Thomas Goode Jones (1844-1914) was one of Alabama's most influential, enigmatic public figures of the New South Era. Utilizing a rich array of primary and secondary sources in this ambitious, incisive biography, Brent J. Aucoin vividly reveals the panoramic arc of Jones's life and times and his distinguished service as a soldier, lawyer, politician, and jurist.
As a biography and historical monograph, Aucoin's much-anticipated work will be of keen interest to a wide audience of readers. Historians, attorneys, and casual aficionados of the Alabama saga will discover some familiar topics in this book—the postbellum Bourbon Democratic political agenda, the rise of populism in the 1880s and 1890s, the bitterly contested gubernatorial elections of 1890-92, the tumultuous constitutional ratification campaign of 1901, and the protracted struggle over the regulation of railroads in [End Page 72] the early 1900s. But Aucoin also includes a wealth of fresh insights into Jones's personal life, his phenomenal relationship with Booker T. Washington, and his philosophical evolution as a public official and jurist.
Like so many other young men of his generation, Jones's courage was forged in the horrific crucible of Civil War combat—as a lieutenant commanding Company K of the 53rd Alabama Infantry Regiment and as an aide-de-camp to General John B. Gordon in the Army of Northern Virginia. Wounded in his baptism under fire at Thompson's Station, Tennessee, in March 1863, Jones later saw extensive action in some of the war's bloodiest engagements, including Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg. In April 1865, General Robert E. Lee ordered Jones and a small cadre of staff officers under a flag of truce to Appomattox Courthouse, where they personally witnessed the Confederate surrender. Jones's memories of battlefield carnage and its indiscriminate toll on comrades and foes alike haunted him until he died a half-century later. He emerged from the war with deep respect and admiration for his former enemies and became a vocal champion of reconciliation between the North and South two years before the end of Reconstruction and a decade prior to Henry W. Grady unveiling his famous New South Creed.
In his meteoric postwar public career, Jones served as a Montgomery alderman, chief counsel of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, and governor (1890-94). During the twenty-five years after the war, he became entrenched in the state's Bourbon Democratic leadership hierarchy that espoused fiscal austerity, generous subsidies and minimal taxation for industries and railroads, and white supremacy.
Yet, as Aucoin meticulously documents, Jones frequently drifted away from the Bourbon Democrats' doctrines and dogma. As a legislator, for example, he vociferously opposed the state's lucrative convict leasing system and, openly breaking ranks with the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, he supported a bill that obligated railroads to pay injured workers' medical expenses. He cast the deciding vote [End Page 73] in 1886 against the Wiley Contract Bill, a cleverly drafted initiative to provide white planters with unfettered control over African American laborers. Early in his first gubernatorial term, Jones cited the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause in haranguing legislators on the legal pitfalls of withholding state appropriations for black public schools. Almost twenty years later, Jones vehemently exclaimed that the legislature's recalcitrance on this issue "was not only unconstitutional, but … wrong in principle, morals, and policy" (31).
Despite Jones's seemingly enlightened positions on black educational funding and labor contracts, the author argues that "he was not a racial egalitarian or immune to the racist ideas of his day" (32). Jones, as a product of his ancestry and environment, was a racial paternalist who fervently believed that African Americans' salvation lay in segregation, industrial education, and gradual economic advancement—all under the vigilant guidance of their white superiors. Thus, both Jones and Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee Institute's principal, agreed that the South's quest to resolve its so-called "Negro Question," while seeking...