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

By Malcolm Cook McMillan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
POPULAR ELECTION OF JUDGES AND OTHER PROPOSED
CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES BEFORE 1861

Although the judiciary article was amended in 1830 so as to limit the tenure of judges to six years, agitation soon began for election of judges by the people.1 The demand for popular election of judges increased as Jacksonian democracy, which advocated the election of all officials by the people, strengthened its hold on the state. Additional pressure arose after Georgia and Mississippi provided for popular election.2 In Alabama, advocates of popular election first wanted county judges and later all judges elected by the people. The people defeated a proposed amendment for popular election of county judges in August, 1843.3 In August, 1849, the question of the election of county and circuit judges by the people was submitted to popular vote.4 The resolution of the legislature submitting the proposals provided for separate votes on the two issues.

Opponents of popular election of judges raised the question of the independence of the judiciary. They charged that the people were turbulent and unstable and would elect demagogues to the judgeships.5

A conservative article in the Huntsville Democrat said:

It would bring judges, the mere creatures of the popular will, directly in contact with litigants. . . . Making the people the electors, he has, in every instance, his partisans or his opposers before him. To what extent his conduct would be influenced by such circumstances, may be easily conjectured. . . . It would expose the judiciary to all evil tendencies of party politics. At

____________________
1
Senate Journal ( 1835- 1836), 19; ( 1839- 1840), 33; House Journal ( 1839- 1840), 53.
2
Georgia provided for popular election of inferior judges in 1810 and the Mississippi constitutional convention of 1832 gave the election of all judges to the people. Charles S. Sydnor, The Development of Southern Sectionalism, 1819-1848, A History of the South, V, 283, says that " Mississippi . . . became by its constitution of 1832 the most democratic state in the whole South." Because the Mississippi constitution was even more democratic than Alabama's earlier one, in that it provided for the election of all judges, the state treasurer, and auditor by the people, it often became an issue in Alabama politics.
3
Acts of Alabama ( 1842- 1843), 224; Wetumpka Argus, August 23, 1843.
4
Acts of Alabama ( 1848- 1849), 444.
5
Huntsville Democrat, April 25, 1850. The Florence Gazette, July 21, 1849, declared that the people "are more likely to choose flippant and specious demagogues, than able, well-read and honest lawyers," and cited the state of Mississippi where all judges were elected by the people after 1832 as an outstanding example.

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