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

By Malcolm Cook McMillan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
THE MOVEMENT FOR THE CONVENTION OF 1875

Although the Constitution of 1868 gave the Radicals complete control of the government of Alabama, the passage of time brought a deterioration of Republican power in the state. In the election of November, 1874, the Democrats, under the leadership of George Smith Houston of North Alabama, gained control of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the government. Only local government in the Black Belt remained in the hands of the Radicals.

The Democratic victory of 1874 was accomplished under the command of the "white counties" of North Alabama. Speaking of the Democratic candidates in the campaign of 1874, the Mobile Register declared: "Nothing has been conceded that part of Alabama that lies south of Montgomery. . . . We, of south Alabama, only ask in return their [North Alabama's] full vote at the polls in behalf of our common principles and our south Alabama safety."1 An editorial in the Montgomery Advertiser said: "South Alabama raises her manacled hands in mute appeal to the mountain counties. The chains on the wrists of her sons and the midnight shrieks of her women sound continually in their ears. She lifts up her eyes, being tormented, and begs piteously for relief from bondage. Is there a white man in north Alabama so lost to all his finer feelings of human nature as to slight her appeal?"2 During the campaign the Democrats drew the "color line" and made "white supremacy" the main issue.3 The Republicans rolled up large majorities in the Black Belt, but the "white counties" enabled the Democrats to secure a majority of 13,190 in the state.4

Soon after George S. Houston, the Democratic governor, took office, the Democratic press and leaders made a "home rule" constitution the leading issue. Although some opposition came from commercial industrial interests, which feared agrarian repudiation of debt, and from a few Black Belt Democratic leaders, who had already come to appreciate the additional power in state politics which the Negro suffrage and whole population basis of apportionment decisions of 1868 had given the Black Belt,4a the press in general supported the convention movement. The

____________________
1
Mobile Register, August 2, 1874.
2
Montgomery Advertiser, November 1, 1874.
3
Mobile Register, July 2, 11, August 5, 21, October 2, 1874.
4
Fleming, Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama, 795.
4a
"Really, there is but little to quarrel about in the present constitution; truly

-175-

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