1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Alabama
ALABAMA, a southern state of the American Union, situated between 84° 51′ and 88° 31′ W. long. and about 30° 13′ and 35° N. lat., bounded N. by Tennessee, E. by Georgia, S. by Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, and W. by Mississippi. Its total area is 51,998 sq. m., of which 719 are water surface.
Physical Features.—The surface of Alabama in the N. and N.E., embracing about two-fifths of its area, is diversified and picturesque; the remaining portion is occupied by a gently undulating plain having a general incline south-westward toward the Mississippi and the Gulf. Extending entirely across the state of Alabama for about 20 m. S. of its N. boundary, and in the middle stretching 60 m. farther S., is the Cumberland Plateau, or Tennessee Valley region, broken into broad table-lands by the dissection of rivers. In the N. part of this plateau, W. of Jackson county, there are about 1000 sq. m. of level highlands from 700 to 800 ft. above the sea. South of these highlands, occupying a narrow strip on each side of the Tennessee river, is a delightful country of gentle rolling lowlands varying in elevation from 500 to 800 ft. To the N.E. of these highlands and lowlands is a rugged section with steep mountain-sides, deep narrow coves and valleys, and flat mountain-tops. Its elevations range from 400 to 1800 ft. In the remainder of this region, the S. portion, the most prominent feature is Little Mountain, extending about 80 m. from E. to W. between two valleys, and rising precipitously on the N. side 500 ft. above them or 1000 ft. above the sea. Adjoining the Cumberland Plateau region on the S.E. is the Appalachian Valley (locally known as Coosa Valley) region, which is the S. extremity of the great Appalachian Mountain system, and occupies an area within the state of about 8000 sq. m. This is a limestone belt with parallel hard rock ridges left standing by erosion to form mountains. Although the general direction of the mountains, ridges and valleys is N.E. and S.W., irregularity is one of the most prominent characteristics. In the N.E. are several flat-topped mountains, of which Raccoon and Lookout are the most prominent, having a maximum elevation near the Georgia line of little more than 1800 ft. and gradually decreasing in height toward the S.W., where Sand Mountain is a continuation of Raccoon. South of these the mountains are marked by steep N.W. sides, sharp crests and gently sloping S.E. sides. South-east of the Appalachian Valley region, the Piedmont Plateau also crosses the Alabama border from the N.E. and occupies a small triangular-shaped section of which Randolph and Clay counties, together with the N. part of Tallapoosa and Chambers, form the principal portion. Its surface is gently undulating and has an elevation of about 1000 ft. above the sea. The Piedmont Plateau is a lowland worn down by erosion on hard crystalline rocks, then uplifted to form a plateau. The remainder of the state is occupied by the coastal plain. This is crossed by foot-hills and rolling prairies in the central part of the state, where it has a mean elevation of about 600 ft., becomes lower and more level toward the S.W., and in the extreme S. is flat and but slightly elevated above the sea. The Cumberland Plateau region is drained to the W.N.W. by the Tennessee river and its tributaries; all other parts of the state are drained to the S.W. In the Appalachian Valley region the Coosa is the principal river; and in the Piedmont Plateau, the Tallapoosa. In the Coastal Plain are the Tombigbee in the W., the Alabama (formed by the Coosa and Tallapoosa) in the W. central, and in the E. the Chattahoochee, which forms almost half of the Georgia boundary. The Tombigbee and Alabama unite near the S.W. corner of the state, their waters discharging into Mobile Bay by the Mobile and Tensas rivers. The Black Warrior is a considerable stream which joins the Tombigbee from the E. The valleys in the N. and N.E. are usually deep and narrow, but in the Coastal Plain they are broad and in most cases rise in three successive terraces above the stream. The harbour of Mobile was formed by the drowning of the lower part of the valley of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers as a result of the sinking of the land here, such sinking having occurred on other parts of the Gulf coast.
The fauna and flora of Alabama are similar to those of the Gulf states in general and have no distinctive characteristics.
Climate and Soil.—The climate of Alabama is temperate and fairly uniform. The heat of summer is tempered in the S. by the winds from the Gulf of Mexico, and in the N. by the elevation above the sea. The average annual temperature is highest in the S.W. along the coast, and lowest in the N.E. among the highlands. Thus at Mobile the annual mean is 67° F., the mean for the summer 81°, and for the winter 52°; and at Valley Head, in De Kalb county, the annual mean is 59°, the mean for the summer 75°, and for the winter 41°. At Montgomery, in the central region, the average annual temperature is 66°, with a winter average of 49°, and a summer average of 81°. The average winter minimum for the entire state is 35°, and there is an average of 35 days in each year in which the thermometer falls below the freezing-point. At extremely rare intervals the thermometer has fallen below zero, as was the case in the remarkable cold wave of the 12th–13th of February 1899, when an absolute minimum of 17° was registered at Valley Head. The highest temperature ever recorded was 109° in Talladega county in 1902. The amount of precipitation is greatest along the coast (62 in.) and evenly distributed through the rest of the state (about 52 in.). During each winter there is usually one fall of snow in the S. and two in the N.; but the snow quickly disappears, and sometimes, during an entire winter, the ground is not covered with snow. Hail-storms occur in the spring and summer, but are seldom destructive. Heavy fogs are rare, and are confined chiefly to the coast. Thunderstorms occur throughout the year, but are most common in the summer. The prevailing winds are from the S. As regards its soil, Alabama may be divided into four regions. Extending from the Gulf northward for one hundred and fifty miles is the outer belt of the Coastal Plain, also called the “Timber Belt,” whose soil is sandy and poor, but responds well to fertilization. North of this is the inner lowland of the Coastal Plain, or the “Black Prairie,” which includes some 13,000 sq. m. and seventeen counties. It receives its name from its soil (weathered from the weak under-lying limestone), which is black in colour, almost destitute of sand and loam, and rich in limestone and marl formations, especially adapted to the production of cotton; hence the region is also called the “Cotton Belt.” Between the “Cotton Belt” and the Tennessee Valley is the mineral region, the “Old Land” area—“a region of resistant rocks”—whose soils, also derived from weathering in situ, are of varied fertility, the best coming from the granites, sandstones and limestones, the poorest from the gneisses, schists and slates. North of the mineral region is the “Cereal Belt,” embracing the Tennessee Valley and the counties beyond, whose richest soils are the red clays and dark loams of the river valley; north of which are less fertile soils, produced by siliceous and sandstone formations.
Agriculture.—Agriculture is the principal occupation in Alabama, giving employment to 64.5% of the population. The farm acreage in 1900 was 20,685,427 acres (62% of the entire surface of the state), of which 8,654,991 acres (41.8%) were improved. Under the system of slave labour which existed before 1860, the average size of the plantations tended to increase, but since 1860 the reverse has been true, the average plantation in 1860 being 346 acres, and in 1900 92.7 acres. The average value per acre of farm land was $11.86 in 1860 and $8.67 in 1900. As to method of cultivation, 36.3 per cent of the farms were in 1900 managed by the owners, 33.3% by cash renters, 24.4% by share tenants, and the remaining 6% by other methods. The chief product is cotton, cultivated extensively in the “Black Belt” and less extensively in the other portions of the state. Cotton has always been the principal source of wealth, the amount of its exports at Mobile increasing from 7000 bales in 1818 to 25,000 bales in 1821, and the total product of the state in 1840 being double that of 1830. This was accompanied by an extensive employment of slave labour, and from 1820 until 1860 the rate of increase of the blacks was greater than that of the whites. The success of the economic system was such that in 1860 the cotton crop of Alabama was nearly 1,000,000 bales (989,955 bales), being 18.4% of the entire cotton product of the United States. The disorganization of labour resulting from the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, was the cause of a temporary decline in the cotton crop. In 1889 the crop again approximated to 1,000,000 bales (915,210 bales, being 12.2% of the entire crop of the United States), and in 1899 it exceeded that amount, Alabama being fourth among the states of the entire country. The total value of the farm products of Alabama in 1899 was $91,387,409; in 1889, $66,240,190; and in 1879, $56,872,994. The average yield per acre has also increased under the system of free labour. In recent years there has been a tendency to diversify crops, Indian corn, wheat and oats being raised extensively in the “Cereal Belt.” In 1906, according to the Year-Book of the Department of Agriculture, the following were the acreages, yields and values of Alabama’s more important crops (excepting cotton):—Indian corn, 2,990,387 acres, 47,849,392 bushels, $30,623,611; wheat, 98,639 acres, 1,085,029 bushels, $1,019,927; oats, 184,179 acres, 3,167,879 bushels, $1,615,618; hay, 56,350 acres, 109,882 tons, $1,461,431.
Minerals.—The chief feature of Alabama’s industrial life since 1880 has been the exploitation of her iron and coal resources. The iron ore (found chiefly in the region of which Birmingham is the centre) is primarily red haematite and (much less important) brown haematite; though as regards the latter Alabama ranked first among the states of the Union in 1905 (with 781,561 tons). The total production of all classes of iron ores was 3,782,831 tons in 1905, Alabama ranking third in the Union in this respect. The production of bituminous coal has also increased very rapidly. Coal was first discovered in the state in 1834, and in 1840 the total production was 946 tons; in 1870 it was 13,200 short tons. The real development of the mines began in 1881 and 1882, and the product increased from 420,000 tons in 1881 to 1,568,000 in 1883. By 1890 it had increased to 4,090,409 tons, by 1900 to 8,394,275 tons, and by 1905 to 11,866,069 tons, valued at $14,387,721, making Alabama sixth of the coal-producing states. Nearly 85% of the coal is produced in three counties (Jefferson, Walker and Bibb), though the coal-bearing formations cover about 40% of the northern half of the state. Gold, silver, lead, copper, tin and bauxite have also been discovered, but the greater richness of the iron and coal deposits has prevented their development.
Manufactures.—The growth of manufactures in Alabama has been as remarkable as the revelation of mineral wealth . In 1880 the capital invested in manufactures was $9,668,008, little more than that ($9,098,181) in 1860; by 1890 it had increased to $46,122,571, or 377.1%; and in 1900 it amounted to $70,370,081, or 52.6% more than in 1890. On account of the proximity of coal, iron and limestone, the manufactures of iron and steel are the most extensive. In 1895 it was demonstrated that Alabama pig-iron could be sent to Liverpool and sold cheaper than the English product, and Birmingham (Alabama) came consequently to rank next to Middlesborough and Glasgow among the world centres of the pig-iron trade. The pig-iron produced in the state in 1860 was valued at $64,590, in 1870 at $210,258, in 1880 at $1,405,356, in 1900 at $13,487,769, and in 1905 at $16,614,577. In the production of foundry pig-iron Alabama held first rank both in 1900 and in 1905. The manufacture of steel, though in its infancy, gave promise of equalling that of iron, and the coke industry is also of growing importance, the product of Alabama during the five years from 1896 to 1901 showing a greater increase, relatively, than that of the other states. In 1900 the state ranked sixth and in 1905 fifth among the states of the United States in the manufactures of iron and steel. In 1905 the value of the product was 2.7% of the value of the total iron and steel product of the country, and 22.6% of the value of all the state’s factory products. In 1900 and in 1905 Alabama ranked second among the states of the Union in the production of coke, its product being more than one-tenth of that for the whole country, and more than one-twentieth (5.2% in 1900; 5.7% in 1905) of all the factory products of the state. The demand for coke is due to the rapidly growing iron and steel industry. Great possibilities were also shown for the production of lumber and naval stores. Approximately three-fourths of the total area of the state is woodland. In the “Timber Belt” the forests of long leaf pine have an estimated stand of 21,192 million ft.; and in 1905 the product of sawed lumber was valued at $13,563,815. Of this, yellow pine represented $11,320,909, oak $886,746, and poplar $627,686. In the decade 1890–1900 the number of turpentine factories increased from 7 to 152, and their product in 1900 and in 1905 ranked Alabama third among the states in that industry. The value of the turpentine and rosin products in 1905 was $2,434,365.
The manufacture of cotton goods has also developed rapidly. As late as 1890 there were only 13 cotton mills in Alabama, one more than the number in 1850; in 1900 there were 31, representing a capital of $11,638,757 and an annual product valued at $8,153,136, an increase of 272.2% over the product ($2,190,771) of 1890; in 1905 there were 46 establishments, representing a capital of $24,758,049 (an increase of 112.7% over that of 1900), and having a product (for the year) of $16,760,332, an increase of 105.6% over that for 1900. To encourage the establishment of cotton mills the legislature of 1896–1897 exempted from taxation during the succeeding ten years all capital that should be invested in the manufacture of cotton, provided that $50,000 or more be invested in buildings and machinery. Other industries of less importance are flour, fertilizers and tanned leather.
Communications.—The navigable mileage of the Alabama rivers is 2000 m., but obstructions often prevent the formation of a continuous route, notably the “Muscle Shoals” of the Tennessee, extending from a point 10 m. below Decatur to Florence, a distance of 38 m. To remove or circumvent these impediments, and to improve the Mobile harbour, the United States government spent, between 1870 and 1904, approximately $12,000,000. As the streams in the mineral region are not navigable, the railways are the carriers of its products. Here all the large systems of the southern states find an entrance, the Mobile & Ohio, the Southern (Queen & Crescent Route), the Louisville & Nashville, and the ’Frisco system affording communication with the Mississippi and the west, and the Southern, Seaboard Air Line, Atlantic Coast Line, and the Central of Georgia forming connexions with northern and Atlantic states. Mobile, the only seaport of the state, has a channel 30 ft. deep, on which the national government spends large sums of money; yet an increasing amount of Alabama cotton is sent to New Orleans for shipment, and Pensacola, Florida, receives much of the lumber.
Population.—In 1880 the inhabitants of Alabama numbered 1,262,505; in 1890, 1,513,017, an increase of 17%; in 1900, 1,828,697, a further increase of 20%. This population is notable for its large proportion of negroes (45.23%), its insignificant foreign element (.08%), and the small percentage of urban inhabitants (10%). As regards church membership, the Baptists are much the most numerous, followed by the Methodists, the Roman Catholics and the Presbyterians. In 1900 there were 201 incorporated cities, towns and villages in the state, but of these only nine had a population in excess of 5000, and only three a population in excess of 25,000. These three were Mobile (38,469), Birmingham (38,415), and Montgomery (30,346), the capital of the state. Other important cities, with their populations, were Selma (8713), Anniston (9695), Huntsville (8068), Bessemer (6358), Tuscaloosa (5094), Talladega (5056), Eufaula (4532) and Tuskegee (2170). In 1910 the population was 2,138,093.Government.—Alabama has been governed under five constitutions, the original constitution of 1819, the revision of 1865, the constitutions of 1868 and 1875, and the present constitution, which was framed in 1901. The last has a number of notable provisions. It lengthened the term of service of executive and legislative officials from two to four years, made that of the judiciary six years, provided for quadrennial sessions of the legislature, and introduced the office of lieutenant-governor. The passage of local or special bills by the legislature was prohibited. A provision intended to prevent lobbying is that no one except legislators and the representatives of the press may be admitted to the floor of the House except by unanimous vote. No executive official can succeed himself in office, and the governor cannot be elected or appointed to the United States Senate, or to any state office during his term as governor, or within one year thereafter. Sheriffs whose prisoners suffer mob violence may be impeached. The constitution eliminated the negro from politics by a suffrage clause which went into effect in 1903. This limits the right to vote to those who can read and write any article of the constitution of the United States, and have worked or been regularly engaged in some lawful employment, business or occupation, trade or calling for the greater part of the twelve months next preceding the time they offer to register, unless prevented from labour or ability to read and write by physical disability, or who own property assessed at $300 upon which the taxes have been paid; but those who have served in the army or navy of the United States or of the Confederate States in time of war, their lawful descendants in every degree, and persons of good character “who understand the duties and obligations of citizenship under a republican form of government,” are relieved from the operation of this law provided they registered prior to the 20th of December 1902. The second of these exceptions is known as the “Grandfather Clause.” No man may vote in any election who has not by the 1st of February next preceding that election paid all poll taxes due from him to the state. In 1902 nine-tenths of the negroes in the state were disqualified from voting. The constitution of 1901 (like that of 1867) and special statutes require separate schools for white and negro children. A “Jim Crow” law was enacted in 1891. Buying, selling or offering to buy or sell a vote has for penalty disfranchisement, and since 1891 the Australian ballot system has been used. The governor, auditor and attorney-general are required to prepare and present to each legislature a general revenue bill, and the secretary of state, with the last two officers, constitute a board of pardons who make recommendations to the governor, who, however, is not bound to follow their advice in the exercise of his pardoning power. State officials are forbidden to accept railway passes from railway companies, and individuals are forbidden to receive freight rebates. The constitution of 1901 exempted a homestead of 80 acres of farm land, or of a house and lot not exceeding $2000 in value, from liability for any debt contracted since the 30th of July 1868 except for a on it to which the wife consented; personal property to the value of $1000 is exempted. Under the civil code of 1897 the earnings of a wife are her separate property, and it is provided that “no woman, nor any boy under age of twelve years, shall be employed to work or labour in or about any mine in this state.” By acts of 1903 child labour under 12 years is forbidden in any factory unless for support of “a widowed mother or aged or disabled father,” or unless the child is an indigent orphan; “no child under the age of ten years shall be so employed under any circumstances.” Certificates of children’s ages are necessary before a child is employed; false certification is forbidden under penalty of a fine of from $5 to $100 or hard labour not exceeding three months. No child under 13 may do night work at all. No child
under 16 may do more than 48 hours a week of night work. No child of less than 12 is allowed to work more than 66 hours in any one week. An able-bodied parent who does not work when he has the opportunity, unless “idle under strike orders, or lock-outs,” and who hires out his minor children, is declared a vagrant and may be fined $500 and imprisoned or sentenced to hard labour for not more than six months.
All amendments to the constitution must be approved by a three-fifths vote of each house of the legislature and then ratified by the people. The legislature of 1900–1901 established a department of archives and history whose aim is to preserve documents and historical records.
Education.—Public education for Mobile was authorized by the legislature of 1826, but it was not provided until 1852. Two years later (1854) a school system for the entire state was inaugurated. Its support was derived from public land given by the United States to the state of Alabama for educational purposes in 1819, and special taxes or tuition fixed by each township. The Civil War demoralized the nascent system. An important step in its revival seemed to be made in the constitution of 1868, which forbade any private recompense for instruction in the public schools and appropriated one-fifth of the state’s revenue to common schools. But the attempt to teach whites and blacks in the same schools, and the corruption in the administration of funds, made the results unsatisfactory. The constitution of 1875 abolished the one-fifth revenue provision, made the support of the schools, except that derived from the land grant of 1819, and poll taxes, depend upon the appropriation of the legislature, and established separate schools for whites and blacks. Progress has been slow but steady. According to the constitution of 1901 the legislature is required to levy, in addition to the poll tax, an annual tax for education at the rate of 30 to 65 cents on the hundred dollars’ worth of property, and practically every county in the state had made in 1906 an appropriation for its schools of a one mill tax on $100. The school fund in 1900 amounted to $1,000,000, an increase of 37% over the average annual fund of the preceding decade; for the year ending the 30th of September 1907 the amount certified for apportionment by the state was $1,150,261.40, and the total annual expenditure was about $1,600,000; in 1906 the school census showed 697,465 children of school age. The legislature of 1907 voted an increase of $300,000 in the appropriation for the common school fund, and granted state-aid for rural school-houses; but its most important work probably was the establishment of county high schools. The rural schools have an annual term of five to seven months only. The percentage of illiterates declined from 50.97% in 1880 to 41% in 1890, and 34% in 1900, when Alabama ranked third among the states in illiteracy.
There are also a number of institutions for higher education in Alabama. The most important of these are the university of Alabama (co-educational—opened in 1831), at Tuscaloosa, the institution being part of the public school system maintained by the state; the Alabama Polytechnic Institute at Auburn, a “state college for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts,” organized in 1872 according to the United States land grant act for the promotion of industrial education; the Southern University (incorporated 1856—Methodist Episcopal, South), at Greensboro; Howard College (Baptist), at East Lake (Birmingham); Spring Hill College (1830—Roman Catholic), near Mobile; Talladega College (for negroes), at Talladega; the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (for negroes), at Tuskegee; and state normal schools at Florence, Jacksonville, Troy and Livingston, and, for negroes, at Montgomery, Tuskegee and Normal.Public Institutions.—Alabama supports various philanthropic and penal institutions: a home for Confederate veterans, at Mountain Creek; an institution for the deaf, an academy for the blind, and a school for the negro deaf, dumb and blind, all at Talladega; a hospital for the insane, opened in 1860, at Tuscaloosa; a penitentiary, established in 1839, at Wetumpka; and a state industrial school for white boys, at East Lake (Birmingham), and a state industrial school for white girls at Montevallo.
These institutions are managed by trustees who are appointed by the governor. In addition to the usual method of employing convicts in the penitentiary or on state farms, Alabama, like other southern states, also hires its convicts to labour for private individuals. Reports of abuses under this system caused the legislature in 1901 to order a special investigation, the results of which led in 1903 to a new system of leasing to contractors, whereby the prisoners are kept under the direct supervision of state officials. In this same year a system of peonage that had grown up in the state attracted wide attention, and a Federal grand jury at a single term of court indicted a number of men for holding persons as “peons.” Many similar cases were found later in other southern states, but those in Alabama being the first discovered attracted the most attention. The system came into existence in isolated communities through the connivance of justices of the peace with white farmers. The justices have jurisdiction over petty offences, of which negroes are usually the guilty parties, and the fines imposed would sometimes be paid by a white farmer, who would thus save the accused from imprisonment, but at the same time would require him to sign a contract to repay by his labour the sum advanced. By various devices the labourer would then be kept constantly in debt to his employer and be held in involuntary servitude for an indefinite time. The “peons” as a rule were negroes, but a few white ones were found; and in several instances negroes were found holding members of their own race in peonage. A law forbidding under severe penalties a labourer from hiring himself to a second employer without giving notice of a prior contract, and an employer from hiring a labourer known by him to be bound by such a contract, had aided in the development of the system, though it had been enacted for a different purpose. The Federal authorities, as soon as the existence of peonage became known, took active measures to stamp it out, and were supported by the press and by the leading citizens of the state. Up to 1907 the state licensed the sale of liquor, and liquor licence fees were partly turned over to the public school fund; there was a dispensary system in some counties; and in 1907 one-third of the counties of the state (22 out of 67) were “dry.” Besides, saloons had been forbidden within 5 m. of certain churches and school-houses, so that liquor was sold scarcely at all except in incorporated towns, where in many cases local dispensaries were established. In the 1907 state legislature a county local option bill was passed in February, and immediately afterward the Sherrod anti-shipping bill was enacted forbidding the acceptance of liquors for shipment, transportation or delivery to prohibition districts, and penalising the soliciting of orders for liquor in “dry” districts with a punishment of $500 fine and six months’ imprisonment with hard labour. In a special session of the legislature in November 1907 a law was passed forbidding the sale of liquor within the state, this prohibition to come into effect on the 1st of January 1909.
Finance.—One-half of the income of the state is derived from general taxes, the other sources of revenue being licences, a special school tax, poll tax and the lease of the convicts. The state debt, for which legislative corruption in the years 1868–1872 was largely responsible, amounted on the 1st of October 1906 to $9,057,000. Measures for its refunding, but not for its extinction, have been taken. The constitution of 1901 prohibits the increase of the debt for any other purposes than the suppression of insurrection or resistance to invasion, and the assumption of corporate debts by cities and towns is also restricted. All banks, except national banks, are subject to examination by a public official, and their charters expire within twenty years of their issue.
History.—The first Europeans to enter the limits of the present state of Alabama were Spaniards, who claimed this region as a part of Florida. It is possible that a member of Panfilo de Narvaez’s expedition of 1528 entered what is now southern Alabama, but the first fully authenticated visit was that of Hernando de Soto, who made an arduous but fruitless journey along the Coosa, Alabama and Tombigbee rivers in 1539. The English, too, claimed the region north of the Gulf of Mexico, and the territory of modern Alabama was included in the province of Carolina, granted by Charles II. to certain of his favourites by the charters of 1663 and 1665. English traders of Carolina were frequenting the valley of the Alabama river as early as 1687. Disregarding these claims, however, the French in 1702 settled on the Mobile river and there erected Fort Louis, which for the next nine years was the seat of government of Louisiana. In 1711 Fort Louis was abandoned to the floods of the river, and on higher ground was built Fort Condé, the germ of the present city of Mobile, and the first permanent white settlement in Alabama. Later, on account of the intrigues of the English traders with the Indians, the French as a means of defence established the military posts of Fort Toulouse, near the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, and Fort Tombecbé on the Tombigbee river. The grant of Georgia to Oglethorpe and his associates in 1732 included a portion of what is now northern Alabama, and in 1739 Oglethorpe himself visited the Creek Indians west of the Chattahoochee river and made a treaty with them. The peace of Paris, in 1763, terminated the French occupation, and England came into undisputed possession of the region between the Chattahoochee and the Mississippi. The portion of Alabama below the 31st parallel then became a part of West Florida, and the portion north of this line a part of the “Illinois country,” set apart, by royal proclamation, for the use of the Indians. In 1767 the province of West Florida was extended northward to 32° 28′ N. lat., and a few years later, during the War for Independence, this region fell into the hands of Spain. By the treaty of Versailles, on the 3rd of September 1783, England ceded West Florida to Spain; but by the treaty of Paris, signed the same day, she ceded to the United States all of this province north of 31°, and thus laid the foundation for a long controversy. By the treaty of Madrid, in 1795, Spain ceded to the United States her claims to the lands east of the Mississippi between 31° and 32° 28′; and three years later (1798) this district was organized by Congress as the Mississippi Territory. A strip of land 12 or 14 m. wide near the present northern boundary of Alabama and Mississippi was claimed by South Carolina; but in 1787 that state ceded this claim to the general government. Georgia likewise claimed all the lands between the 31st and 35th parallels from its present western boundary to the Mississippi river, and did not surrender its claim until 1802; two years later the boundaries of the Mississippi Territory were extended so as to include all of the Georgia cession. In 1812 Congress annexed to the Mississippi Territory the Mobile District of West Florida, claiming that it was included in the Louisiana Purchase; and in the following year General James Wilkinson occupied this district with a military force, the Spanish commandant offering no resistance. The whole area of the present state of Alabama then for the first time became subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. In 1817 the Mississippi Territory was divided; the western portion became the state of Mississippi, and the eastern the territory of Alabama, with St Stephens, on the Tombigbee river, as the temporary seat of government. In 1819 Alabama was regularly admitted to the Union as a state.
One of the first problems of the new commonwealth was that of finance. Since the amount of money in circulation was not sufficient to meet the demands of the increasing population, a system of state banks was instituted. State bonds were issued and public lands were sold to secure capital, and the notes of the banks, loaned on security, became a medium of exchange. Prospects of an income from the banks led the legislature of 1836 to abolish all taxation for state purposes. This was hardly done, however, before the panic of 1837 wiped out a large portion of the banks’ assets; next came revelations of grossly careless and even of corrupt management, and in 1843 the banks were placed in liquidation. After disposing of all their available assets, the state assumed the remaining liabilities, for which it had pledged its faith and credit, and these form a part ($3,445,000) of its present indebtedness.
The Indian problem was important. With the encroachment of the white settlers upon their hunting-grounds the Creek Indians began to grow restless, and the great Shawnee chief Tecumseh, who visited them in 1811, fomented their discontent. When the outbreak of the second war with Great Britain in 1812 gave the Creeks assurance of British aid they rose in arms, massacred several hundred settlers who had taken refuge in Fort Mims, near the junction of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, and in a short time no white family in the Creek country was safe outside a palisade. The Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians, however, remained the faithful allies of the whites, and volunteers from Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, and later United States troops, marched to the rescue of the threatened settlements. In the campaign that followed the most distinguished services were rendered by General Andrew Jackson, whose vigorous measures broke for ever the power of the Creek Confederacy. By the treaty of Fort Jackson (9th of August 1814) the Creeks ceded their claims to about one-half of the present state; and cessions by the Cherokees, Chickasaws and Choctaws in 1816 left only about one-fourth of Alabama to the Indians. In 1832 the national government provided for the removal of the Creeks; but before the terms of the contract were effected, the state legislature formed the Indian lands into counties, and settlers flocked in. This caused a disagreement between Alabama and the United States authorities; although it was amicably settled, it engendered a feeling that the policy of the national government might not be in harmony with the interests of the state—a feeling which, intensified by the slavery agitation, did much to cause secession in 1861.
The political history of Alabama may be divided into three periods, that prior to 1860, the years from 1860 to 1876, and the period from 1876 onwards.
The first of these is the only period of altogether healthy political life. Until 1832 there was only one party in the state, the Democratic, but the question of nullification caused a division that year into the (Jackson) Democratic party and the State’s Rights (Calhoun Democratic) party; about the same time, also, there arose, chiefly in those counties where the proportion of slaves to freemen was greater and the freemen were most aristocratic, the Whig party. For some time the Whigs were nearly as numerous as the Democrats, but they never secured control of the state government. The State’s Rights men were in a minority; nevertheless under their active and persistent leader, William L. Yancey (1814–1863), they prevailed upon the Democrats in 1848 to adopt their most radical views. During the agitation over the introduction of slavery into the territory acquired from Mexico, Yancey induced the Democratic State Convention of 1848 to adopt what is known as the “Alabama Platform,” which declared in substance that neither Congress nor the government of a territory had the right to interfere with slavery in a territory, that those who held opposite views were not Democrats, and that the Democrats of Alabama would not support a candidate for the presidency if he did not agree with them on these questions. This platform was endorsed by conventions in Florida and Virginia and by the legislatures of Georgia and Alabama. Old party lines were broken by the Compromise of 1850. The State’s Rights party, joined by many Democrats, founded the Southern Rights party, which demanded the repeal of the Compromise, advocated resistance to future encroachments and prepared for secession, while the Whigs, joined by the remaining Democrats, formed the party known as the “Unionists,” which unwillingly accepted the Compromise and denied the “constitutional” right of secession. The “Unionists” were successful in the elections of 1851 and 1852, but the feeling of uncertainty engendered in the south by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and the course of the slavery agitation after 1852 led the State Democratic convention of 1856 to revive the “Alabama Platform”; and when the “Alabama Platform” failed to secure the formal approval of the Democratic National convention at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1860, the Alabama delegates, followed by those of the other cotton “states,” withdrew. Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln, Governor Andrew B. Moore, according to previous instructions of the legislature, called a state convention on the 7th of January 1861. After long debate this convention adopted on the 11th of January an ordinance of secession, and Alabama became one of the Confederate states of America, whose government was organized at Montgomery on the 4th of February 1861. Yet secession was opposed by many prominent men, and in North Alabama an attempt was made to organize a neutral state to be called Nickajack; but with President Lincoln’s call to arms all opposition to secession ended.
In the early part of the Civil War Alabama was not the scene of military operations, yet the state contributed about 120,000 men to the Confederate service, practically all her white population capable of bearing arms, and thirty-nine of these attained the rank of general. In 1863 the Federal forces secured a foothold in northern Alabama in spite of the opposition of General Nathan B. Forrest, one of the ablest Confederate cavalry leaders. In 1864 the defences of Mobile were taken by a Federal fleet, but the city held out until April 1865; in the same month Selma also fell.
According to the presidential plan of reorganization, a provisional governor for Alabama was appointed in June 1865; a state convention met in September of the same year, and declared the ordinance of secession null and void and slavery abolished; a legislature and a governor were elected in November, the legislature was at once recognized by the National government, and the inauguration of the governor-elect was permitted after the legislature had, in December, ratified the thirteenth amendment. But the passage, by the legislature, of vagrancy and apprenticeship laws designed to control the negroes who were flocking from the plantations to the cities, and its rejection of the fourteenth amendment, so intensified the congressional hostility to the presidential plan that the Alabama senators and representatives were denied their seats in Congress. In 1867 the congressional plan of reconstruction was completed and Alabama was placed under military government. The negroes were now enrolled as voters and large numbers of white citizens were disfranchised. A Black Man’s Party, composed of negroes, and political adventurers known as “carpet-baggers,” was formed, which co-operated with the Republican party. A constitutional convention, controlled by this element, met in November 1867, and framed a constitution which conferred suffrage on negroes and disfranchised a large class of whites. The Reconstruction Acts of Congress required every new constitution to be ratified by a majority of the legal voters of the state. The whites of Alabama therefore stayed away from the polls, and, after five days of voting, the constitution wanted 13,550 to secure a majority. Congress then enacted that a majority of the votes cast should be sufficient, and thus the constitution went into effect, the state was admitted to the Union in June 1868, and a new governor and legislature were elected.
The next two years are notable for legislative extravagance and corruption. The state endorsed railway bonds at the rate of $12,000 and $16,000 a mile until the state debt had increased from eight millions to seventeen millions of dollars, and similar corruption characterized local government. The native white people united, formed a Conservative party and elected a governor and a majority of the lower house of the legislature in 1870; but, as the new administration was largely a failure, in 1872 there was a reaction in favour of the Radicals, a local term applied to the Republican party, and affairs went from bad to worse. In 1874, however, the power of the Radicals was finally broken, the Conservative Democrats electing all state officials. A commission appointed to examine the state debt found it to be $25,503,000; by compromise it was reduced to $15,000,000. A new constitution was adopted in 1875, which omitted the guaranty of the previous constitution that no one should be denied suffrage on account of race, colour or previous condition of servitude, and forbade the state to engage in internal improvements or to give its credit to any private enterprise.
Since 1874 the Democratic party has had constant control of the state administration, the Republicans failing to make nominations for office in 1878 and 1880 and endorsing the ticket of the Greenback party in 1882. The development of mining and manufacturing was accompanied by economic distress among the farming classes, which found expression in the Jeffersonian Democratic party, organized in 1892. The regular Democratic ticket was elected and the new party was then merged into the Populist party. In 1894 the Republicans united with the Populists, elected three congressional representatives, secured control of many of the counties, but failed to carry the state, and continued their opposition with less success in the next campaigns. Partisanship became intense, and charges of corruption of the ignorant negro electorate were made. Consequently after division on the subject among the Democrats themselves, as well as opposition of Republicans and Populists, a new constitution with restrictions on suffrage was adopted in 1901.
The following is a list of the territorial and state governors of Alabama:—
|Governor of the Territory.|
|William Wyatt Bibb||1817–1819|
|Governors of the State.|
|William Wyatt Bibb||1819–1820||Democrat.|
|Samuel B. Moore||1831||”|
|Clement C. Clay||1835–1837||”|
|Arthur P. Bagby||1837–1841||”|
|Joshua L. Martin||1845–1847||”|
|Henry W. Collier||1849–1853||”|
|John A. Winston||1853–1857||”|
|Andrew B. Moore||1857–1861||”|
|John Gill Shorter||1861–1863||”|
|Thomas H. Watts||1863–1865||”|
|Lewis E. Parsons||1865||Provisional|
|Robert M. Patton||1865–1867||Republican.|
|William H. Smith||1868–1870||Republican.|
|Robert B. Lindsay||1870–1872||Democrat.|
|David P. Lewis||1872–1874||Republican.|
|George S. Houston||1874–1878||Democrat.|
|Rufus W. Cobb||1878–1882||”|
|Edward A. O'Neal||1882–1886||”|
|Thomas G. Jones||1890–1894||”|
|William C. Oates||1894–1896||”|
|Joseph F. Johnston||1896–1900||”|
|William J. Samford||1900–1901||”|
|William D. Jelks||1901–1907||”|
|B. B. Comer||1907||”|
Bibliography.—For an elaborate bibliography of Alabama (by Thomas M. Owen) see the Annual Report of the American Historical Association for 1897 (Washington, 1898).
Information regarding the resources, climate, population and industries of Alabama may be found in the reports of the United States Census, and in the publications of the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Geological Survey, the Bulletins of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station (published at Auburn, from 1888), the Bulletins and Reports of the Alabama Geological Survey (published at Tuscaloosa and Montgomery), and in the following works:—B. F. Riley’s Alabama As It Is (Montgomery, 1893), and Saffold Berney’s Handbook of Alabama (2nd ed., Birmingham, 1892).
Information concerning the history of the state may be obtained in William G. Brown’s History of Alabama (New York, 1900); Newton W. Bates’s History and Civil Government of Alabama (Florence, Ala., 1892); Willis Brewer’s Alabama: Her History, Resources, War Record and Public Men (Montgomery, 1872); A. Davis Smith’s and T. A. Deland’s Northern Alabama, Historical and Biographical (Birmingham, 1888); Albert J . Pickett’s History of Alabama (5th ed., 2 vols., Birmingham, Ala., 1900), which contains a valuable compilation of the “Annals of Alabama from 1819 to 1900,” by Thomas M. Owen; and Walter L. Fleming’s Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama (New York, 1905).
In addition, W. G. Clark’s History of Education in Alabama (Washington, 1889); W. E. Martin’s Internal Improvements in Alabama (Baltimore, 1902; Johns Hopkins University Studies, series 20, No. 4); and W. L. Martin’s Code of Alabama (2 vols., Atlanta, Ga., 1897) may be consulted.
Information concerning the aboriginal remains in the state may be found in two papers by Clarence B. Moore, “Certain Aboriginal Remains of the Tombigbee River” and “Certain Aboriginal Remains of the Alabama River,” published in the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences, series 2, vol. ii. (Philadelphia, 1900).
- The special census of manufactures taken in 1905 was confined to manufacturing establishments conducted under the so-called “factory system.” According to this census the capital invested was $105,382,859, and the value of products was $109,169,922. The corresponding figures for 1900, if the same standard be taken for purposes of comparison, would be $60,165,904 and $72,109,929. During the five years, therefore, the capital invested in establishments under the factory system increased 75.2%, and the value of products 51.4%.
- The railway mileage of the state on the 31st of December 1906 was 4805.58 m.
- In Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 474, a negro asked that the defendant board of registry be required to enrol his name and the names of other negroes on the registration lists, and that certain sections of the constitution of Alabama be declared void as being contrary to the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the federal constitution. The Supreme Court dismissed the bill on the grounds that equity has no jurisdiction over political matters; that, assuming the fraudulent character of the objectionable constitutional provisions, the court was in effect asked to assist in administering a fraud; and that relief “must be given by them [the people of the state] or by the legislative and political departments of the government of the United States.” The case attracted much attention; and it is often erroneously said that the court upheld the disfranchising clauses of the Alabama constitution.
- The enrolment was 104,518 blacks and 61,295 whites.
- William Wyatt Bibb died in 1820, and Thomas Bibb, then president of the state senate, filled the unexpired term of one year (1820).
- In 1837 Governor Clay was elected United States Senator, and Hugh M‘Vay, the president of the state senate, filled the unexpired term.
- Until 1845 the term of state officials was one year; from then until 1901 it was two years; since 1901 it has been four years.