Thomas S. Martin

Last updated
Thomas Martin
Thomas Staples Martin.jpg
Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus
In office
March 4, 1917 November 12, 1919
Deputy J. Hamilton Lewis (1917–1919)
Peter G. Gerry (1919)
Preceded by John W. Kern
Succeeded by Gilbert Hitchcock (acting)
In office
April 1911 March 4, 1913
Preceded by Hernando Money
Succeeded by John W. Kern
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
March 4, 1895 November 12, 1919
Preceded by Eppa Hunton
Succeeded by Carter Glass
Personal details
Thomas Staples Martin

(1847-07-29)July 29, 1847
Scottsville, Virginia, U.S.
DiedNovember 12, 1919(1919-11-12) (aged 72)
Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Education Virginia Military Institute
University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the Confederate States of America (1865).svg  Confederate States of America
Years of service1864-1865
Battles/wars Valley Campaigns of 1864

Thomas Staples Martin (July 29, 1847 November 12, 1919) was an American lawyer and Democratic Party politician from Albemarle County, Virginia, who founded a political organization that held power in Virginia for decades (later becoming known as the Byrd Organization) and who personally became a U.S. Senator who served for nearly a quarter century and rose to become the Majority Leader (and later Minority Leader) before dying in office. [1] [2]

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Democratic Party (United States) Major political party in the United States

The Democratic Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with its rival, the Republican Party. Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison's Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world's oldest active political party.

Albemarle County, Virginia U.S. county in Virginia

Albemarle County is a county located in the Piedmont region of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Its county seat is Charlottesville, which is an independent city and enclave entirely surrounded by the county. Albemarle County is part of the Charlottesville Metropolitan Statistical Area. As of the 2010 census, the population of Albemarle County was 98,970, more than triple the 1960 census count.


Early life, education and Confederate career

Born in Scottsville, then the largest town on the upper James River to the former Martha Ann Staples (1819-1906), and her husband John Samuel Martin (1815-1867), Thomas Martin was their firstborn son. His father moved from Fluvanna to work in Thomas Staples's store, where he met his wife and eventually became partner. Thomas had two elder sisters and one younger sister in the 1850 census. [3] In 1853, the growing family moved to "Fairview" a farm outside Scottsville. Thomas would ultimately have eight siblings, including brothers Reuben (b. 1849), Samuel (b. 1851), Leslie (b. 1854) and John (1858-1933). [4] His father also became a local justice of the peace and managed a local woolen mill, before dying on his farm shortly after the American Civil War ended. Young Thomas was educated at home and at local private schools, as was customary for men of his class. [5]

Scottsville, Virginia Town in Virginia, United States

Scottsville is a town in Albemarle and Fluvanna counties in the U.S. state of Virginia. The population was 566 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Charlottesville Metropolitan Statistical Area.

James River river in Virginia, United States

The James River is a river in the U.S. state of Virginia that begins in the Appalachian Mountains and flows 348 miles (560 km) to Chesapeake Bay. The river length extends to 444 miles (715 km) if one includes the Jackson River, the longer of its two source tributaries. It is the longest river in Virginia and the 12th longest river in the United States that remains entirely within a single state. Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia’s first colonial capitals, and Richmond, Virginia's current capital, lie on the James River.

Fluvanna County, Virginia U.S. county in Virginia

Fluvanna County is a county located in the Piedmont region of the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 25,691. Its county seat is Palmyra.

Thomas Martin began attending Virginia Military Institute in March, 1864. When the cadet corps was called into Confederate service shortly before the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864 (in which 10 cadets died), Martin was ill and missed the fight. He recovered and when Union troops burned VMI later in the year, joined his fellow cadets in skirmishes around Lynchburg (a main railroad hub and hospital center where VMI initially relocated) during the Valley Campaigns of 1864 and in defending the Confederate capitol at Richmond.

Virginia Military Institute United States historic place

Founded 11 November 1839 in Lexington, Virginia, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is the oldest state-supported military college and the first public Senior Military College in the United States. In keeping with its founding principles and unlike any other Senior Military College in the United States, VMI enrolls cadets only and awards baccalaureate degrees exclusively. VMI offers its students, all of whom are cadets, strict military discipline combined with a physically and academically demanding environment. The Institute grants degrees in 14 disciplines in engineering, the sciences and liberal arts, and all VMI students are required to participate in one of the three ROTC programs.

Battle of New Market Battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of New Market was fought on May 15, 1864, in Virginia during the Valley Campaigns of 1864 in the American Civil War. A makeshift Confederate army of 4,100 men, which included cadets from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), defeated Union Major General Franz Sigel and his Army of the Shenandoah. The cadets were integral to the Confederate victory at New Market and this event marks the only time in U.S. history wherein the student body of a functioning and an operating college fought as an organized unit in pitched combat in battle. This event and battle was the 14th time VMI Cadets were called into action during the Civil War. As a result of this defeat, Sigel was relieved of his command and replaced by Maj. Gen. David Hunter, who later burned VMI in retaliation for New Market.

Lynchburg, Virginia Independent city in Virginia, United States

Lynchburg is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 75,568. The 2017 census estimates an increase to 81,000. Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the banks of the James River, Lynchburg is known as the "City of Seven Hills" or the "Hill City". In the 1860s, Lynchburg was the only major city in Virginia that was not recaptured by the Union before the end of the American Civil War.

After General Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Martin returned home, but that fall began studies at the University of Virginia. He became a member of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity, but withdraw after two years because his father's death forced him to take charge of the store and mill and support the family. Martin would later remain connected with the university and served a term on UVa's Board of Visitors, but in the short run read law at night. [6]

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park 1,700 acres in Virginia (US) managed by the National Park Service

The Appomattox Court House is a National Historical Park of original and reconstructed 19th century buildings in Appomattox County, Virginia. The village is famous as the site of the Battle of Appomattox Court House and containing the house of Wilmer McLean, where the surrender of the Confederate army under Robert E. Lee to Union commander Ulysses S. Grant took place on April 9, 1865, effectively ending the American Civil War. The McLean House was the site of the surrender conference, but the village itself is named for the presence nearby of what is now preserved as the Old Appomattox Court House.

University of Virginia University in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

The University of Virginia is a public research university in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was founded in 1819 by Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson. It is the flagship university of Virginia and home to Jefferson's Academical Village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UVA is known for its historic foundations, student-run honor code, and secret societies.

Phi Kappa Sigma North American collegiate fraternity

Phi Kappa Sigma (ΦΚΣ) is an international all-male college secret and social fraternity. While nicknames differ from institution to institution, the most common nicknames for the fraternity are Skulls, Skullhouse, Phi Kap, and PKS. Phi Kappa Sigma was founded by Dr. Samuel Brown Wylie Mitchell at the University of Pennsylvania. Mitchell recorded the initial ideas and concepts of Phi Kappa Sigma on August 16, 1850. He then began to discuss the idea with other students, first Charles Hare Hutchinson, and then Alfred Victor du Pont, John Thorne Stone, Andrew Adams Ripka, James Bayard Hodge, and Duane Williams. The seven men formally founded the fraternity on October 19, 1850 becoming the founding fathers of Phi Kappa Sigma Phi Kappa Sigma is a charter member of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, and since 2017, is headquartered in Carmel, Indiana. Prior to that, starting with its founding in 1850, the fraternity was based out of Philadelphia, Valley Forge and Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.


Martin was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1869 and built a successful practice in Scottsville (once the Albemarle County seat) and surrounding counties. He became known for his expertise with land records, as well as ability to settle problems out of court. In the early 1880s, he became the district counsel for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, which had bought several of the railroads destroyed in the Civil War, and which were being rebuilt.

Martin became a protege of John S. Barbour Jr., a veteran lawyer who had been president of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad before the war and a politician and U.S. Congressmaan like his father (John S. Barbour). Barbour had become affiliated with the C&O Railroad after it bought the Orange and Alexandria after the war. As well as expanding the C&O, he (with Martin's behind the scenes help) also orchestrated the rise of the state's Democratic Party at the expense of the Readjuster Party, a coalition of Republicans and African Americans. In 1885, Martin secured a spot on the state Democratic state central committee, the year that the Democrats secured election of former Confederate general Fitzhugh Lee as governor. Two years later, Martin successfully promoted the Senate candidacy of John W. Daniel of Lynchburg, to replace Readjuster William Mahone (another former Confederate general), although Barbour wanted the seat. In 1889, when the Readjuster Party's other leader, Senator Harrison H. Riddleberger chose not to run for re-election (he would die the following year), Barbour won the seat and became a U.S. Senator. Democrats again controlled both Virginia Senate seats, as well as the governorship, as they had before the war. When Barbour died in office in 1892, after just 3 years as a U.S. Senator, the organization that he and Martin had nurtured initially allowed former CSA General (and Virginia lawyer and Congressman) Eppa Hunton to succeed him. However, Hunton became embroiled in scandal, and the Panic of 1893 led to a recession.

John S. Barbour Jr. American politician

John Strode Barbour Jr. was a U.S. Representative and a Senator from Virginia. He is best remembered for taking power in Virginia from the short-lived Readjuster Party in the late 1880s, forming the first political machine of "Conservative Democrats", whose power was to last 80 years until the demise of the Byrd Organization in the late 1960s.

Orange and Alexandria Railroad

The Orange and Alexandria Railroad (O&A) was a railroad in Virginia, United States. It extended from Alexandria to Gordonsville, with another section from Charlottesville to Lynchburg. The road played a crucial role in the American Civil War, and eventually became an important part of the modern-day Norfolk Southern rail system.

Readjuster Party Political party in late 19th century Virginia

The Readjuster Party was a political biracial coalition formed in Virginia in the late 1870s during the turbulent period following the Reconstruction era. Readjusters aspired "to break the power of wealth and established privilege" among the planter elite of white men in the state and to promote public education. Their program attracted biracial support.

Assisted by campaign contributions from the C&O and other railroads (made more important because of the economic recession, as would be revealed during the 1911 campaign), and with the assistance of Congressmen Henry D. Flood and Claude Swanson (who later became Governor) as well as elected officials in many of Virginia's counties, Martin secured 66 votes in the Democratic legislative caucus (compared to 55 votes for Fitzhugh Lee, who gave speeches throughout the Commonwealth but proved lethargic in securing legislative support). [7] Thus, despite relatively poor oratorical skills, Martin upset the favorite in December 1893, and the following year formally secured election to the U.S. Senate, helped by his new marriage.

Re-elected several times (first through the legislature and later by voters after the seat became subject to direct election), Martin represented Virginia in the United States Senate for nearly twenty-five years. In 1899, Martin faced Governor James Hoge Tyler (a fellow Democrat whom he had supported as Lieutenant Governor and Governor in 1897), but retained his seat. In 1905, Democrats shifted from the caucus system to a primary, and Governor Andrew J. Montague opposed Martin, as an Independent running on an anti-machine platform, but Martin won anyway, having greatly improved as a public speaker in the intervening years, and reinforcing his political organization by disenfranchising blacks and poor whites by the legislative adoption of the new state constitution in 1902. In 1910, Senator Daniel died, and Martin's ally Claude Swanson succeeded him. In 1911, Martin and Claude Swanson faced an internal Democratic party challenge from Congressman William A. Jones, the main leader of Progressive Democrats, and Carter Glass, but retained their seats by a 2-to-1 margin. Senator Martin ran unopposed for re-election to the Senate in 1918.

Martin and his organization worked to defeat various Progressive forces in their own Democratic party, as well as defeat Progressive Republicans (including President Theodore Roosevelt, who kept a camp in Virginia and noted his Confederate-sympathizing mother and her ancestors). They also worked disenfranchise African-Americans in the state, especially at the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1902. As shown by the multiple internal challenges, they were less cohesive than the Byrd Organization would be for decades after Martin's death.

Nonetheless, Martin was also pragmatic, which assisted his rise in the Senate Democratic hierarchy. Before the 1911 election, fellow Senate Democrats elected him Minority Leader. He withdrew as a candidate for re-election to that post in 1913, and in 1915 spent most of the campaign season in Albemarle County, since his wife's tuberculosis had worsened (and she died by year's end). Martin first opposed Woodrow Wilson, a former Virginian and Progressive Democrat, but when Wilson was elected (and re-elected), Martin eventually supported parts of Wilson's agenda. [8]

After his wife's death in 1915, Martin devoted himself to Senate business, becoming Majority leader in 1917, and securing the declaration which supported American entry into World War I. However, Republicans regained control of the Senate in 1918, so he became Minority leader. The following year, Martin's health worsened. While he continued with some Senate business and hoped to return to Washington by the fall, he was unable to help Wilson during the peace treaty process.

Personal life

Mrs Thomas S. Martin Mrs Thomas S. Martin.jpg
Mrs Thomas S. Martin

In 1894, the long-time bachelor Martin married Lucy Chambliss Day (1875-1915), daughter of Col. C. Fenton Day (1846-1915), former mayor of Smithfield and an important businessman in the Isle of Wight area (owner of one of four peanut factories as well as part owner of the cement factory). The Day family was prominent before the war, her grandfather William Henry Day (1802-1867) having served in the Virginia Senate immediately before the war). Lucy Day was a much admired belle of Southside Virginia, as well as at the various watering places where her family spent the summers. Possessing decided literary talent, as well as being an accomplished swimmer and equestrian, she had numerous published poems and prose articles, many admired for their beauty of thought and expression. [9] Mrs. Martin and her sister, Grace Radcliffe Day (who married businessman Henry Gould Ralston in 1910) were society belles in Washington D.C. [10] The Martins had a son, Thomas Martin Jr. () and a daughter, Lucy Day Martin (1897-1927). Lucy Day Martin survived both parents, but like her mother, died of tuberculosis. [11]

Death and legacy

The widower Martin did not remarry and died while in office, at his home in Charlottesville. He is buried with his wife and daughter (who died of tuberculosis unmarried) in the University of Virginia Cemetery at that location. Fellow Democrat Carter Glass succeeded to Martin's senate seat; Colorado Senator Charles Spalding Thomas would become the last Confederate veteran in the U.S. Senate.

Martin's home, Faulkner House, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. [12]

Martin's gravestone at the University of Virginia Cemetery in Charlottesville, Virginia. Grave of Thomas S. Martin.jpg
Martin's gravestone at the University of Virginia Cemetery in Charlottesville, Virginia.

See also

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  1. Thomas Staples Martin in Encyclopedia Virginia
  2. United States Congress. "MARTIN, Thomas Staples (id: M000200)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress .
  3. 1850 U.S. Federal Census for Scottsville, Albemarle County, Virginia family 2001
  4. 1860 U.S. Federal Census for St. Anne's Parish, Albemarle County, Virginia, family 487; although the name does not appear in a quick search of the slave schedules for either year, because John Martin's net worth in Personal property escalated to $33,800 in 1860, and because he shows in the Virginia slave census of that year (not available online), he probably began owning slaves.
  9. Hinman, Ida (1895). The Washington Sketch Book.
  10. Richmond Times Dispatch March 6, 1904, available at
  11. Virginia death record available online
  12. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service. 2010-07-09.
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Eppa Hunton
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Virginia
Served alongside: John W. Daniel, Claude A. Swanson
Succeeded by
Carter Glass
Preceded by
Donelson Caffery
Chair of the Senate District of Columbia Corporations Committee
Succeeded by
Hernando Money
Preceded by
John W. Daniel
Chair of the Senate Public Health Committee
Succeeded by
Charles Allen Culberson
Preceded by
Francis E. Warren
Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Succeeded by
Francis E. Warren
Party political offices
Preceded by
Hernando Money
Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus
Succeeded by
John W. Kern
Preceded by
John W. Kern
Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus
Succeeded by
Gilbert Hitchcock
First Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Virginia
(Class 2)

Succeeded by
Carter Glass