George W. Paschal (1812–1878)

George W. Paschal was a Georgia-born lawyer and politician who had an unusually restless and wayfaring career, including a spell in 1843 as one of the four earliest justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court. His sojourn in Arkansas, with his Cherokee wife, lasted only about ten years. Like quite a few Southerners of his time, Paschal defended slavery for practical and not philosophical reasons but also championed the Union, which made him sometimes the arch enemy of both sides. He was jailed in the Confederate state of Texas and was threatened by a mob of Union haters. He publicly attacked his boss, the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, for his ruling on the validity of secession from the United States, and he supported Sam Houston—a slaveowner who also opposed secession and was elected governor, but who was removed from office for refusing to swear allegiance to the Confederacy.

Lorenzo Columbus George Washington Paschal was born on November 23, 1812, at Scull (or Skull) Shoals on the Ocoee River in the Appalachian Mountains of Georgia. He was the fifth son of George Paschal, who was a descendant of French Huguenots, and Agnes Brewer Paschal, who was called a “sick nurse” and “practical physician” and who lived to be ninety-four. The couple gave their children multiple names, apparently to memorialize people they revered. George never used “Lorenzo” or “Columbus,” instead calling himself “George W.” He was educated at Mercer Institute in Georgia—now Mercer University—where he supported himself by teaching minor classes. He read law under Colonel Joseph H. Lumpkin, later chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and an opponent of slavery.

Paschal was admitted to the bar in 1832. His father, who was dying, told him that the oath he took as a new lawyer was not just a piece of paper and that he should honor it until his death because “the Constitution is the charter of our liberties and the Union its Palladium.” (Palladium was a statue that was supposed to ensure the safety of ancient Troy.) As a lieutenant in the Georgia Volunteers, Paschal was the aide de camp to General John Wool, who was charged with driving the Cherokee from northern Georgia and southern Tennessee (the process of Indian Removal) to the territory that is now the state of Oklahoma, starting in 1834.

Paschal courted and married Sarah Ridge, the educated daughter of Cherokee chief Major Ridge (and sister of Cherokee leader John Ridge), and they joined the Cherokee journey to Arkansas and Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. The Paschals stopped at Van Buren (Crawford County) on the Oklahoma border, and Paschal and a brother opened a law practice there. George and Sarah Paschal would have two children before they divorced and married others.

At Van Buren, Paschal quickly earned a reputation for his legal sagacity, and the Arkansas General Assembly in 1842, six years after Arkansas became a state, elected him to an eight-year term on the three-member Arkansas Supreme Court alongside Daniel Ringo and Thomas J. Lacy. The original third justice, Townsend Dickinson, had written the majority opinion in a case involving control of the controversial Real Estate Bank, so the legislature refused to appoint him to a new term and elected Paschal instead.

For whatever reason—probably his dislike of the court’s heavy workload of matters of procedure and jurisdiction rather than serious issues of law—Paschal left the court after only eight months to return to Van Buren and his private law practice. There, he took charge of the Cherokee claims in a dispute among factions of the Cherokees and the United States. It was a peculiar interest, as his wife’s father, brother, and cousin had all been murdered in the feud between Cherokee factions. In 1846, Paschal and a co-counsel worked out a treaty of amnesty with the United States and among the factions, which was ratified by Congress and signed by the leaders of the feuding Cherokee groups. The united Cherokee nation began what was called its “golden age.”

In 1848, the Paschals moved to Galveston, Texas, and soon afterward to the state capital, Austin. He ran for attorney general of Texas in 1850 but lost.

In 1850, he and Sarah Ridge Paschal divorced. She married Charles C. S. Pix in 1856. Paschal’s second wife, Marcia Duval Price, was the daughter of the governor of Florida—they had three children—and his third wife, Mary Scoville Harper, a literary icon in Washington DC, helped him revise and edit the huge legal and historical volumes and other literature that consumed his final years.

In Texas, Paschal assumed a zealous role in the Texas bar as a practitioner and also reporter of decisions for the Texas Supreme Court. He became a friend of Sam Houston, the former general, governor of Tennessee, and U.S. senator from Texas. He helped Houston get elected governor of Texas in 1859 and joined him in opposing secession and the Confederacy. He was editor of a semi-weekly newspaper, the Southern Intelligencer, in which he propounded his controversial view that secession and war would be a disaster for Texas and the rest of the South. He feuded with the owner and editor of a competing paper, the Texas State Gazette, over such matters as reopening the slave trade, which Paschal opposed, although he was a slaveholder.

As secession and war approached, Paschal became head of the Constitutional Union Party and supported Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat, for president. Texas voters crushed the party in 1860, and he retired from practice to write during the Civil War. Cloistered at home and quiet for a change, he was nevertheless threatened for his Unionist sympathies. The provost marshal jailed him and charged him with disloyalty for his refusal to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy. His trial before a military commission only proved that he had neglected to assess his property and to pay the Confederate war tax on the property. He lost the property, but the judge advocate concluded that his disloyalty was the sole province of civil authorities, not a military tribunal.

Impoverished and depressed over the loss of many friends, he went to New York in search of new opportunities and then moved to Washington DC and opened a law practice with a son, George. In Washington, he became a fierce advocate of Reconstruction and particularly of Black suffrage and full equality, and a critic of President Andrew Johnson, which he articulated in a long and virulent letter to the New York Times in November 1866. He pleaded with Texas to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment.

During the war, he had written and published two massive multivolume works: A Digest of the Laws of Texas (1866) and The Constitution of the United States Defined and Carefully Annotated (1868). His third wife, Mary Scoville Harper Paschal, helped him to refine and edit his books and also to publish political pamphlets and magazine articles.

Paschal died on February 16, 1878, and is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington DC.

For additional information:
George W. Paschal Letterbook, 1838–1839. Arkansas State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Mullins, Jonita. “1846 Treaty Settled Internal Conflict in Cherokee Nation.” Three Rivers History, Muskogee Phoenix, January 10, 2015.

Scarborough, Jane Lynn. “George W. Paschal, Texas Unionist and Scalawag Jurisprudent.” PhD diss., Rice University, 1972. Online at (accessed May 31, 2023).

Ernest Dumas
Little Rock, Arkansas


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