. Chittenden, and others were formidable competitors, but he soon worked his way to the front. In 1866, when he was first appointed to the National Senate, he had secured the largest and most lucrative practice in that section of Vermont.
The services of George F. Edmunds fill some of the cleanest, brightest pages in the legislative history of the state and nation. In 1854 he made his first appearance in the field of local politics as the moderator of the Burlington March meeting, and he was soon afterward elected representative of the town to the Legislature. A member of the House in the years 1854-'55-'56-'57-'58-'59, he was also speaker during the last three sessions. In 1864 he served in the joint committee on the state library, and also in the committee on the judiciary. In 1855 he was made chairman of the latter body.
In 1861 Mr. Edmunds was returned, against his protest, to the state Senate from Chittenden county, and was chairman of its judiciary committee. Re-elected in 1862, he served on the same committee. In each of these years he was also president pro tempore of the Senate. In 1866, United States Senator Solomon Foote died and Mr. Edmunds was appointed his successor by Gov. Paul Dillingham. April 5, 1866, he began that long senatorial career which so honored himself, his state, and his country. He was afterwards elected by the Legislature for the remainder of the term ending March 4, 1869, and in 1868, 1874, 1880, and 1886 received elections for the full senatorial term. In 1891, after more than a quarter of a century's service, he resigned. His impress on national legislation was greater than that of any other man of his time, and he had for years been the foremost senator. No one thinks of his pro tempore presidency of the Senate, so overshadowed is it by his real leadership.
In the winter of 1876 came a crisis in the history of the United States, the great danger of which is year by year realized. The nation was threatened with all the evils of disputed succession to the chief magistracy. Senator Edmunds comprehended the situation, and led from danger to lawful safety. He first submitted the draft of a constitutional amendment, which remitted the duty of counting the electoral votes to the Supreme Court of the United States. But this was rejected by a vote of 14 to 31. On the 16th of December he called up the message from the House of Representatives, announcing the appointment of a committee of seven to act in conjunction with a committee of the Senate in advising some method of counting the electoral vote; and submitted a resolution referring the message of the House to a select committee of seven senators, having power to prepare and report, without unnecessary delay, such a measure as would secure the lawful count of the electoral vote, and the best disposition of the questions connected therewith, and that this committee have power to confer with the committee of the House of Representatives. The resolution was adopted, the committee appointed and Senator Edmunds was made its chairman. In the discussions which followed he devised the electoral commission bill.
On the 13th of January, 1877, Mr. Edmunds reported the proposed measure, which provided for the appointment of an electoral commission, and which defined the duties of its members. The bill passed into law. Senator Edmunds was appointed a member of the electoral commission on the part of the Senate, and contributed efficiently to the lawful solution of the problem in which so many dangers lurked.
The anti-polygamy law now in force is rightly known as the Edmunds law. But a list of good measures passed and bad measures defeated by his efforts and under his leadership would be interminable.
Unsought by him, in 1880 and 1884 many of his party, who wanted it to make its first statesman its leader, earnestly worked for his nomination for the presidency in the Republican national conventions of those years. In 1891 he resigned his seat in the United States Senate, and has since devoted his time to the practice of his profession.

Source: Jacob G. Ullery, compiler, Men of Vermont: An Illustrated Biographical History of Vermonters and Sons of Vermont, (Transcript Publishing Company, Brattleboro, VT, 1894), Part II, p. 118.


Stamps Him as Vermont's Most Distinguished Son
Span of His Life Included Administrations of 22 Presidents - An Appreciation by Walter B. Crockett in "The Vermonter."

The death of George F. Edmunds, at Pasadena, Cal., February 27, 1919, ended the career of the man who may be ranked, when all circumstances are considered, as the most distinguished of the sons whom Vermont has sent directly into the public service of the nation. During his long and useful life, covering more than 91 years, he saw a wonderful transformation in his own country and in the world. The area of the United States included the region north of Texas and east of the Rocky mountains, the title to Oregon territory not having been established. There were only two states west of the Mississippi river, Louisiana and Missouri. During the life of Senator Edmunds, as Vermonters have been accustomed to call him for more than 50 years, the number of States has increased from 23 to 43 and the population of our country from 4,000,000 to more than 100,000,000. When he was born John Quincy Adams was president of the United States and Ezra Hunter was governor of Vermont. The span of his life, therefore, included the administrations of 22 of the 27 presidents of the United States and 43 of the 57 governors of Vermont. Nearly all of the great inventions that are now a part of our daily life, the steamboat excepted, have been discovered since his birth, and many volumes would be required to record the social, industrial and political transformations of the world during that period.

George Franklin Edmunds was born in Richmond, Vt., February 1, 1828. Both his maternal and paternal grandparents were Those Island Quakers, or Friends, the former belonging to the Orthodox faith and the latter to the Hicksite denomination. In 1836 his parents removed from Berkshire, Mass., to Richmond and purchased a large farm on the Winooski river, about two miles above the village, where their son, George, was born. The only children in the family were this son and older sister, who afterward became Mrs. A. B. Maynard.

The local district school was on the Edmunds farm, and there he began his education at a very early age. He grew up a slender lad, lacking the health and strength of the average country lad. He was taught the various things that a boy on the farm should know, his parents carefully guarding his precarious health. His sports were hunting, trout fishing, riding farm horses and breaking colts, and altogether his boyhood was a happy one. About the year 1840 the farm was sold and the family moved to the village, where with his sister, George attended a select school taught by a capable man. A year or two later he was sent to Burlington to attend an academy in preparation for college. In a few weeks his health became impaired and a long illness followed, necessitating the abandonment of a college career. He took lessons in Latin and French from his brother-in-law, A. B. Maynard, but being threatened with tuberculosis, he spent the winter on 1845-46 in Washington, for the benefit of his health. He continued his studies there and had access to the law library of the United States Supreme Court.

In the spring of 1846 he returned home and continued his law studies with Mr. Maynard until 1848, when he went to Burlington to be a student clerk in the law office of Daniel A. Smalley and Edward J. Phelps, both eminent lawyers. Early in the year 1849 Mr. Edmunds was admitted to the bar and returned to Richmond to become a partner of his brother-in-law. The following year he removed to Burlington and became the partner of Charles D. Kasson, who died within a year. He speedily built up a lucrative practice at a time when the Burlington bar included such eminent men as Daniel A. Smalley, Edward J. Phelps, Levi Underwood and L. E. Chittenden. In1862 he married Susan Marsh Lyman, daughter of Wyllys Lyman, and a niece of George P. Marsh, then United States minister to Turkey. Two daughters were born to Mr. and Mrs. Edmunds, one of whom, Miss Mary, is now living at Pasadena, Cal. Miss Julia died in 1881. Mrs. Edmunds died August 24, 1916.

Mr. Edmunds first public service was the performance of the duties of moderator of the Burlington town meeting in March, 1854. later that year he was elected to the State Legislature, being the candidate of the younger element in local politics. This office, and all that he subsequently held, came without any seeking on his part, either directly or indirectly. State elections were then held annually and Mr. Edmunds was re-elected to the House in 1855, 1856, 1857, 1858 and 1859. In 1855 he was made chairman of the judiciary committee and in 1857, 1858 and 1859 he was elected speaker. In 1861 and 8162 he served in the State senate, being chairman of the judiciary committee and president pro tem of the Senate. As a member of the Legislature he won distinction as a painstaking and careful legislator, who gave diligent attention to every detail of business.

For the next few years Mr. Edmunds devoted himself to his large law practice. Following the St. Albans raid of 1864, when armed confederates from Canada invaded Vermont and looted the banks of St. Albans, Mr. Edmunds was sent to Montreal by Secretary of State William H. Seward to obtain the extradition of the raiders on charges of murder and robbery. The Canadian courts, however, held that these crimes were acts of war. Mr. Edmunds at once notified the State Department of the condition of affairs and recommended a strict blockade of the Canadian border. This policy was adopted and was strictly enforced. As a result the Canadian government adopted a more reasonable attitude, and reimbursed the banks for the money stolen by the raiders.

The death of Senator Solomon Foot, March 23, 1866 necessitated the filling of the vacancy by the governor, the Hon. Paul Dillingham. At this time the Senate and President Johnson were at odds and the republican majority needed every vote it could command in the Senate. Governor Dillingham had decided to fill the vacancy without delay and on his return from attending Senator Foot's funeral at Rutland, he stopped at Burlington, April 3, and sent a note to Mr. Edmunds asking him to come to the American House. He responded to the summons and was offered the appointment as United States senator. With much solicitude as to how he should succeed, he accepted and left the following day for the national capital. He was assigned according to custom to minor committee places, pensions and commerce being where he began his work.

Probably in all the history of the American Senate there have been few men who came into that chamber, unknown to the country at large, who gained a position of influence as speedily as died George F. Edmunds. James G. Blaine in his "Twenty Years of Congress" alludes to this fact, and Mr. Blaine was by no means an ardent admirer of the Vermont Senator. Before he had served a year in the Senate he was taking such a prominent part in the debates that James Ford Rhodes, the eminent historian quotes from his speeches in describing the period following the Civil War. In December, 1896, Senator Edmunds explained the features of the Tenure of Office Act. In January, 1897, "he felt sure that negro suffrage must come."

When arrangements were made for the trial of President Andrew Johnson before the Senate to answer to impeachment charges preferred by the House, Mr. Edmunds was made chairman of a committee to arrange rules of procedure in the Senate, and in conjunction with Chief Justice Salomon P. Chase, who was to preside at the trial, established the rules as they appear in the official records.

Senator Edmunds' committee assignments in a few years were made more desirable. As a result of his demonstrated legal ability he was soon assigned to the Judiciary Committee and a little later to the Appropriate Committee. In 8171 he was chairman of the Pensions Committee and in 1872 was made chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a position which he held with great distinction during the remainder of his service in the Senate, with the exception of the period from 1879 to 1883, when the Democrats were in control, and his intimate friend Senator Thurman of Ohio held the position.

After the first two or three years of Senator Edmunds' term he was generally regarded as one of the leading members of the Senate and the Congressional record shows that he participated actively and helpfully in the consideration of most of the important measures that came before the Senate. It is said that President Grant depended much upon him for advice. Rhodes says, however, that Edmunds and Sherman could not be classed as "Thick and thin supporters" of the administration; that they were "statesmen of a high order" and not mere politicians. Senator Edmunds and Morrill voted against one of Grant's pet measures, the annexation of San Domingo.

Early in Grant's first term he offered Senator Edmunds the position of Judge of the Second United States Circuit, composing Vermont, Connecticut and New York, a position which he was strongly tempted to accept, as he liked the law. Knowing that he must live in New York City he made some inquiries in regard to the rental of small and modest house in a part of the city and found that the rent would be $6,000, the exact amount of the salary which he would receive. He decided, therefore, that he could not afford the accept the office. Later during President Grant's first term Senator Edmunds was asked to accept the position of United States Minister to Great Britain, preceding the negotiations concerning the Alabama claims, which he felt compelled to decline on account of the expenses which acceptance of the position would compel him to assume.

Senator Edmunds was never a man who sought publicity for his achievements and the credit which belonged to him for not a few important legislative acts have gone to others, for instance, the act providing for the resumption of specie payments, passed in 1875.

The act compelling transcontinental and western railroads to repay to the United States Government, bonds which had been loaned to them during the railway construction period, was framed by Senator Edmunds and Senator Thurman and the Judiciary Committee, but was reported to the Senate by Mr. Thurman in order that the largest possible number of Democratic votes might be obtained for the measure.

One of the greatest services which Senator Edmunds rendered his country during his long and useful career undoubtedly was the important part which he took in the peaceful settlement of the Hayes-Tilden controversy of 1876-77, which threatened to plunge America again into Civil War as a result of the Presidential election.

In 1882 President Arthur negotiated a canal treaty with Nicaragua and the President consulted Senator Edmunds and Secretary of State Frelinghuysen consulted Senator Edmunds in the forming of the treaty. It was reported from the Foreign Relations Committee by Senator Edmunds, who had learned that more than three-fourths of the Senate were in favor of its ratification. It was not acted upon until after President Cleveland's election and when it came up at the December session several Democratic Senators had changed their attitude, and the treaty lacked two or three votes of the number required to ratify it. A reconsideration was moved by Senator Edmunds and it went back to the calendar where it remained until after President Cleveland's inauguration, when it was withdrawn.

One of the few acts which bore Senator Edmunds' name is the anti-polygamy law, which he was influential in enacting.

During the Arthur administration another vacancy occurred on the Supreme Court bench, and the President sent the nomination by Secretary of State Frelinghuysen to senator Edmunds' committee room urging him to accept it, but the dangerous state of health of a member of his family which he felt might necessitate leaving Washington for a long time made it seem best to decline the honor. The Judges of the Court, knowing the situation, kindly offered to perform his duties during his enforced absence, but the Senator did not feel that he ought to accept under the circumstances.

Early in 1884 Senator Edmunds proposed to place General Grant upon the retired list of the army the rank and full pay of the position which he resigned when he became President, a proposal which met with great favor throughout the country.

During the latter part of the Arthur administration he was President Pro tem of the Senate.

As the time for the Republican National Campaign of 1884 approached, it appeared that the principal candidates would be President Arthur and James G. Baine. There was a considerable element, however, including many of the independent element who were not favorable to either of these men.

The civil service reform element was strongly in favor of Mr. Edmunds' nomination.

The Vermont republican State convention met at Montpelier, April 30, 1884, and made the following declaration: "Resolved, That we present to the republicans of the union George F. Edmunds as the embodiment of these principles enumerated in the platform, as the vigilant defender and representative of what is best in the republican fairth. The Vermont delegation was composed of some of the State's most eminent men, headed by Ex-Gov. John Gregory Smith as chairman and including Redfield Proctor, Frederick Billings and B. F. Fifield. They were instructed to vote for Mr. Edmunds as long as his name shall be before the national convention and to use all honorable means to secure his nomination."

Most of the Massachusetts delegates were for Edmunds, and owing to a deadlock in the New York convention between the followers of Blaine and Arthur, the friends of the president threw their strength to the Vermont senator and Edmunds delegates-at-large were elected to represent the empire State. They included Theodore Roosevelt, then only 25 years old and just entering upon his long and brilliant public career, George William Curtis, the well known reformer and editor and President Andrew D. White of Cornell university. About two weeks before the assembling of the national convention, Mr. Roosevelt and one of his fellow delegates invited all the Edmunds delegates from New England and New York to meet in New York city. About 30 men attended the conference and plans were outlined after a general discussion of he political situation. Several Vermonters attending including Redfield Proctor, B. F. Fifield, B. D. Harris of Brattleboro, Henry Ballard of Burlington and T. C. Fletcher of St. Johnsbury. A canvas made by the New York Herald about this time showed that the republican members of the New York legislature expressed their presidential preference as follows: Senator Edmunds, six; Arthur, three; Blaine, two; one each for John Sherman, General Sherman and Senator Hawley; non-committal, four. In the assembly, Edmunds, 26; Blaine, 10; Arthur, seven; Harrison, one. The Boston Advertiser's canvas of the prominent Massachusetts republicans showed the following vote: Edmunds, 369; Arthur, 73,; Blaine, 25. Harper's Weekly declared: "Mr. Edmund's strength is undeniable. He unites eminent public ability and service with the greatest availability - a very unusual combination in the presidential candidate."

Senator Edmunds himself was not ambitious to receive this honor. In a letter of Congressman William Walter Phelps of New Jersey, an ardent Blaine supporter, the senator denied certain charges made against him and took occasion to say that "I am neither willing nor desirous to be either candidate or president, which everybody who has spoken to me or written to me knows." To personal friends he declared that he knew too much of the cares and trials of a president to desire the office, and that if he were elected he believed it would kill him."

The convention met at Chicago, June 3, 1884, President Andrew D. White has left the following bit of description" "Arrived at Chicago, June 2, 1884. I found the political caldron seething and bubbling. Various candidates were earnestly supported, and foremost of all President Arthur and Mr. Blaine. The independent delegates, led by Theodore Roosevelt and George William Curtis, and the Massachusetts delegation, headed by Governor Long, Senator Hoar and Henry Cabot Lodge decided to support Senator Edmunds of Vermont. No man stood higher than he for integrity as well as for statesmanlike qualities, and legal abilities; no one had more thoroughly the respect of thinking men from one end of the country to the other. "

The names of the candidates were presented on the evening of the third day of the convention. The name of Edmunds was not reached until late at night, when the delegates were weary, but the presentation of Gov. John D. Long of Massachusetts and the seconding speech by George William Curtis were so eloquent and forceful that they commanded the attention of the great assembly and won the highest praise and in closing Gov. Long nominated as the republican candidate for the next president of the United States, the Honorable George F. Edmunds of Vermont."

The balloting began on the morning of the fourth day, Edmunds receiving 93 votes in the first ballot, distributed as follows: Arkansas, two; Indiana, one; Massachusetts, 25, Michigan, seven; Minnesota, six; Missouri, six; New Hampshire, four; New Jersey, six; New York, 12; Pennsylvania, one; Rhode Island, eight; Vermont, eight; Wisconsin, six; Montana, one. On the second ballot, Edmunds received 85 votes, losing two from Arkansas, one from Massachusetts, two from Michigan, one from Missouri, one from New Hampshire and one from Wisconsin. On the third ballot he received 64 votes, his loss from his strength on the second ballot, being, one from Indiana, two from Michigan, one from Minnesota, one from Missouri, six from New Jersey, and five from Wisconsin. On the fourth and last ballot in which Blaine was nominated, Edmunds received 41 votes, distributed as follows: Massachusetts, 18; New Hampshire, three; New Jersey, one; New York, nine; Pennsylvania, one; South Carolina, one; Vermont, eight.

The defeat of Mr. Blaine by a very narrow margin is part of the history of the United States. That Senator Edmunds would have held the strong independent vote which refused to support Mr. Blaine is beyond question and it is probable that had Edmunds been nominated he would have been elected. He was handicapped by coming from a small State that was more surely republican than any other in the union. Nature had not endowed him with those qualities of personal magnetism and cordial, good fellowship which made Mr. Blaine the most popular of American political leadership with the exception of Henry Clay and Theodore Roosevelt. But so far as intellectual and legal ability, experience, statesmanship and high character are concerned, he was ideally equipped for the presidency and excelled in those qualities most of the men who have held high office. Senator Edmunds did not expect to receive the republican nomination and his defeat in the convention probably came as a relief rather than a disappointment.

When Mr. Cleveland became President, his administration became engaged in a controversy with the Senate over the matter of removals from office in which Senator Edmunds, as the leader of the republican majority, was prominent.

In 1885 Mr. Edmunds was called to England to testify before the Committee of Privilege of the House of Lords concerning the law of the Province of New York in the year 1770 on the subject of marriage, the case being a dispute over a peerage title. The remainder of the summer was spent in studying the cathedrals of Europe.

It is now known that the fundamental sections of the anti-trust law which bears Senator Sherman's name were written by Senator Edmunds. That portion of the Senate report upon the Clayton-Bulwer treaty relating to the Isthmian canal, so far as it concerned negotiations with Great Britain, was proposed by Senator Edmunds.

Wearied with 25 years of hard work Senator Edmunds resigned his post in the Senate in the spring of 1891, the resignation to take effect in the fall of that year. He had been returned term after term, practically without opposition, and there is no reason to suppose that he could not have retained his seat as long as he desired. He had remained in the Senate until his age was as great as his colleague, Senator Morrill, who might have completed 50 years of service in that body. Commenting on his retirement from public life, Harper's Weekly said: "The retirement of a Senator of such integrity, grasp, experience, and simplicity of taste and character impoverishes public life... were all his colleagues whom he salutes in farewell of the same quality with himself, the Senate would still deserve Chatham's eulogy of the Continental Congress."

After his retirement from the Senate Mr. Edmunds was appointed a member of the monitary commission authorized by the bankers' convention held at Indianapolis and was elected its chairman. The committee made a prolonged and careful investigation of the currency of the country, its findings being embodied in a report. Later President Cleveland, during his second term, offered Mr. Edmunds an appointment on the interstate waterways commission which was declined, not for lack of interest in the subject, but for the same reason that impelled his resignation from the Senate.

The career of Mr. Edmunds as a lawyer might properly be considered as the subject of an extended article, but this must be left for the consideration of a member of the bar. His professional labors did not cease when he went to the Senate. At that time public opinion did not condemn the practice of law by senators and congressmen and no person could fairly accuse Mr. Edmunds of allowing his course in the Senate to be influenced by his activity as a lawyer. His first case in the United States supreme court was a confiscation case argued in 1867 or 1868 in which a former member of that court appeared as the opposing counsel contending against the validity of the confiscation of railroad stocks as Confederate property. Senator Edmunds upheld the act and the proceedings indirect, and he won the case. Thereafter, until 1896 or 1897 he argues important cases in the supreme courts at New Orleans, St. Louis, Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, Macon, Ga., and elsewhere.

Soon after his retirement Mr. Edmunds made his home in Philadelphia and later in Pasadena, Cal., not because of any lack of loyalty, but rather on account of his own health and that of his family. From boyhood Mr. Edmunds had been obliged to fight a tendency of bronchial and lung trouble, and the New England winters were a menace to his health. To intimate any lack of loyalty or an affection for Vermont on his part, is to do him a cruel injustice. No man was prouder of the State than he and no man has brought it greater honor.

During all the years of his retirement he maintained a keen interest in public affairs and from time to time he contributed interviews on great public questions which were extremely valuable. Although he lived to a great age, his great intellect was not dimmed, and his comments on the sinking of the Lusitania, and the proper attitude of this country toward Germany were characterized by a robust Americanism that was refreshing to his countrymen.

Mr. Edmunds' body was brought back to his native State and was buried in the family lot in Green Mount cemetery in Burlington near the resting place of his intimate friends and associates, Edward J. Phelps and George Granville Benedict, in a part overlooking the beautiful Winooski valley, beyond which lie the Green mountains he loved.

The present generation has arisen since Mr. Edmunds retired from his public life, and there is danger lost Vermonters of the present day may lack in a proper appreciation of the services of this great man. By sheer force of intellect he rose rapidly to a place of influence and leadership such as few Americans ever have had. Unquestionably he was one of the greatest of American Senators and for many years probably was considered the ablest man in the upper branch of Congress. His services constitute no small part of the honorable record of Vermont in Congress, and as long as the Green mountain commonwealth exists it will do well to cherish the memory of this great American statesman.

Source: Burlington Free Press, September 13, 1919.
Courtesy of Tom Boudreau.