Charles Waldron Buckley (1835-1906) was the U.S. representative from Alabama’s Second District from 1868 to 1873. A chaplain in the Union Army, he was ordered to Alabama at the conclusion of the American Civil War to serve in the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. He was among many northerners who settled in the South for new business and political opportunities—a group that came to be known derisively as “carpetbaggers.” Buckley spent most his adult life in Montgomery, Montgomery County, where he established a variety of very successful businesses, actively participated in state and federal politics, and served as a delegate to the Alabama Constitutional Convention of 1867.
Buckley was born on February 18, 1835, to John Jay and Mary (Musson) Buckley in Unadilla, New York; he was the youngest of 11 children. Raised on a farm, Buckley also attended public schools, which was not typical for farm families at the time. In 1846, his parents moved the family to Freeport, Illinois. After leaving home, he enrolled at Beloit College, a private liberal arts college in Beloit, Wisconsin, and graduated in 1860. Noted for his piety and dedication as a student, Buckley gave the valedictory address for his graduating class entitled “The Contribution of Christianity to the Fine Arts.” After graduation, he taught for a year before deciding to enter the ministry, enrolling at the Presbyterian Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1861.
Buckley was offered a position as a chaplain in the U.S. Army while at the seminary and upon graduation in November 1863, he became chaplain of the Forty-seventh Regiment, United States Colored Volunteer Infantry. He later served as the chaplain of the Eighth Regiment, Louisiana Colored Infantry, mostly in Mississippi. On January 5, 1866, Buckley was mustered out of the service. After the capture of Mobile in the Battle of Mobile Bay, he was sent to Montgomery on special orders from Gen. Edward Canby to become the Alabama superintendent of education for the Freedmen’s Bureau, serving until 1867.
In Montgomery, Buckley engaged in a variety of business ventures, including agricultural pursuits, banking, mining, and insurance. A staunch Republican, Buckley was made a delegate to the 1867 Alabama Constitutional Convention, serving as chairman of the Committee on Public Institutions as well as a member of the Committee of Education, which was tasked with outlining a free public school educational system for the state. (The convention aimed to write a constitution to regain admittance to the Union, but when it came up for a popular vote in early 1868, a majority of whites boycotted the vote, preventing its passage. It was subsequently approved by the U.S. Congress when the majority participation provision was removed.) Buckley was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Alabama’s Second District in 1867, filling the position that had been vacated in 1861 by Democrat and future Confederate officer James L. Pugh. Buckley assumed the seat on July 21, 1868, not long after Alabama was formally readmitted to the Union. In April 1869, he married Georgiana Lord, the only daughter of Benjamin Lord of New York City, with whom he had one child.
Buckley was reelected on a platform of amnesty for the South and impartial suffrage for southerners, handily winning his seat in the Forty-first Congress in August 1869. In 1871, he again ran for reelection and won, serving in the Forty-second Congress until his term expired in 1873; he was not re-nominated by his party. He was replaced by James T. Rapier, one of three African Americans to represent Alabama during Reconstruction. While in Congress, Buckley devoted his time to increasing the circulation of currency from the National Bank, advocating for generous funding for internal improvements, securing land grants for railways, and pushing through legislation to promote cotton processing in the southern states. In addition, he was active in the local economy, helping to organize the Commercial Fire Insurance Company, the Bank of Montgomery, the Tecumseh Iron Company, the Black Warrior Coal & Coke Company, and several other coal companies in the Black Warrior coal field. During this period, Buckley was elected probate judge in Montgomery County, serving from 1874-78.
In 1881, Buckley was appointed by Republican president James Garfield as the postmaster of Montgomery, where he established a free delivery system in the city. Serving throughout the Republican presidencies of Garfield and Benjamin Harrison and one term under Democrat Grover Cleveland, Buckley resigned his position shortly after Garfield began his second term as president in 1892. Much of Buckley’s presidential support stemmed from his partisan participation in the nominations of Garfield and William McKinley, serving as a delegate to the Republican National Conventions in 1896 and 1900.
McKinley was elected president in 1896 and Buckley was reappointed as the Montgomery postmaster, assuming office in November 1897. Though his commission expired in May 1902, he was once again reappointed by Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who assumed the presidency after McKinley’s September 1901 assassination, serving in this capacity until 1906. Buckley died in Montgomery on December 4, 1906, and was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City.