Alabama: The History of a Deep South State

By William Warren Rogers; Robert David Ward et al. | Go to book overview

NINE
Party Politics and States' Rights

WHEN John Gayle became governor in 1831, Alabama was enjoying "the flush times." A period of economic prosperity sent cotton prices up and settlers continued to flood into the state. The Democratic party with its commitment to the Union and to Jacksonian democracy dominated politics. Alabama was strongly opposed to the protective tariff--every member of the state's congressional delegation voted against the Tariff of 1828--and there was a powerful core of Nullifiers under the leadership of Dixon Hall Lewis. But there was no widespread support for South Carolina's nullification of the tariff. In November 1832, in the heat of the controversy, Governor Gayle shared with the general assembly his opinion that should a state adopt nullification "she will have to abandon the Union, or return to it with feelings of disappointment and humiliation. . . . As sure as it shall succeed, its triumphs will be stained with fraternal blood, and the proudest of its trophies will be the destruction of constitutional liberty."1 Ironically, within three decades Alabama moved from the strong nationalism of the Jacksonian period to supporting a states' rights position that led to secession.

In 1832 most Alabamians sided with President Jackson in his fight against the Bank of the United States. Opposition to concentrated wealth and power was an Alabama political characteristic with a long tradition. States' rights advocates insisted that the bank was unconstitutional anyway, and fears lingered that the BUS might compete unfairly with the Bank of Alabama. Few tears were shed when the "monster" was slain by Old Hickory. But the national bank was not the issue in the state that it was elsewhere, and it was the controversy over the removal of the Creek Indians and control of the land in the Creek cession that caused the brilliance of Jackson's leadership to dim and the cause of states' rights to increase in popularity.

The Creek affair moved Gayle away from Jackson to a states' rights position. Yet the governor and his followers were careful to stress the differences between a state nullifying a federal law (such as the tariff) and a state assuming authority over its own territory (as Alabama did in

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