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Alabama Governors

A Political History of the State

Samuel L. Webb, Margaret E. Armbrester, Albert P. Brewer, Margaret E. Armbrester, Samuel L. Webb, David E. Alsobrook

Publication Year: 2014

This collection of biographical essays, written by thirty-four noted historians and political scientists, chronicles the times, careers, challenges, leadership, and legacies of the fifty-seven men and one woman who have served as the state's highest elected official. The book is organized chronologically into six sections that cover Alabama's years as a US territory and its early statehood, the 1840s through the Civil War and Reconstruction, the late nineteenth-century Bourbon era, twentieth-century progressive and wartime governors, the Civil Rights era and George Wallace’ s period of influence, and recent chief executives in the post-Wallace era.
The political careers of these fifty-eight individuals reflect the story of Alabama itself. Taken together, these essays provide a unified history of the state, with its recurring themes of race, federal-state relations, tensions between north and south Alabama, economic development, taxation, and education.
Alabama Governors expertly delineates the decisions and challenges of the chief executives, their policy initiatives, their accomplishments and failures, and the lasting impact of their terms. The book also includes the true and sometimes scandalous anecdotes that pepper Alabama’ s storied history. Several of the state's early governors fought duels; one killed his wife's lover. A Reconstruction era-governor barricaded himself in his office and refused to give it up when voters failed to reelect him. A twentieth-century governor, an alumnus of Yale, served as an officer in the Ku Klux Klan.
This entirely updated and revised edition includes enlarged and enhanced images of each governor. Published as Alabama prepares for its sixty-fourth gubernatorial election, Alabama Governors is certain to become an valuable resource for teachers, students, librarians, journalists, and anyone interested in the colorful history of Alabama politics.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-x

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Albert Preston Brewer

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pp. xi-xii

Fifty-six people have served as governor of the state of Alabama: one was a woman, one was a military governor, two served as acting governors in the absence from Alabama of the elected chief of state, and one became governor upon the felony conviction of the incumbent. All have been white...

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pp. xiii-xiv

In producing this book, we became indebted to a host of people, many obvious and others less apparent. Our essayists, leading scholars in the area of southern history and political science, provided us with dense, well-researched, and interestingly told stories about the administrations of Alabama’s five territorial...

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Second Edition Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xvi

Social, political, and economic events of nations and states occur rapidly and with unexpected twists and surprises, necessitating the regular updating of histories. When Alabama Governors: A Political History of the State appeared in 2001, we were delighted and humbled by the public’s response. Journalists...

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Political Maps of Alabama

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pp. xvii-xxvi

An intrastate geographic division played a major role in Alabama’s politics from the antebellum period to the middle of the twentieth century. The Black Belt, where the state’s largest plantation owners and a majority of its black population lived, usually differed in its choices of candidates from...

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pp. 1-4

The easiest way to explain the need for a political history of Alabama’s governors is to reflect upon the impact of their actions or failures to act. The influence of post-R econstruction governors who returned Alabama to white supremacy or the demagoguery of later segregationist governors such as George...

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Part I. Territorial Period and Early Statehood, 1798–1847

In 1798 America’s western boundary extended only to the Mississippi River, and Spain still held a foothold in the southern part of what became the states of Mississippi and Alabama. When Congress created the Mississippi Territory out of lands in the Old Southwest, the United States was a mere twenty-two...

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Territorial Governors of the Alabama Area, 1798–1819

Kit Carson Carter III

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pp. 7-13

At the end of the American Revolution, Alabama’s neighbor to the east, like many of the older colonies, held colonial claims that reached to the Mississippi River. Georgia’s territory ostensibly spanned all of present-day Mississippi and Alabama except for the Mobile area below the thirty-first parallel...

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William Wyatt Bibb and Thomas Bibb

Daniel S. Dupre

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pp. 14-19

Like thousands of other restless migrants in the early nineteenth century, Alabama’s first two governors came to the frontier seeking new opportunities for personal advancement. The successes of William Wyatt Bibb (1781–1820) and Thomas Bibb (1784–1838), however, depended heavily on connections they forged in the more stable and advanced environment of Georgia. The...

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Israel Pickens

Daniel S. Dupre

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pp. 20-24

Like William Wyatt Bibb, Israel Pickens was an established politician who migrated to Alabama in search of greater opportunities. Born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on January 30, 1780, Israel was the son of Captain Samuel Pickens, a veteran of the American Revolution, and Jane Carrigan Pickens. After first attending a local academy, he studied law at Jefferson College...

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John Murphy

Hugh C. Bailey

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pp. 25-28

John Murphy was born in Robeson County, North Carolina, circa 1785 to first-generation Scottish immigrant Neil Murphy. As a child, Murphy moved with his family to South Carolina, where he completed his preparatory education and taught school to earn money for college. He attended...

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Gabriel Moore

Harriet E. A. Doss

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pp. 29-33

Gabriel Moore won election without opposition as Alabama’s fifth governor in 1829. His early public service in numerous offices and skillful championing of the common man earned Moore the popular support of the state’s developing frontier constituency.
The son of Matthew and Letitia Dalton Moore, Gabriel Moore was born in...

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Samuel B. Moore

Mary Jane McDaniel

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pp. 34-36

When Gabriel Moore resigned as governor of Alabama in 1831 to take a seat in the United States Senate, Samuel Moore, not a relative, replaced him. Samuel Moore was born in Franklin County, Tennessee, in 1789. His family settled near Woodville in Jackson County, Alabama, when it was still part...

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John Gayle

Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins

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pp. 37-40

John Gayle, Alabama governor, U.S. congressman, and jurist, was born on September 11, 1792, in Sumter District, South Carolina, to Mary Rees and Matthew Gayle. At the opening of the American Revolution, Matthew Gayle served as a cavalryman in the army of the South Carolina “swampfox,” Francis...

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Clement Comer Clay

J. Mills Thornton III

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pp. 41-45

Beginning his political career in Alabama as a leading member of the wealthy Broad River political machine, Clement Comer Clay ultimately found favor with the voters of the state as a Jacksonian Democrat. His life and political career encompass much of Alabama’s territorial and early state history...

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Hugh McVay

Mary Jane McDaniel

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pp. 46-48

In the summer of 1837, Hugh McVay began his brief career as governor by a one-vote stroke of political fortune. He replaced Governor Clement C. Clay, who resigned the office to serve Alabama in the U.S. Senate. The gubernatorial election of 1837 had already been held, and Arthur P. Bagby of Monroe County had been elected. Thus McVay served only three months...

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Arthur P. Bagby

Mary Jane McDaniel

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pp. 49-53

Arthur Pendleton Bagby was born in 1794 in Louisa County, Virginia, where his family remained through Bagby’s educational years. Financial problems ultimately caused his family to migrate to Claiborne, Monroe County, in the Alabama Territory. Here the future governor read law and, in 1819, opened a...

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Benjamin Fitzpatrick

J. Mills Thornton III

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pp. 54-57

Benjamin Fitzpatrick, like most of his predecessors in the governor’s chair, was associated with the Jacksonian wing of the Alabama Democratic Party, but he also led a loosely organized faction of the party sometimes known as the “Montgomery Regency,” whose members were united more around family and personal ties than ideology. Fitzpatrick’s two terms as governor, like...

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Joshua L. Martin

Hugh C. Bailey

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pp. 58-60

Joshua Lanier Martin, the Alabama governor who delivered the final blow to the state bank, was a descendant of a French immigrant, Louis Montaigne. Montaigne, who changed his name to Martin, immigrated to South Carolina in 1724 and then, like the ancestors of numerous other Alabama families...

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Part II. Crises, Civil War, and Reconstruction, 1847–1874

In 1861 Alabama seceded from the Union, but the issues and circumstances that caused that event were in play from the first years of Alabama’s statehood. During the state’s first three decades, internal issues of banking, capital location, Indian removal, and partisan politics between largely sectional interests...

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Reuben Chapman

John R. Mayfield

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pp. 63-67

Reuben Chapman’s one term as governor was not a time of legislative innovations or notable administrative initiatives. Rather, it served as a transition from Jacksonian-style politics concerned with internal issues such as state banking and Indian removal to politics increasingly dominated by national issues. During Chapman’s tenure, Alabama’s response to national events...

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Henry W. Collier

Leah Rawls Atkins

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pp. 68-71

In the aftermath of the U.S. war with Mexico (1845–48), sectional politics raged not only in Washington but also in Alabama, where the state Democratic Party was divided between the states’ rights (Chivalry) and Unionist (Hunker) factions. Incumbent governor Reuben Chapman erred badly when...

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John A. Winston

William L. Barney

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pp. 72-77

Alabama’s first native-born governor, John Anthony Winston, was born on September 4, 1812, in the Tennessee Valley region of Madison County. Educated in private schools, he attended Cumberland College in Nashville, Tennessee, before his marriage in 1832 to Mary Agnes Walker. In 1835 the couple...

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Andrew B. Moore

Leah Rawls Atkins

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pp. 78-82

Andrew Barry Moore is remembered in the state’s history as the governor who took Alabama out of the Union. Ironically, he was elected as the moderate, nonsecessionist choice of Alabama voters. The son of a revolutionary war and War of 1812 veteran, Moore discovered by the end of his second...

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John Gill Shorter

Henry M. McKiven

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pp. 83-86

John Gill Shorter inherited the governor’s chair just as Civil War hardships began to be felt by the people of Alabama. A Jackson Democrat, Shorter had entered state politics in 1845 and was deeply affected by the debate that arose in the nation later that decade over the right of southerners to carry their...

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Thomas H. Watts

Henry M. McKiven

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pp. 87-90

Although Thomas Hill Watts refused to campaign for governor in 1863, he agreed to serve if the people of Alabama elected him. He remained in Richmond during most of the campaign, performing his role as the Confederacy’s attorney general, and won a landslide victory over the unpopular incumbent...

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Lewis E. Parsons

Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins

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pp. 91-94

Lewis Eliphalet Parsons, who was appointed provisional governor of Alabama by President Andrew Johnson in June 1865, was politically active in Alabama before the Civil War, first as a Whig and then as a Know-Nothing. He served as an Alabama elector for Whig presidential candidate Millard Fillmore...

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Robert M. Patton

William Warren Rogers Jr.

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pp. 95-98

The Civil War had ended only eight months before Robert Miller Patton was inaugurated governor of Alabama on December 13, 1865. The popularly elected Patton succeeded Lewis E. Parsons, who was the state’s appointed provisional governor. Congress refused to seat southern delegations, so Alabama...

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Wager Swayne

Michael W. Fitzgerald

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pp. 99-102

General Wager T. Swayne, often referred to as Alabama’s military governor, never formally held that title. Nonetheless, he wielded substantial executive authority as assistant commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau for Alabama during the early years of Reconstruction under the provisional governor...

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William Hugh Smith

Michael W. Fitzgerald

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pp. 103-106

William Hugh Smith, the state’s first Republican governor elected under the terms of military reconstruction, remains a controversial figure. For all of his support for Reconstruction, Smith occupied an anomalous position at the head of a Republican Party composed primarily of freedmen. Before...

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Robert B. Lindsay

Michael W. Fitzgerald

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pp. 107-110

Robert Burns Lindsay faced unprecedented difficulties as governor of Alabama, and despite his Democratic affiliation, he became nearly as unpopular as any Republican of the era. Born on July 4, 1824, in Lochmaben, Scotland, Lindsay was the son of John and Elizabeth McKnight Lindsay. Raised as a...

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David P. Lewis

Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins

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pp. 111-116

David Peter Lewis was born circa 1820 in Charlotte County, Virginia, the son of Mary Smith Buster and Peter C. Lewis, who then owned thirty-five slaves. The family moved in the 1820s to Madison County, Alabama, where the future governor’s father became a county commissioner...

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Part III. The Bourbon Era, 1874–1900

Twelve years after the Civil War ended, the last remnant of Union troops finally left the South, and Democrats were installed in power in the region’s states. Southerners during this time were of a mixed mind: they hallowed the “Old South” but understood that their futures rested on a new, more industrialized...

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George S. Houston

William Warren Rogers

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pp. 119-124

George Smith Houston had important political careers both before and after the Civil War. His grandparents emigrated from Ireland to South Carolina in 1760. A son, John Houston, married Hannah Pugh Reagan, and together they moved to Virginia, then to Williamson County, Tennessee, near the town of...

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Rufus W. Cobb

Robert David Ward

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pp. 125-128

It should come as no surprise that Rufus Willis Cobb, second in the line of Bourbon succession, was from the coal mining county of Shelby. From the beginning, the Bourbon establishment represented both the cotton-growing Black Belt planters and the north Alabama entrepreneurs of railroads and...

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Edward A. O’Neal

Mary Jane McDaniel

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pp. 129-132

Edward Asbury O’Neal continued the line of prosecession, faithful Confederate, “redeeming” Bourbon governors who controlled the executive branch of Alabama in the late nineteenth century. His administration was similar in many ways to those of his predecessors, Governors Houston and Cobb, but...

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Thomas Seay

Robert David Ward

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pp. 133-136

For those Alabamians who believed in signs and portents, 1886 did not begin auspiciously. It rained in Alabama, and kept raining, and the state’s rivers rose to unprecedented heights. The bridge at Wetumpka was swept away. R eginald H. Dawson, president of the Board of Convict Commissioners...

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Thomas G. Jones

Paul McWhorter Pruitt Jr.

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pp. 137-142

Thomas Goode Jones enjoyed a reputation as a committed Bourbon Democrat. Closer study shows him to be a complicated and perhaps conflicted personality who had congenial associations with Radical Republicans and held liberal attitudes on race issues. Yet he is remembered for winning the governorship...

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William C. Oates

Paul McWhorter Pruitt Jr.

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pp. 143-148

William Calvin Oates held none of the contradictory philosophies that marked his predecessor, Thomas G. Jones. Neither did he enjoy Jones’s comfortable childhood or excellent preparatory education. The eldest child of William and Sarah Sellers Oates, William was born on November 30, 1835, in Pike...

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Joseph F. Johnston

Michael Perman Jr.

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pp. 149-156

Joseph Forney Johnston was elected governor for two terms, just as the challenge from the Populists and from the Jeffersonians led by Reuben F. Kolb began to ebb in the late 1890s. Once in office, he tried to redirect the Democratic Party toward a course of reform through the incorporation of most...

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Part IV . The Progressive Era through World War II, 1900–1947

Between the years of 1900 and 1945, the United States experienced a Progressive Era, two world wars, the “Roaring Twenties,” the Great Depression, and the New Deal era. Alabamians began to elect, off and on, more progressive leaders who used government to address the state’s need for improved...

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William J. Samford

Marlene Hunt Rikard

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pp. 159-162

William James Samford died on June 11, 1901, only six months after assuming office as the thirty-second governor of Alabama. Samford was a lawyer-politician who rose rapidly in Alabama politics during the turbulent and complex post–Civil War era, but his short tenure in the office left him little...

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William D. Jelks

David E. Alsobrook

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pp. 163-169

When he left office in 1907, William Dorsey Jelks had been governor of Alabama longer than anyone, and this record remained intact until Bibb Graves surpassed it. Jelks was also the first Alabamian to serve as temporary governor due to the illness of a sitting governor, the second to succeed a governor who...

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Russell M. Cunningham

Marlene Hunt Rikard

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pp. 170-174

During Governor William D. Jelks’s recurrent illnesses and recuperations out of the state, Lieutenant Governor Russell McWhorter Cunningham served as acting governor. Born on August 25, 1855, in Mt. Hope, Lawrence County, Alabama, to Moses W. Cunningham and Caroline Russell...

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Braxton Bragg Comer

David Alan Harris

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pp. 175-181

Historians have claimed that a new, progressive era in Alabama politics began with the governorship of Braxton Bragg Comer. Scion of a well-to- do family, this successful industrialist and planter spent four stormy years as Alabama’s governor, years marked by progress in education, railroad regulation...

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Emmet O’Neal

R. B. Rosenburg

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pp. 182-187

Like his father, Edward, Emmet O’Neal was president of the state bar association, framer of a state constitution, presidential elector, and governor of Alabama. Born on September 23, 1853, in Florence, Alabama, Emmet attended Florence Wesleyan University (now the University of North Alabama) and...

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Charles Henderson

Lee N. Allen

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pp. 188-191

If anyone deserved the title of “business governor” of Alabama, it was Charles Henderson. His experience as the leading businessman of Troy, Alabama, affected his actions as governor. During his administration the principles of economy and efficiency were his faithful guides...

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Thomas E. Kilby

Michael A. Breedlove

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pp. 192-196

Perhaps remembered most for having his name placed on a new and ultimately famous Alabama prison, Thomas Erby Kilby was born on July 9, 1865, in Lebanon, Tennessee, to Peyton Phillips Kilby and Sarah Ann Marchant Kilby. His family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where in the public grammar...

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William W. Brandon

Lee N. Allen

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pp. 197-200

When “Plain Bill” Brandon entered the race for governor in 1922, it was said that he was so popular that virtually no one wanted to run against him. After four years in office, he was the only governor to leave the capital as popular as when he entered. Yet Brandon’s career as governor of the state was not his primary...

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Bibb Graves

Wayne Flynt

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pp. 201-208

Bibb Graves was one of the most important and controversial Alabama governors of the twentieth century and the first to serve two four-year terms in office. His alliance with the Ku Klux Klan helped to win him the governorship in 1926 but tarnished the reputation he later earned as a liberal...

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Benjamin M. Miller

Glenn A. Feldman 209

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pp. 209-214

Benjamin Meek Miller served as governor of Alabama during the worst years of the Great Depression. A large, bespectacled, dignified man, Miller had a long legal career before and after his term as governor of a state that was among the most severely affected by the depression. In that difficult era...

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Frank M. Dixon

Glenn A. Feldman

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pp. 215-220

Frank Murray Dixon, Tidewater Virginian, provided executive leadership for the state of Alabama during the early watershed years of World War II. A handsome man and skilled orator, Dixon allied himself early and often with Alabama’s Big Mule coalition of Birmingham entrepreneurs and Black...

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Chauncey M. Spark

Harvey H. Jackson III

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pp. 221-224

Chauncey Sparks became governor during the height of World War II. He inherited full employment and a surplus in the state treasury from his predecessor. Although he was considered to be fundamentally conservative as he entered the governorship, Sparks was surprisingly progressive on a number...

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Part V. Post–World War II to 1999

New Deal programs and, to a greater degree, World War II jobs, brought prosperity to the nation and made Alabamians more affluent. As poor white people in the state made economic strides, they began to see the federal government less as their savior and more as an enemy to their autonomy. A cold...

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James E. Folsom

Carl Grafton and Anne Permaloff

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pp. 227-236

James E. “Big Jim” Folsom, Alabama’s second governor to serve two four-year terms, looked like a leader. He was six feet, eight inches in height and had broad shoulders and a striking face. Folsom exuded genuine friendliness and warmth toward Alabama’s plain people, both black and white, and beguiled...

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Gordon Persons

S. Jonathan Bass

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pp. 237-241

Alabama’s forgotten governor of the post–World War II era, Seth Gordon Persons is often overshadowed by his flamboyant predecessor and successor, James E. Folsom. Persons’s public persona—amiable, quiet, and dignified— presented a stark contrast to Folsom’s more outrageous manner. Serving as...

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John Patterson

Anne Permaloff and Carl Grafton

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pp. 242-248

John Malcolm Patterson was thrust into Alabama’s political arena by the brutal murder of his father, Attorney General–elect Albert Patterson, in the summer of 1954. Asked by the State Democratic Executive Committee to fill his father’s place as the party candidate and to finish his father’s work in cleaning...

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George C. Wallace

Glenn T. Eskew

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pp. 249-264

Between 1963 and 1987 George Corley Wallace held a virtual monopoly on the governor’s office in Alabama, a position that enabled him to promote industrial development, low taxes, and trade schools as the key to the state’s future. During the same period, Wallace launched four unsuccessful bids for...

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Lurleen B. Wallace

Glenn T. Eskew

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pp. 265-269

When Governor Lurleen Burns Wallace died from cancer after a short sixteen months in office as the stand-in for her husband, George Corley Wallace, Alabamians genuinely mourned the loss of not only the first woman to be elected to the position but also someone with whom many of the state’s...

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Albert P. Brewer

Gordon E. Harvey

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pp. 270-274

In May 1968 Governor Lurleen Wallace lost her long and valiant struggle against cancer, and Lieutenant Governor Albert Preston Brewer was thrust into the governor’s chair. Brewer, the only governor in Alabama’s history to hold the offices of speaker, lieutenant governor, and governor in succession...

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Jere Beasley Sr.

Margaret E. Armbrester and Samuel L. Webb

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pp. 275-276

In July 1972 after several weeks in a Maryland hospital, George Wallace was recovered enough from the would-be assassin’s gunshot wounds to attend the Democratic National Convention in Miami. Rather than fly directly to Florida, Governor Wallace ordered his plane to land for mere minutes on a strip at the...

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Forrest “Fob” James Jr.

William H. Stewart

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pp. 277-283

Forrest Hood “Fob” James Jr. has the distinction of being the only person ever elected governor of Alabama first as a Democrat and then as a Republican. In this respect he is an appropriate transitional figure in Alabama as state politics moved from being dominated by the Democratic Party to a competitive...

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Guy Hunt

William H. Stewart

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pp. 284-289

Harold Guy Hunt was the first Republican elected governor of Alabama since the Reconstruction era. He became the first to be removed from that office in 1993 following his conviction on ethics charges involving misuse of funds donated for his inaugural expenses. The ethics law dates only from 1973...

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James E. Folsom Jr.

William H. Stewart

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pp. 290-294

James E. Folsom Jr. is the only governor ever to assume that office due to the felony conviction of his predecessor. He is also one of only two father-son gubernatorial combinations, the other being Edward and Emmet O’Neal.
Jim Folsom was born in Montgomery on May 14, 1949, to Governor...

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Part VI . The Twenty-First Century

During the twentieth century the United States stood large in the world, winning two world wars and a cold war, becoming the first to put a man on the moon and embracing a civil rights revolution for black Americans, women, and gays. Three weeks into the twenty-first century, on January 20...

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Don Siegelman

Samuel L. Webb and Margaret E.Armbrester

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pp. 297-303

Don Eugene Siegelman served as Alabama’s secretary of state, attorney general, and lieutenant governor before becoming governor, the only person in the state’s history to hold more than two of these offices. Touted as the state’s first “New South” governor, he focused his campaign rhetoric on endorsing...

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Robert “Bob” Renfroe Riley

S. Jonathan Bass

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pp. 304-311

Bob Riley, the first Alabama chief executive elected in the twenty-first century, was the state’s third Republican governor in the modern era and the first of his party to complete two full terms in office. Robert “Bob” Renfroe Riley was born October 3, 1944, to Eustace and Elizabeth Riley in the small...

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Robert Julian Bentley

Margaret E. Armbrester

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pp. 312-318

When Dr. Robert Bentley became the fourth Republican governor in the modern era, it was the first time since the Reconstruction era of the 1860s that the state’s Republican Party held the governor’s chair and also a majority of seats in the state’s legislature and on its supreme court. Bentley, an...

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Appendix A: Governors of Alabama

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pp. 319-322

Party designations are significant during the territorial period (1798–1819) because territorial governors were appointed by the president of the United States. Party designations in the early state period have little or no meaning until the 1828 presidency of Andrew Jackson, who was the first president...

Appendix B: Provenance of Governors’ Portraits

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pp. 323-324

Select Bibliography

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pp. 325-330


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pp. 331-334


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pp. 335-358

E-ISBN-13: 9780817387754
E-ISBN-10: 0817387757
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817318437
Print-ISBN-10: 0817318437

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 65
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 2nd edition.