Thomas Jenkins Semmes (December 16, 1824 – June 23, 1899) was a lawyer and politician in the state of Louisiana who served in the Confederate States Senate during much of the American Civil War.
Thomas Jenkins Semmes (1824-1899) was once described as “the most distinguished statesman and brilliant lawyer of the south.” Born in Georgetown, D.C., in a mercantile family of English and French descent, he graduated from Georgetown College (later known as Georgetown University) in 1842 and received a law degree from Harvard in 1845. He practiced law in Washington, D.C., until 1850, when he moved to New Orleans. He became a leader of the Democratic Party and was soon elected a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives. He later served as a member of the Louisiana Constitutional Conventions of 1879 and 1898. A U.S. District Attorney in New Orleans under President James Buchanan, and later state Attorney General, he became a strong advocate of secession. He served in the Confederate Senate from 1862 to 1865 and, after having received presidential pardon, he returned to New Orleans to practice law. He became a professor of law at the University of Louisiana, later to become Tulane University.
During the Civil War his home in Federal-occupied New Orleans was commandeered by order of Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler to quarter Union troops. Semmes was a strong supporter and advocate of Louisiana troops, including the famed Louisiana Tigers, in which his brother Andrew served as a regimental surgeon. Semmes was credited with creating the motto for the Confederacy "Deo Vindice" which appears on the seal. The Confederate Senator Semmes, in proposing this motto, took pains to stress that the CSA had "deviated in the most emphatic manner from the spirit that presided over the construction of the Constitution of the United States, which is silent on the subject of the Deity", and he clearly expected this invocation to bring his side victory. Semmes was a close adviser to CSA President Jefferson Davis and during the war resided in Richmond less than a block away from the White House of the Confederacy.
Semmes was married on January 8, 1850 in Montgomery, Alabama to Myra Eulalia Knox and they had seven children. He continued to live in New Orleans and maintained a summer home in Warrenton, Virginia which was built in 1873 located at 191 Culpeper Street. The home is known as "The Louisiana House." In 1900 a public school in New Orleans located at 1900 Jourdan Street was named for him.
Semmes died in New Orleans in 1899 and is interred in Metairie Cemetery.