- Requiem for a Carpetbagger:Andrew Applegate in Alabama
Alabama's first lieutenant governor, andrew j. applegate, held office between 1868-1870 and attracted extreme revilement as a Republican during the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War. Democrats, by definition, took exception to Applegate. A member of the party described him as one who "squatted" in Alabama "in search of spoils," and another portrayed Applegate as a "thief … and an insurrectionary demagogue."1 Forty years later, one who had known the lieutenant governor meant no compliment when he characterized the northern expatriate as a "typical carpetbagger." In life, and even in death, the name of Andrew Applegate summoned passionate contempt. So intense were feelings that an attempt in 1871 to mark his burial site as a sign of respect raised bitter partisan rancor. A fuller understanding of the man is well overdue.2
Born on October 14, 1833, Andrew Applegate was the son of Benjamin and Rebecca Applegate, who raised a large family near Georgetown, Ohio. His coming of age years are obscure. The boy grew up in a rural area and received the limited education common to a class sprung from a hardscrabble background. In 1858, Applegate [End Page 25] married Lucinda Boyles, and two children followed: a girl (Ida) and a boy (Harry). At some point, he began studying law. What also became clear in the young man's formative years was an interest in politics. In 1860, Applegate not only supported Stephen Douglas, the more moderate of the two Democratic candidates, but also actively campaigned for him.
Abraham Lincoln's election and the following war profoundly altered the trajectory of Applegate's life. He joined the Federal Army, and although no statement survives elaborating his motivations, several possible reasons suggest themselves. The promise of a steady income may have figured in this decision, given his modest economic circumstances. Neither should a sense of patriotism and his regard for the Union be discounted. Applegate's restless nature may have contributed to his decision, and his later political stance raises another possibility, that Applegate regarded the conflict as a compelling cause—a war to eradicate slavery.
For whatever motive, or combination of motives, he volunteered during the war's first summer and became part of the Fifth Ohio Cavalry. He served in various capacities, for a time as a quartermaster, and in 1864 was commissioned a captain with Co. H. of the 189th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. It was as a soldier that Applegate first became acquainted with Alabama. His regiment was in Huntsville at or near the end of the war. In July 1865, presumably because of his background in law, Applegate acted as a judge advocate, serving on a military commission in the general absence of civil law.
Andrew Applegate turned thirty-two in 1865 and the following Reconstruction years bring his life into clearer focus. Captain Apple-gate left the army that fall. His military career, pedestrian but respectable, was over. Like many of his fellow northerners, he saw opportunity in the South, and determined to make a new life in Huntsville. Located in the Tennessee Valley, Huntsville was the seat of Madison County, and as the residence of some three thousand people, the only sizeable place in North Alabama. The war left no physical scars on [End Page 26] Huntsville, but the town would profoundly experience the dramatic changes Reconstruction forced. In 1865, settling there with Lucinda and their children, he began practicing law.3
What form Reconstruction should take became the subject of extended confrontation between Congressional Republicans and President Andrew Johnson during the years immediately following the Civil War. At stake was the vision of extending citizenship to the ex-slaves, an act which most Republicans considered the providential consummation of the American Republic. The Fourteenth Amendment, broadly defining citizenship, lay at the heart of the party's soul. Although there were significant exceptions within the party, Democrats rejected the federal assumption of sovereignty and resisted the notion of immediately extending the vote to ex-slaves, implicit with the amendment, and further incorporating the race into the civil and political mainstream. What Reconstruction would constitute became clear in...