Brev. Brig. General (USA), U.S. Senator George Eliphaz Spencer

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Brev. Brig. General (USA), U.S. Senator George Eliphaz Spencer

Birthplace: Champion, Jefferson County, New York, United States
Death: February 19, 1893 (56)
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Place of Burial: Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Gordon Percival Spencer and Deborah Mallory
Husband of Bella Spencer and William Loring Nunez
Father of George Eliphaz Spencer, Jr. and George Eliphaz Spencer, Jr.
Brother of Ambrose H. Spencer; Dr. Henry Gordon Spencer and Gustavus M. Spencer

Managed by: Private User
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About Brev. Brig. General (USA), U.S. Senator George Eliphaz Spencer

George Eliphaz Spencer (November 1, 1836 – February 19, 1893) was a U.S. senator from the state of Alabama.

Born in Champion, New York, he was educated at Montreal College in Canada. After relocating to Iowa he engaged in the study of law. During the Civil War, he enlisted as a captain on October 16, 1862. While serving on the staff of Brigadier-General Grenville M. Dodge, he requested a transfer to the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment (Union), a volunteer regiment made up of Southern Unionists, which did not have a permanent commander. Receiving a promotion to colonel, he led the regiment from September 11, 1863 till his resignation on July 5, 1865.

After the war, he returned to Alabama to practice law. For a time he served as register in bankruptcy for the fourth district of Alabama. Elected as a Republican to the United States Senate upon readmission of Alabama to the Union, he served from July 13, 1868 to March 4, 1879.

George E. Spencer was a prominent Republican U.S. Senator. His 1872 reelection campaign in Alabama opened him to allegations of "political betrayal of colleagues; manipulation of Federal patronage; embezzlement of public funds; purchase of votes; and intimidation of voters by the presence of Federal troops." He was a major speculator in a distressed financial paper.


Native New Yorker and former Union officer George Eliphaz Spencer (1836-1893) served two terms as a U.S. senator from Alabama during Reconstruction. His tenure in Congress is remembered for corruption and abuses of office, including embezzlement, vote tampering, and political patronage that earned him the epithet of "carpetbagger." As a Union officer, Spencer recruited northern Alabamians to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Spencer was born in Champion, New York, November 1, 1836, to Gordon Percival and Deborah Mallory Spencer. His father, Gordon Spencer, served as a U.S. Army surgeon during the War of 1812. Spencer attended Montreal College in Canada, studied law in Watertown, New York, and later headed west to Iowa. There, he was admitted to the bar and served as secretary of the state senate in 1857. He later travelled to Colorado to prospect for minerals.

After the Civil War broke out, Spencer most likely returned to Iowa and joined the Union Army as a captain in 1862 but was soon reassigned as chief of staff to Maj. Gen. Grenville Dodge, who was from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Also that year, Spencer married English author Bella Zilfa. By 1863, Spencer was recruiting troops in north Alabama for the First Alabama (Union) Cavalry Regiment from among the pro-Union populace. Under Gen. Judson Kirkpatrick's command, he led a cavalry brigade in Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's 1864 Atlanta Campaign and subsequent "march to the sea." For his gallantry, Spencer was briefly commissioned brigadier general, a practice known as brevetting, on March 3, 1865, before he resigned. Spencer's wife died in 1867, and around this time he opened a law office in Decatur. In 1868, the Republican-controlled state legislature elected him and fellow Republican Willard Warner to vacant seats in the U.S. Senate. A close political friendship with the new president, Ulysses S. Grant, enabled Spencer to attempt to personally control politics in the state. His ties with Republican governor William Hugh Smith were at first beneficial to his interests as well. Smith, a former Democrat from Randolph County, had opposed secession. Defeated in a bid for the Confederate Congress, he travelled to north Alabama and spent the war recruiting soldiers for the Union Army, as did Spencer.

Spencer's election to the Senate quickly posed serious problems for Smith, Warner, and others who did not support his agenda. Shortly after Grant's election, Spencer had the Alabama Legislature petition the federal government to send troops to suppress sporadic violence in the northern and western portions of the state. Smith insisted that local law officials could control the situation, but Spencer successfully painted an overly dim picture of political and social conditions in the state in his senatorial speeches and dispatches to Washington in an effort to retain federal troops.

Spencer's ties with President Grant allowed him to wrest from Smith much of his control of federal patronage authority, the practice of awarding jobs and funds to supporters, in this case, fellow northerners. Spencer's vicious personal attacks on Smith and Warner neutralized their political threats to him. Disillusioned, Warner tired of politics and did not stand for reelection, and Democrat Robert B. Lindsay narrowly defeated Smith in 1870 in his bid to stay in office. In May 1871, Spencer successfully maneuvered political ally George L. Murphy to the position of postmaster in Mobile, despite the fact that Murphy had been convicted of misappropriating funds as county school superintendent. This appointment brought a loud public outcry, however, and within a year Murphy was replaced.

In 1872, Spencer held his Senate seat against Democrat Francis W. Sykes, despite the mounting public outcry about his partisan political activities. Having successfully ruined his Republican colleagues, he now turned his attention to the resurging Democrats who controlled the governor's office and the legislature. To thwart their effort to dislodge him, Spencer resorted to his old tactic of overstating incidents in the state and demanding the retention of federal troops as Reconstruction came to an end. In the ensuing election cycle, Alabama ended up with two legislatures. The body controlled by the Democrats met at the state capitol and elected Sykes to the U.S. Senate. The body under Republican control, known as the "courthouse legislature," convened at the Montgomery County Courthouse and, as expected, elected Spencer. Sykes vehemently contested this action and was ably represented before the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections by former Confederate general John Tyler Morgan. But the committee never acted on the issue, and Spencer was permitted to retain his seat. Efforts were made in Alabama to remove him. In the state elections of 1874, the Democrats regained control of all major offices and congressional seats, except for one in the House. A joint committee from the Alabama House and Senate investigated Spencer's misuse of power in the 1872 election, but he was not removed. In 1876, the election of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes to the presidency marked a turning point in Spencer's fortunes, however. Hayes, a friend of Warner's, almost immediately removed several of Spencer's allies from their prestigious positions in Alabama, further diminishing his influence.

In 1877, Spencer married prominent actress "May" Nunez, the daughter of a former Confederate officer. An author, Nunez was more formally known as William Loring Nunez for her uncle, a Confederate general. The couple then spent two years on a ranch in Nevada tending to mining interests before settling in Washington, D.C. Spencer died there on February 19, 1893, and was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Brev. Brig. General (USA), U.S. Senator George Eliphaz Spencer's Timeline

November 1, 1836
Champion, Jefferson County, New York, United States
New York, United States
February 19, 1893
Age 56
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, United States