Charles Lynch is one of the few men to have held office in all three branches of state government. He is also one of the very few Mississippians to have served as a judge even though he was not a lawyer.
Lynch was born in South Carolina in 1783 and migrated to Mississippi, where he became a farmer. In 1821 the Mississippi legislature appointed him probate judge of Lawrence County, and from 1827 to 1833 he represented the county in the State Senate. He was a leader of the Jacksonian Democrats in Mississippi, and he strongly opposed South Carolina’s attempt to nullify the tariff. The 1832 Mississippi Constitution abolished the office of lieutenant governor, so when Gov. Abram Scott died in June 1833, Lynch, who was serving as president of the State Senate, was next in line for the governor’s office. He served until the following November and urged the legislature to establish a state system of public schools; however, the legislature considered his plan too expensive and did not enact it.
In 1835 Lynch ran for the governorship as a Whig and won election by 426 votes, the second-smallest margin in state history. Lynch’s 7 January 1836 inauguration represented the first time the state’s chief executive held an elaborate inaugural ceremony. He was formally escorted into the chamber of the House of Representatives and introduced to a joint session of the state legislature, whose members watched as the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court administered the oath of office and officially installed Lynch as the governor and commander in chief of the state’s army, navy, and militia. Prominent Mississippi statesman Adam L. Bingaman read Lynch’s inaugural address to the assembly.
During his administration, Lynch brought about extensive changes in Mississippi’s criminal code, which he called the “Bloody Code” because it imposed the death penalty for a large number of offenses. He also recommended the establishment of a state penitentiary, which was authorized by the legislature and opened in 1840.
The first year of Lynch’s tenure coincided with a period of great economic prosperity, but the Panic of 1837 caused Mississippi’s economy to collapse. Several years of severe depression followed, during which time thousands of Mississippians fled to Texas to escape foreclosure on their farms and slaves.
In an effort to shore up the state’s banking system and alleviate the shortage of money and credit, Mississippi issued five million dollars in bonds and invested them in the Union Bank, a newly established state bank. But land prices continued to decline, and the Union Bank failed within a year. The state was left with the worthless bank stock and a huge debt. Lynch, whose popularity declined along with the state’s economy, did not seek reelection in 1837.
Lynch then served briefly as president of the Alabama and Mississippi Railroad Company and as commissioner of public buildings before retiring to his plantation home near Jackson. He died there on 9 February 1853.
- Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912)
- Dunbar Rowland, Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, vol. 2 (1907)