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ALABAMA LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

OVERVIEW


The Legislative History section of the Alabama Legislature website is devoted to providing the public with as much information as possible regarding the various legislative bodies which have represented Alabama, beginning with the territorial era. This will include the Mississippi and Alabama territorial governments, the Alabama Legislature, and Constitutional Conventions. Congressional history will be examined only incidentally, as detailed and comprehensive information on the history of the United States Congress can be found at Thomas, the Congressional website maintained by the Library of Congress. In addition, links to Alabama's United States Representatives and Senators can be found at United States Government And Information Links.

A great portion of the Legislative History section contains specific, unedited documents, as many of these documents are not readily available to the public, often leaving students of Alabama history with no choice but to trust the varying interpretations and extrapolations of authors on the subject. While overviews are presented for each section, as a means of summarizing the contents and providing some chronological cohesion, the documents speak for themselves, and thus, are indisputable.

The major areas covered within these pages are Territorial Government, Constitutions, Past Leadership and Acts & Journals. For those wishing to make online requests for information from the Alabama Department of Archives & History, we have included a link to their website, under Further Archival Research.

The Territorial Government section includes complete copies of the Acts creating the Mississippi Territory, the Alabama Territory and the Resolution of the Alabama Territorial Assembly, petitioning Congress to grant statehood to Alabama. These documents, and the Overview presenting them, will enable the reader to gain some understanding of government in Alabama prior to 1819, and particularly, the movement from executive domination, as experienced in the territorial stage, and resulting in the outright legislative supremacy embodied in the Constitution of 1819.

The Constitutions section provides not only the complete text of each of Alabama's six Constitutions, but also the enabling instruments which provided for the Constitutional Conventions which framed them, the Delegates to those Conventions, how each attained ratification, and any amendments subsequently adopted to them. Alabama's Constitutions are necessary to any understanding of Alabama history, and particularly, the powers and constraints of state government during the periods in which they were operative. They also present some insight into the national issues of their day. Considering that history, in and of itself, is an intertwined chain of events, the Alabama Constitutions were born of both internal and external influences. The Constitution of 1819 was certainly reactive to the territorial experience; the Constitution of 1861, was reactive to a protracted sectional debate that began even before the Northwest Ordinance was modified so as to allow for slaveholding in the Mississippi Territory. Contrary to the popular conception of a hot-blooded, impulsive vote for secession, this Constitution, and the Ordinances preceding it, were anticipated long before its ratification - the enabling Resolution was passed by the General Assembly almost a full year prior to the events of January, 1861. The Constitutions of 1865 and 1868 present contrasting views of what Reconstruction meant - the former exemplified the simple reunification envisioned by President Andrew Johnson, while the latter reflected not only the wholesale appropriation of federal power by the self-styled "radical reconstructionists" who controlled the Congress, but the fear that the recently vanquished South could indeed rise again, if its government was returned to the very hands that wrought secession. Thus, the six-year period of "radical reconstruction" is often defined by the eye of the beholder: either the era of Black enfranchisement, and passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, or the "tragic" era of military occupation, corruption and a ballooning state debt. It was, of course, all of these, and when the old guard of "Bourbon Democrats" returned to power in the elections of 1874, one of the first acts of the Assembly was enabling legislation to form a new Constitution. The resultant Constitution of 1875 was not, however, a disfranchising document, as its framers were circumspect in forging an instrument that would not engender further federal intervention. Instead, the Constitution of 1875, concerned itself with institutionalizing prohibitions against state involvement in private investment schemes, curbing legislative activity by returning to biennial sessions and granting the governor, for the first time in Alabama history, the right to offer executive amendments to legislation, and by abolishing the office of Lieutenant Governor, which, because of the persons who had held it under the Constitution of 1868, was widely discredited. Unlike its predecessors, the Constitution of 1901 did not result from a singular event, but rather a series of factors. The rise of industrialism provided a counterbalance to the long-held economic and political dominance of the Black Belt counties. Both sides eyed the growing Populist and Agrarian movements with suspicion, until these causes died, having reached an apex that fell just short of being seriously threatening to the established order of things. Overshadowing all of this, was the question of race. With Washington willing to wink and look the other way, the 1890's witnessed a steady progression of laws aimed at separation of the races in every aspect of public life, ultimately resulting in constitutional disfranchisement. Utilizing the Constitution of 1875 as a working document, the framers of the Constitution of 1901 produced something wholly unlike any of Alabama's other five Constitutions. In his definitive study, Constitutional Development In Alabama: 1798-1901, the late Dr. Malcolm McMillan concludes that the Constitution of 1901, was not a framework at all, but "essentially a legislative document. Disfranchisement of Blacks, and many poor Whites, were the objects of the Convention, but the powerful industrial and Black Belt forces went further by severely limiting home rule, and further weakening the power of the legislative branch by making Alabama the first, and only, state to ever hold Regular Sessions on a quadrennial basis.", said McMillan. The Amendments were not long in coming, and by 1915, the first of many pieces of legislation appeared, advocating a new Constitution.

The Past Leadership section is offered in order to provide an accurate list of the Speakers and Clerks of the House of Representatives, and the Presidents and Secretaries of the Senate. The list is impressive, encompassing a virtual litany of leaders throughout Alabama history. Particularly in the 19th Century, many of these individuals went on to become Governors, Congressmen and United States Senators, and numerous pieces of historical information can be gleaned from examining their lives. Here are men such as Francis Lyons, who served as Secretary of the Senate in the 1820's, then went on to become a Senator, then President of that body. William Garrett did the same thing in the House, and was so omnipresent in Alabama politics in the mid-19th Century, that his book, Reminiscences Of Public Men In Alabama provides a rare look into the General Assemblies of that era. Here, also, are men such as Francis Pettus and John Rather, each of whom served, at varying times, as Speaker of the House and President of the Senate. There is John Williams Walker, Speaker of the 2nd Territorial Assembly, whose two sons, Leroy Pope Walker and Richard Wilde Walker, would each serve as Speaker of the House as well. The list goes on: George Washington Owen, who at the age of 24, was the youngest Speaker of the House; Arthur Pendleton Bagby, the only Speaker of the House to serve under two political parties - first as a Whig, then during the rise of Jacksonian Democracy, as a Democrat. As Governor, Bagby broke new ground in convincing the Assembly, during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1839, to open the State coffers to provide public assistance to Mobile - 20 years later, Bagby, along with 1,300 other Mobilians, died in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1858; Nathaniel Henry Rhodes Dawson, Speaker of the House, whose wife, Elodie Todd, was the half-sister of Mary Todd Lincoln, and who took the lead in establishing the Confederate Cemetery in Selma; James M. Calhoun, President of the Senate (1838-39 and 1862-63), who was the nephew of famed South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun; Jesse Malcom Carmichael, who served as Secretary of the Senate, despite the fact that he had lost a hand at Antietam, and whose son, Archibald Hill Carmichael, would later become Speaker of the House. And the list continues. Short biographical sketches of all these Officers are being prepared for future inclusion in this section, as these lists and sketches have never before been produced in any form.

The Acts & Journals section is currently under construction, and will be placed on this site in incremental segments. Here, the visitor will be able to study the legislative history of Alabama, year by year, through its official House and Senate Journals, as well as its Acts. For example, the General Assembly (officially known as the Alabama Legislature under the Constitution of 1901) which operated under the Constitution of 1819, provides significant historical fodder, as this institution had, in addition to its legislative powers, broad electoral prerogatives, and the numerous battles waged within the Assembly in electing state officers and United States Senators, were often no less fierce than those fought along the Creek frontier. Beginning with the two Territorial Sessions of 1818, researchers will be able to explore these primary documents which are, in actuality, the comprehensive chronicle of Alabama's Legislative Branch.

Over the past few years, we have been compiling a comprehensive list of all known persons who served in the Alabama Legislature. Once the final examination for historical accuracy is completed, we will place this list within this History section.

As it is, the Legislative History section of the Alabama Legislature website will be constantly evolving, as the addition of new material will be a time-consuming endeavor.

Please refer any questions regarding Alabama legislative history to Mike Murphy.