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Bourbon Democracy in Alabama, 1874–1890

Bourbon Democracy in Alabama, 1874–1890

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Bourbon Democracy in Alabama, 1874–1890

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Nov 22, 2015


Hailed as the definitive study of the subject when it appeared in 1951, Bourbon Democracy in Alabama analyzes and describes the state government of Alabama during the Bourbon Period as it operated under the Democratic and Conservative party. For this edition, the author has prepared a new foreword in which he surveys recent scholarship. The term Bourbon originated during the Reconstruction Era and was used by the Radicals to label their Democratic opponents as anti-progressive and ultraconservative. The term has been adopted generally to describe the period following the overthrow of Radical Reconstruction.

Nov 22, 2015

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Bourbon Democracy in Alabama, 1874–1890 - Allen Johnston Going


The Library of Alabama Classics, reprint editions of works important to the history, literature, and culture of Alabama, is dedicated to the memory of

Rucker Agee

whose pioneering work in the fields of Alabama history and historical geography continues to be the standard of scholarly achievement.



With a New Foreword by the Author



Copyright © 1951, 1992 The University of Alabama Press

Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487–0380

All rights reserved

Manufactured in the United States of America

The paper on which this book is printed meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Science-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Going, Allen Johnston, 1917–

Bourbon democracy in Alabama, 1874–1890 / Allen Johnston Going : with a new foreword by the author.

        p.        cm. — (Library of Alabama classics)

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-8173-0580-7

1. Alabama—Politics and government—1865–1950.     I. Title.     II. Series.

F326.G65       1992




British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data available

ISBN 978-0-8173-9052-5 (electronic)


Maps and Charts



ONE. Introduction: Party Politics During Radical Reconstruction

TWO. The Overthrow of Radical Reconstruction

THREE. Organization and Operation of the Democratic Party

FOUR. Threats to Democratic Supremacy

FIVE. Debt Adjustment

SIX. State Finances

SEVEN. Agricultural Problems

EIGHT. Business and Industrial Policies

NINE. The State and Railroads

TEN. Public Education

ELEVEN. Penal System

TWELVE. The State and Social Welfare

THIRTEEN. Conclusion




Maps and Charts

State Tax Rate and Assessed Valuations

Receipts and Disbursements of the State Government

Railroads in Alabama, 1882

Political Parties Represented in the Legislature


References to a book as a pioneering study and a classic give the author pause for thought. My thoughts go back to the 1940s when I first began to investigate seriously the post-Reconstruction era in Alabama. At that time no study focused on the years between Redemption and the turbulent nineties, and only a few studies dealt with certain aspects of the period.

These years fell between two exciting and controversial eras in Alabama, and each had been treated in published doctoral dissertations. Walter L. Fleming’s Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama (1905) has often been labeled one of the best in the Dunning school state studies, all of which treated Reconstruction from a southern perspective. John B. Clark in Populism in Alabama (1927) devoted approximately the first third of his book to the period from 1874 to 1890 with emphasis on agrarian grievances and organizations. Albert B. Moore’s History of Alabama (1935) did include five chapters on these post-Reconstruction years, but only certain topics were discussed, and in a confusing, disorganized way.

The 1940s witnessed some accelerating trends in the reinterpretation of post–Civil War southern history, and I increasingly began to question the then current accounts of Alabama’s history. Were the state’s Redemption leaders really without blemish and paragons of virtue in contrast to the alien, ignorant, and corrupt Radicals? Perhaps a sharp focus on Alabama’s government and policies during the fifteen-year period after restoration would be enlightening. Thus, unlike Fleming’s treatise, my book would not be a general history of the state within a specified time frame but would analyze and discuss many of the state’s problems and programs in the post-Reconstruction era. Preceding this would be a brief introductory chapter on Reconstruction party politics which, I hoped, would provide a more balanced and less prejudiced account of the years immediately prior to 1874.

While I plodded along in pursuit of the Alabama Bourbons, C. Vann Woodward was working on his landmark study, Origins of the New South 1877–1913 (1951), and both books were published in the same year. His unflattering depiction of the Democratic-Conservative Redeemers as business-industry oriented rather than agrarian oriented politicians revolutionized the study of this era for years to come. In the countless writings and discussions of the Woodward thesis my book has often been cited as supportive. Of course, I knew nothing of his ideas at the time other than his admiration for agrarian Populists in the biography, Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel (1938). For Alabama I concluded that the Democratic-Conservative policies reflected both agrarian and business-industry influences with the latter predominating increasingly in the 1880s. In a review of my book, Woodward chided me for referring to the advocates of a forward-looking New South program as progressives in contrast to the agrarian (Bourbon) faction.

Woodward’s book and other factors touched off during the next four decades a great deal of activity in post–Civil War southern history. For practically every state a published monograph dealt with the Redeemer period, often linked with the Populist nineties. Many supported Woodward’s concepts, while others found that agrarian influences predominated over business-industry pressures on the Redeemers. These combined with other studies on southern economics and society, especially race relations, have virtually revolutionized our understanding of the term New South in the late nineteenth century. Concurrently revisionist studies of the Reconstruction era showed that Radical control varied from state to state and was far more complex than the older simplistic version of a humbled South suffering under the heel of ruthless outsiders and corrupt insiders, white and black.

The four decades since 1951 have also seen for Alabama a considerable body of research, writing, and publication about its history in the last third of the nineteenth century. Many, if not most, of these studies deal with the Reconstruction era, which overlaps the years covered by my book. Although the Democratic-Conservative Redeemers won control of the state government in 1874, Republicans controlled some counties and most federal offices for a number of years thereafter. For an excellent up-to-date summary of the writings on Alabama Reconstruction, see Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins’s preface to the 1991 reprint edition of her The Scalawag in Alabama Politics, 1865–1881. Her essay, Alabama: Democratic Bulldozing and Republican Folly in Otto Olsen, ed., Reconstruction and Redemption in the South (1980), provides a good summary of the Reconstruction years in the state.

It is impossible to mention all of the articles, theses, dissertations, and monographs that contribute to a better understanding of the Redeemer years in Alabama, but some of the major ones should be noted. (For more detailed information on these works and others, see my article, Alabama Bourbonism and Populism Revisited, Alabama Review 36 [April 1983]: 83–109). Practically all of them deal exclusively with Alabama, but a few involve other states along with considerable material on Alabama. One such work, Michael Perman, The Road to Redemption: Southern Politics, 1867–1879 (1984), emphasizes the strong agrarian influences on the Redeemers in the 1870s and thus runs counter to the basic Woodward interpretation. Perman (p. 277) does state that the Democrats had to perform a balancing act in developing policies sufficiently flexible to satisfy dissonant elements of which it was composed—a conclusion similar to my own for Alabama.

No single work on Alabama covers exactly the same time span as mine, but a few major ones include much material on the years of Bourbon (or Redeemer) control. William Warren Rogers, The One-Gallused Rebellion: Agrarianism in Alabama 1865–1896 (1970), in setting the stage for the 1890s rebellion, covers many of the same topics, and often in greater detail. Malcolm Cook McMillan’s dissertation on the history of Alabama’s constitutions was most helpful in understanding the Constitution of 1875 and the pressures for changes in subsequent years. It was published in 1955 as Constitutional Development in Alabama, 1798–1901: A Study in Politics, the Negro, and Sectionalism. Hugh Charles Davis, An Analysis of the Rationale of Representative Conservative Alabamians, 1874–1914 (Ph.D. diss., Vanderbilt University, 1964), probes the ideas of five representative Alabamians (an entrepreneur, minister, planter-journalist, governor, and congressman) and found that they clung to older southern values but adapted to changing New South concepts. Jonathan M. Wiener, Social Origins of the New South: Alabama, 1860–1885 (1978), applies a Marxian thesis in interpreting Alabama’s economic-social-political structure during the twenty-five-year period after 1860. Selecting five Black Belt and five hill counties and using quantitative techniques, he does demonstrate the predominance of the planter elite for at least a decade and a half after the war. He fails, however, to prove that the planters impeded the entrepreneurial developments in north Alabama, particularly in the 1880s.

In the area of pure politics Allen Woodrow Jones, A History of the Direct Primary in Alabama, 1840–1903 (Ph.D. diss., University of Alabama, 1964), shows how primary elections by the 1880s were increasingly advocated and used as correctives to the power of courthouse rings and cliques. A lengthy master’s thesis, Gerald Lee Roush, Aftermath of Reconstruction: Race, Violence, and Politics in Alabama, 1874–1884 (M.A. thesis, Auburn University, 1973), provides a very detailed account of Alabama politics during the ten years after Redemption giving considerable attention to the role of blacks and to opposition movements. It is surprising how little attention has been given to the opposition encountered by Democrats. A number of Reconstruction studies trace the declining role of Alabama Republicans in the late 1870s, and Frances Roberts, William Manning Lowe and the Greenback Party in Alabama, Alabama Review 5 (April 1952): 100–121, summarizes the Greenback Party’s record in the state. Redeemer tax and fiscal policy in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi is thoroughly examined as a controversial issue in Michael R. Hyman, Taxation, Public Policy, and Political Dissent: Yeoman Disaffection in the Post-Reconstruction Lower South, Journal of Southern History 55 (February 1989): 49–76 and The Anti-Redeemers: Hill Country Political Dissenters in the Lower South from Redemption to Populism (1990). These works elaborate and continue the concept in J. Mills Thornton III, Fiscal Policy and the Failure of Radical Reconstruction in the Lower South in J. Morgan Kousser and James McPherson, eds., Region, Race, and Reconstruction, (1982), that the postwar years witnessed the introduction of new revenue sources which tended to increase the tax burden on small producers.

Only one published biography of an Alabama Redeemer has appeared, Hugh B. Hammett, Hilary Abner Herbert: A Southerner Returns to the Union (1976). It is well researched and written, but as an eight-term congressman and Secretary of the Navy, Herbert was not particularly influential in Alabama affairs. Longtime Senator John Tyler Morgan probably did maintain contacts with Alabama Democratic leaders, but two dissertations fail to explore this connection: August Carl Radke, Jr., John Tyler Morgan, An Expansionist Senator (Ph.D. diss., University of Washington, 1953); James Marvin Anders, The Senatorial Career of John Tyler Morgan (Ph.D. diss., Peabody College, 1956). Mary Jane Davidson, James Lawrence Pugh: A Half Century in Politics (M.A. thesis, Auburn University, 1971), depicts the junior senator as somewhat more sympathetic to government support for economic growth in contrast to Morgan’s professed Jacksonian, agrarian concepts.

In the past few decades the status of blacks and race relations have attracted more attention from historians than almost any other subject, and this holds true for both Reconstruction and the post-Reconstruction years in Alabama. John B. Myers, Black Human Capital: The Freedmen and the Reconstruction of Labor in Alabama, 1860–1880 (Ph.D. diss., Florida State University, 1974), traces the decline of rural blacks to a status of virtual economic servitude, and Peter Kolchin, First Freedom: The Responses of Alabama Blacks to Emancipation and Reconstruction (1972), emphasizes that most blacks were better prepared than commonly believed to participate in a free society. Two unpublished works focus on blacks and politics. Joseph Matt Brittain, Negro Suffrage and Politics in Alabama Since 1870 (Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1958) and Jimmie Frank Gross, Alabama Politics and the Negro, 1874–1901 (Ph.D. diss., University of Georgia, 1969), emphasize how blacks were manipulated before disfranchisement but also note the positive contributions of capable black officeholders and spokesmen. William Warren Rogers and Robert David Ward, August Reckoning: Jack Turner and Racism in Post–Civil War Alabama (1973), graphically describe the tragic end of one post-Reconstruction black activist. The only published biography of a black leader in this era, Loren Schweninger, James T. Rapier and Reconstruction (1978), traces the efforts of this congressman to improve the lot of Alabama blacks during and after Reconstruction.

Numerous studies have dealt with the problem of education for blacks. Louis R. Harlan’s definitive biography, Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader 1856–1901 (1972), provides a clear picture of the founding and early history of Tuskegee. R. J. Norrell, Perfect Quiet, Peace, and Harmony: Another Look at the Founding of Tuskegee Institute, Alabama Review 36 (April 1983): 110–28, intergrates into the story the prevailing political and social conditions. The conflict between advocates of vocational training and proponents of liberal arts studies is thoroughly discussed in Robert G. Sherer, Subordination or Liberation? The Development and Conflicting Theories of Black Education in Nineteenth Century Alabama (1977). Public support for black grade schools is analyzed in Don Quinn Kelley, Idealogy and Education: Uplifting the Masses in Nineteenth Century Alabama, Phylon 40 (June 1979): 147–58, and Carl V. Harris, Stability and Change in Discrimination Against Black Public Schools: Birmingham, Alabama, 1871–1931, Journal of Southern History 51 (August 1985): 375–416, demonstrates how the Birmingham Public Schools differed from state norms. Other recent articles deal with the black press, militia, and benevolent societies in the late nineteenth century.

In the 1940s there existed very few studies of Alabama’s economy and society or of the state’s role in such areas. The bibliography in Bourbon Democracy included only two books, three dissertations, and four M.A. theses that could possibly be so classified. Since then, however, quite a few published and unpublished works in these areas have appeared, and a few of the more significant should be noted.

Two major works already mentioned, Rogers’s One-Gallused Rebellion and Wiener’s Social Origins, provide a wealth of information on and interpretation of the agrarian economy. The rapid postwar revival of the plantation is described in Robert Gilmour, The Other Emancipation: Studies in the Society and Economy of Alabama Whites During Reconstruction (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1972), and two works focus on the Agricultural Experiment Station—its involvement in politics and its emphasis on research that benefited large landowners: Norwood Allen Kerr, History of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, 1883–1982 (1985) and Lou Ferleger, Science, Technology, and Field Implements: Agricultural Research at the Alabama Experiment Station, Agricultural History 62 (Spring 1988): 208–24. Karl Rodabaugh in his dissertation, The Turbulent Nineties: Agrarian Revolt and Alabama Politics (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina, 1981), and a number of articles deal with agrarian matters prior to 1890, especially the problems of small farmers.

Most of the work on Alabama’s industrialization in the late nineteenth century has focused on mining, iron, and steel, expanding our knowledge of these industries beyond Ethel Armes’s classic 1910 book. Marjorie Longenecker White, The Birmingham District: An Industrial History and Guide (1981), provides an excellent survey of Jefferson County’s industrial development. Justin Fuller, History of the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company, 1852–1907 (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina, 1966), is concerned primarily with T.C.I.’s Alabama operations, and Robert Hamlet McKenzie, A History of the Shelby Iron Company, 1865–1881 (Ph.D. diss., University of Alabama, 1971), is a lengthy account of an earlier iron company. The outreach of Virginia capital into the mineral industry and railroads is the subject of David Lewis, Joseph Bryan and the Virginia Connection in the Industrial Development of North Alabama, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 98 (October 1990): 613–40. Robert Eugene Perry, Middle-Class Townsmen and Northern Capital: The Rise of the Alabama Cotton Textile Industry, 1865–1900 (Ph.D. diss., Vanderbilt University, 1986), contends that planters did not oppose the textile industry and that local capital financed the medium-to-small mills before the influx of northern capital after 1890. One other industry is surveyed in Richard Walter Massey, Jr., A History of the Lumber Industry in Alabama and West Florida, 1880–1914 (Ph.D. diss., Vanderbilt University, 1960).

The best study of railroads in an age when they virtually monopolized transportation is James F. Doster, Railroads in Alabama Politics, 1875–1914 (1957). A number of articles such as Jean E. Keith, The Role of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in the early Development of Alabama Coal and Iron, Business Historical Society Bulletin 26 (September 1952): 165–74, deal with individual lines. Alabama’s changing economic structure was reflected in city and town growth, and Justin Fuller, Boom Towns and Blast Furnaces: Town Promotion in Alabama, 1885–1893, Alabama Review 29 (January 1976): 37–48, summarizes the development of twenty-three of them. Two excellent recent histories of Birmingham are Carl V. Harris, Political Power in Birmingham, 1871–1921 (1977) and Leah Rawls Atkins, The Valley and the Hills: An Illustrated History of Birmingham (1981). The publisher of the latter has recently brought out similar histories of Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa. These and other local histories, including some scholarly county histories such as Rhoda Coleman Ellison, Bibb County, Alabama: The First Hundred Years, 1818–1918 (1984) and Michael Jackson Daniel, Red Hills and Piney Woods: A Political History of Butler County, Alabama in the Nineteenth Century (Ph.D. diss., University of Alabama, 1985), add depth to our understanding of any era in Alabama’s past.

In the 1940s the only general histories of education in nineteenth-century Alabama were two early publications of the federal Bureau of Education. Since then numerous studies have expanded our knowledge of the struggle for improved public schools. For example, Irving Gershenberg, Alabama: An Analysis of the Growth of White Public Education in a Southern State, 1880–1930 (Ph.D. diss., University of California at Berkeley, 1967), demonstrates that white schools benefited more from racially discriminatory allocation of school funds than from increased appropriations or such private sources as the Peabody Fund. See also Kenneth R. Johnson, The Peabody Fund: Its Role and Influence in Alabama, Alabama Review 27 (April 1974): 101–26. The growing interest in professional training for teachers is treated in James Ray Dotson, The Historical Development of the State Normal School for White Teachers in Alabama (Ed.D. thesis, University of Alabama, 1961). In the higher realms of state-supported education, James B. Sellers, History of the University of Alabama, 1818–1902 came off the press in 1953. A recent article and an earlier unpublished thesis shed light on the beginnings of Auburn University: William W. Rogers, The Founding of Alabama’s Land Grant College at Auburn, Alabama Review 40 (January 1987): 14–37; Joel C. Watson, Isaac Taylor Tichenor and the Administration of the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College (M.A. thesis, Auburn University, 1968).

A few significant studies have appeared that enhance our knowledge of Alabama’s social problems and policies in the late nineteenth century. A recent very readable survey of the convict lease system is Robert David Ward and William Warren Rogers, Punishment Seven Times More: The Convict Lease System in Alabama, Alabama Heritage, no. 12 (Spring 1989), 20–33; and Anne Gary Pannell and Dorothea E. Wyatt, Julia S. Tutwiler and Social Progress in Alabama (1961), recount the efforts of that vigorous woman in the areas of penal and other reforms. Two illustrations of the lawlessness prevalent especially in the 1880s are William Warren Rogers and Ruth Pruitt, Stephen S. Renfroe, Alabama’s Outlaw Sheriff (1972) and William Warren Rogers, Jr., Violence and Outlawery in the New South: Rube Burrow’s Train Robbing Days in Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida (M.A. thesis, Auburn University, 1979). In the area of health and medicine, Howard Lamar Holley, A History of Medicine in Alabama (1982), provides a useful summary, and Bill L. Weaver and James A. Thompson, Women in Medicine and the Issue in Late Nineteenth-Century Alabama, Alabama Historical Quarterly 43 (Winter 1981): 292–314, spotlight a particular aspect for the post-Reconstruction years. My original research would have been greatly facilitated had there been available Rhoda Coleman Ellison, History and Bibliography of Alabama Newspapers in the Nineteenth Century (1954). Wayne Flynt’s acclaimed Poor But Proud: Alabama’s Poor Whites (1989), especially in the second part, provides invaluable information and perspective on that downwardly mobile population group after the Civil War. In this same area Melton A. McLaurin and Michael V. Thomason, The Image of Progress: Alabama Photographs, 1872–1917 (1980), graphically depict in text and pictures Alabama’s common folks. Numerous studies of churches and denominations have appeared; two examples would be: Daniel Lee Cloyd, Prelude to Reform: Political, Economic, and Social Thought of Alabama Baptists, 1877–1890, Alabama Review 31 (January 1978): 48–64, and Rose Gibbons Lovett, The Catholic Church in the Deep South: The Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama, 1540–1976 (1980).

A general reconsideration of this post-Reconstruction era in Alabama is certainly needed. It could utilize and synthesize much of the above material in addition to exploring new ground in primary material that has become available over the last forty years. It should also benefit from the outpouring of historical scholarship on the South in general and reflect the drastically changed perspective of current historical writing. Any such work would not be a revision of my book, which focused on politics and the state government, but rather a study of how socioeconomic trends interrelated with post–Civil War politics and government.

If I had undertaken a revision of Bourbon Democracy certain changes would be more or less obvious. No longer would a background chapter on Reconstruction politics be necessary. A new chapter on the state government’s policies and attitudes toward blacks would highlight some of the information contained in the other topical chapters. And I probably would change the misnomer, Bourbon, to the more generally accepted term, Redeemer. At the risk of revising the book out of existence, I might suggest that the sharp distinction between a Reconstruction period and a Redeemer period was politically motivated and is no longer useful. As Perman has contended, Reconstruction was not a discrete event cut out of the normal flow of [the South’s] political development but rather an episode in southern political history that altered fundamentally the structure and operation of both the Democratic and Republican parties (p. xii). Thus the fifteen years after 1865 in Alabama might well constitute a distinct era when Republicans and Democrats faced similar problems and frequently attempted to cope with them in a similar fashion. Furthermore, as J. Mills Thornton III has observed, there were links to the 1850s when efforts to introduce some business-industrial enterprise into a predominantly agrarian economy had begun but were interrupted by the Civil War. Perhaps the 1880s saw the beginning of a new era when the New South" concept increasingly flourished, and Alabamians began to look forward more than backward. If, as George Tindall has suggested, that decade witnessed the flowering of a New South thesis, then the 1890s countered with the Populist antithesis, and the early twentieth century developed a Progressive synthesis.

Any such regrouping of the years immediately after the Civil War is purely speculative and must be left to others. After all, historical writing and interpretation reflect the temper of the times when the research and writing takes place. Thus Bourbon Democracy in Alabama can still stand on its own as a product of the 1940s and contains, it is hoped, information and ideas still useful today.


IN 1880 Alexander K. McClure on a trip through the South wrote, Alabama is rich in natural resources, rich in products and richer in Bourbonism than is best for her people. The term Bourbon had originated during the Reconstruction period and was used by the Radicals to label their Democratic opponents as anti-progressive and ultra-conservative. Although some Alabama Democrats readily accepted the designation, the majority of the party resented its implications. The term, nevertheless, has been generally adopted to describe the period in Southern history following the overthrow of Radical Reconstruction, and for some states at least has come to imply exactly the opposite of its literal meaning. For the sake of clarity, the terms Bourbon and Bourbonism have been utilized in this work only when they could be applied literally to some of the Alabama Democrats.

The purpose of this study is to analyze and describe the state government of Alabama during this Bourbon period as it operated under the Democratic and Conservative party. Comprehensive studies such as Walter L. Fleming’s Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama and John B. Clark’s Populism in Alabama cover respectively the period before 1874 and after 1890. It is hoped that the present work will fill in the intervening gap and will shed light on the question of just how conservative (or Bourbon) Alabama Democrats really were. It should also contribute to an understanding of the background of Populism and of some twentieth century problems faced by Alabama Democrats.

In a study of this nature it has been impossible to treat in detail the numerous topics considered. Consequently some of the generalizations may not stand the test of time. I have attempted, however, to present

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