Joseph E. Brown (April 15, 1821-November 30, 1894), often referred to as Joe Brown, was a Governor of Georgia from 1857 to 1865, and a U.S. Senator from 1880 to 1891. During the American Civil War, Brown, a former Whig, had constant disagreements with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, whom he saw as an incipient tyrant.
Brown was born in Pickens County, South Carolina and at a young age his family moved to Union County, Georgia. In 1840, he decided to leave the farm and seek an education. Brown, with the help of his younger brother James and his father's plow horse, drove a yoke of oxen on a 125-mile trek to an academy near Anderson, South Carolina, where the impoverished Brown exchanged the oxen for eight months' board and lodging. In 1844, Brown moved to Canton, Georgia, where he served as head-master of the academy at Canton. He went on to study law, and in 1847, he opened a law office in Canton. Brown was elected to the Georgia state senate in 1849 and soon became a leader of the Democratic Party in Georgia. He was elected state circuit court judge in 1855 and governor in 1857. As a governor, he diverted state railroad profits to Georgia's public schools and later became a strong supporter of secession from the United States after Abraham Lincoln's election and South Carolina's succession. When the Confederate States of America was established, Brown spoke out against the military draft as an over-reaching of the Confederate State's central powers, targeting Davis in particular. As William T. Sherman overran much of Georgia in 1864, Brown called for an end to the Civil War. After the war, he spent some time as a political prisoner in Washington, D.C., then was released. He was chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court from 1865 to 1870, when he resigned to become president of the Western and Atlantic Railroad. He supported President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction policy, becoming a member of the Republican Party --derisively known as scalawags-- for a time. After Reconstruction, he became a Democrat again and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1880. Soon after his election to the Senate, Brown became the first Georgia official to support public education for all children -- not a popular position at the time. He was re-elected in 1885, but resigned in 1891 due to poor health. He died in 1894 in Atlanta, Georgia. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery.