Constitutional Development in Alabama, 1798-1901: A Study in Politics, the Negro, and Sectionalism

By Malcolm Cook McMillan | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER IV
JUDICIAL TENURE, BIENNIAL SESSIONS, AND REMOVAL
OF THE CAPITAL AMENDMENTS, 1819-1846

Agitation for amending the Constitution of 1819 began with the first session of the state legislature and centered around the conservative judiciary article of the constitution. Those who had failed to limit the tenure of judges in the convention were now determined to do so by amendment. In 1819, an amendment providing for four-year tenure was introduced, but failed to pass.1 From this time until the legislature submitted the question to the people in 1828, a proposed amendment for limited tenure for judges was before almost every legislature.

Limited tenure for judges was hastened by an unpopular decision of the Alabama Supreme Court in 1827. In 1818 the Alabama territorial legislature had passed a law removing all restrictions on interest rates in the state.2 After the removal of restrictions interest rates soared, and in 1819 the legislature repealed the law of 1818 and limited interest rates to eight per cent.3 In 1824, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that in contracts made under the law of 1818 any stated rate of interest might be collected to maturity, but that in case the note was not paid at maturity

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1
' Senate Journal ( 1819- 1820), 44, 56. The vote in the Senate was 13 noes to 6 ayes.
2
Harry Toulmin, Digest of the Laws of the State of Alabama, 443. In 1818, John W. Walker wrote Charles Tait: "Our little legislature made one bold experiment at its last session: in the good or evil of which I am entitled to my full share. This was the total abrogation of the usury laws. Money is left like other things to find its level of value. Any rate of interest fairly stipulated by the parties to a bonafide contract, and expressed in writing, etc., is legal and recoverable. When interest is not fixed in the contract, the rate is fixed at 8 percent--what think you of our system?" John W. Walker to Charles Tait, September 22, 1818. The law was passed at the height of the land boom and of course favored the creditor class and especially the Huntsville Bank. The best discussion of the law and how it was tied in with the Huntsville Bank and "Royal Party" and became a bitter debtor-creditor issue in early Alabama politics is to be found in Ruth Ketring Nuermberger , "The 'Royal Party' in Early Alabama Politics", The Ala bama Review, VI ( April, 1953), 81-98; ibid., VI ( July, 1953), 198-212. She concludes that there was in reality no "Royal Party" but rather "a loose combination of capitalists who found the "Usury Law" and the Huntsville Bank useful aids in gaining fortunes through speculation. The fact that these men in the main identified themselves with the Georgia machine politically gave some real foundation for calling them the "Royal Party." Victims of the Usury Law and poor settlers who had struggled through the Panic of 1819 were equally ready to blame their troubles on banks and capitalists." Ibid., 212.
3
Harry Toulmin, Digest of the Laws of the State of Alabama, 444.

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