The Scalawag in Alabama Politics, 1865-1881

By Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
CROSSING THE RUBICON

The campaign for ratification of the proposed constitution began when the convention adjourned. Immediately, the suffrage article of the constitution caused a rupture in the Republican party. Thirteen members of the convention led by Virginia-born Joseph H. Speed, delegate from Perry County and member of the minority of the franchise committee, and Virginia-born Henry Churchill Semple, prominent Montgomery attorney, vigorously protested the imposition of the disabilities. They believed a government based on the new constitution would entail great evil upon the people of the state. In a subsequent address to the people of Alabama on December 10, 1867, these delegates proclaimed they had joined the Republican party because they believed that a favorable reception of the Congressional plan of Reconstruction was the only hope for the restoration of Alabama. They were now leaving the Republican party because it had broken its promise by going beyond the Reconstruction Acts. "We know not what fate may be in store for us, but it can scarcely, be worse than that which we shall bring on ourselves by aiding in carrying this constitution into effect."1

The protesting Republican delegates later joined the Conservative or Democratic party in a crusade against the new constitution. However, Speed subsequently reconciled himself to the Republican cause and was elected state superintendent of public instruction in 1872 as a Republican.

The radical features of the constitution also disturbed Republicans who had not been members of the convention. The Montgomery council of the Union League of America denounced the constitution as "disfranchising and proscribing a large portion of the most intelligent and law abiding citizens of Alabama" and as characterized in every feature by a "fiendish motive of revenge and hatred.''2 C. C. Sheats, diehard Unionist from Winston County now editing a newspaper in Decatur, denounced the actions of the convention but pledged his continued support to the Republican party despite the "foolishness of a few unwise men." But, he added, north Alabama Unionists intended to speak out and not to "delegate away all our rights as free men, to men in Montgomery, whose greatest ambition is to secure for themselves place and power, and force

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