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

By Malcolm Cook McMillan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
ALABAMA POLITICS AND THE MOVEMENT FOR
THE CONVENTION OF 1901

When the legislature passed the enabling act submitting the question of a constitutional convention to the people in 1898, it was only after a long struggle within the Democratic party. A Democratic caucus in 1878 decided against a convention because Northern sentiment still would not allow the disfranchisement of the Negro, and disfranchisement was then, as later, the major goal of the Democrats.1 But as the years passed, agitation for a constitution grew in intensity. Some Democrats, including Governor Thomas Seay, urged a constitutional convention in 1890 at the time Mississippi moved to disfranchise the Negro.2 Others bitterly opposed a convention on the ground that the issue would divide the white man's party, since illiterate whites would be disfranchised along with the Negro by any educational or property qualification. The House of Representatives passed a bill during Seay's administration submitting the question of a constitutional convention to the people, but the Senate refused to concur.3

Governor Seay's successor, Thomas G. Jones, renewed the fight for constitutional changes either by amendment or convention.4 The issue became a prominent one at the Democratic State Convention in 1892. The platform committee, of which Joseph F. Johnston was chairman, reported in favor of a constitutional convention in order to make reforms in the suffrage, education, finance, and taxation.5 However, ex-Governor Thomas Hill Watts and John William Augustine Sanford opposed the report because they feared the Farmer's Alliance might choose a majority of the delegates. The Mobile Register agreed and declared that the Kolb counties would elect delegates who "will destroy railroads, drive away foreign capital seeking investment, undermine the foundation

____________________
1
Speech of Judge James Jefferson Robinson of Chambers, member of the legislature from 1872-1880. Montgomery Advertiser, April 23, 1899.
2
Senate Journal ( 1890- 1891), 12, 33-34.
3
Ibid. ( 1888- 1889), 365, 720.
4
Ibid. ( 1892- 1893), 45.
5
Mobile Register, June 8, 1892; Montgomery Advertiser, April 16, 1899. Frank L. Pettus, speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives wrote: "Let us go before them [the people] with a call for a constitutional convention . . . and adopt, substantially, the Mississippi system." Letter of Frank L. Pettus in Birmingham Age-Herald, December 27, 1892.

-249-

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