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Charles James McDonald

Gov. Charles James McDonald

  • November 6, 1839 - November 8, 1843
  • July 9, 1793
  • December 16, 1860
  • South Carolina
  • South Carolina College
  • Married twice--Anne Franklin, Elizabeth (Roane) Ruffin; five children


CHARLES JAMES MCDONALD was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on July 9, 1793. His family moved to Hancock County, Georgia, in 1862, where he studied at Reverand Nathan Beman’s Academy. He graduated from South Carolina College in 1816, studied law, was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1817, and established a legal career in Macon. He was in the Georgia militia from 1823 to 1825, serving as a brigadier general in the 3rd Brigade, 6th Division. McDonald entered public service in 1822 as solicitor general of the Flint Circuit, a position he held until 1825. He was a trustee of the Bibb County Academy and Macon Academy in 1823, serving again in 1833, and he was a justice of the Superior Courty of the Flint Judicial Circuit from 1825 to 1828. He also served as a one-term member of the Georgia House of Representatives in 1830, and was a member of the Georgia Senate in 1834 and 1837. McDonald won the 1839 Democratic gubernatorial nomination and was elected Governor of Georgia. He was reelected to a second term in 1841. During his tenure, he advocated for creating a state supreme court, endorsed improving the state’s educational system, and lobbied for legislative biennial sessions. McDonald’s administration also dealt with an economic recession that resulted from the Panic of 1837, accounting for his most important accomplishment. He recommended sanctioning a “stay law” that would terminate the implementation of mortgages. He also urged for the continuance of in-kind payments by banks and ordered a halt to construction on the state-owned Western and Atlantic Railroad. In an effort to relieve the state’s financial plight, he solicited for a tax increase, which failed to pass. Consequently, he directed the state treasurer to pay general expenditures first and allow legislative salaries to go unpaid if need be. After leaving office, McDonald served as a delegate to the 1850 Southern Rights Convention. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1851, and also was unsuccessful in his race for the U.S. Senate in 1853 and 1857. He served as an associate justice of the state supreme court from 1856 to 1859, and was an elector-at-large on the Breckenridge presidential ticket in 1860. He moved to Marietta and established a law practice, participated in local affairs, and became a large slave owner. Governor Charles J. McDonald died on December 16, 1860, and he is buried in the Episcopal Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia.


Cook, James F. Governors of Georgia, 1754-2004. 3d ed. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2005.

Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 1, Westport, Conn.; Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.

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