Alabama: The History of a Deep South State

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

TWENTY-TWO
The Chimerical Impulse of Progressivism

THE Alabama constitution of 1901, like so many state efforts, was a long compendium of what should have been legislation. Instead of providing a document of fundamental powers and general processes, the Alabama framers crafted a constitution of minute specifications designed to freeze change in desired channels. There were worlds of ideological difference between a constitution that would broadly say, "the Alabama legislature shall have the power to levy such taxes as it deems appropriate" and the actual document crafted in Alabama that spelled out the maximum millage rate on property. The first placed the power of decision in the legislature--with at least the possibility that it represented the majority; the second expressly took power away from the legislature and, therefore, from the people.

Despite the issuance of paeans to abstract democracy, that same democracy has often been denied at the state level. Elections in Alabama could not be dismissed as making no difference. But the fact remains that a voter's choice of candidates always operated within much narrower parameters of change than theory might have indicated. Yet inevitably the people of Alabama would be affected by what happened in 1902 when Governor William D. Jelks (who had long since established his conservative credentials as editor of the Eufaula Times) sought election, and when a new legislature--uniquely limited to a session of fifty days once every four years--made laws under the new constitution.

While the antiratificationists had no hope of prolonging the fight over the constitution, their coalition was an alignment worth keeping. Whether its course was necessarily the same as Johnston's was not long in doubt. On November 6, 1901, the opponents of ratification met in Birmingham, and Johnston was prominently in attendance. The group's demand that the State Democratic Executive Committee conduct a primary election (a white primary) was an endorsement of a Johnston issue. The former governor had been advocating primaries, and his heavily subsidized and partly owned Birmingham Alabamian was a loud voice of agitation. It may be that the campaign for a primary went too

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