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This is the history of the State of Alabama, in the United States of America. Alabama became a state in 1819. After the Indian wars of the 1830's pushed Native Americans out of the state, white settlers arrived in large numbers. Wealthy planters created large cotton plantations based in the fertile central Black Belt, which depended on the labor of enslaved African Americans. Tens of thousands of slaves were transported and marketed in the state by slave traders who purchased them in the Upper South. Elsewhere in Alabama, poorer whites practiced subsistence farmers. By 1860 African Americans comprised 45% of the state's population of 964,201.
Alabama seceded and joined the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865. The slaves were freed in 1865. All of the population suffered economic losses and hardships as a result of the American Civil War, the ensuing agricultural depression, and the financial Panic of 1873. After a period of Reconstruction, Alabama emerged as a poor, largely rural state, still tied to cotton. Whites used legal means and harassment to re-establish political and social dominance over the recently emancipated African Americans.
To escape the inequities of disfranchisement, segregation and underfunded schools, thousands of African Americans joined the Great Migration of the early 20th c. and moved to better opportunities in northern industrial cities. So many left that the state's rate of population growth dropped nearly by half from 1910 to 1920.
Politically, the state continued as one-party Democratic for years, and produced a number of national leaders. World War II brought prosperity. Cotton faded in importance as the state developed a manufacturing and service base. After 1980, the state became a Republican stronghold in presidential elections, and leaned Republican in statewide elections, while the Democratic Party still dominates local and legislative offices.
It is possible that a member of Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition of 1528 entered what is now southern Alabama, but the first fully documented visit was that of Hernando de Soto, who made an arduous but fruitless journey along the Coosa, Alabama and Tombigbee rivers in 1539.
The English also claimed the region north of the Gulf of Mexico. The territory of modern Alabama was included in the Province of Carolina, granted by Charles II of England to certain of his favorites by the charters of 1663 and 1665. English traders from Carolina were frequenting the valley of the Alabama river as early as 1687.
The French also colonized the region. In 1702 a French settlement was founded on the Mobile River, including Fort Louis, which for the next nine years was the seat of government of Louisiana. In 1711, Fort Louis was abandoned to the floods of the river, and on higher ground was built Fort Conde, in the present city of Mobile. This was the first permanent European settlement in Alabama. The French and the English contested the region, each attempting to forge strong alliances with Indian tribes. To strengthen their position, defend their Indian allies, and draw other tribes to them, the French established the military posts of Fort Toulouse, near the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, and Fort Tombecbe on the Tombigbee River.
The grant of Georgia to Oglethorpe and his associates in 1732 included a portion of what is now northern Alabama. In 1739, Oglethorpe himself visited the Creek Indians west of the Chattahoochee River and made a treaty with them.
The 1763 Treaty of Paris, which ended the French and Indian War, terminated the French occupation of Alabama. Great Britain came into undisputed control of the region between the Chattahoochee and the Mississippi Rivers. The portion of Alabama below the 31st parallel then became a part of West Florida, and the portion north of this line a part of the Illinois Country," set apart, by royal proclamation, for the use of the Indians. In 1767, the province of West Florida was extended northward to 32 degrees 28 minutes north latitude. A few years later, during the American Revolutionary War, this region fell into the hands of Spain.
By the Treaty of Versailles, September 3, Great Britain ceded West Florida to Spain; but by the Treaty of Paris, signed the same day, Britain ceded to the United States all of this province north of 31 degrees, thus laying the foundation for a long controversy.
By the Treaty of Madrid, in 1795, Spain ceded to the United States the lands east of the Mississippi between 31 degrees and 32 degrees 28 minutes. Three years later, in 1798, Congress organized this district as Mississippi Territory. A strip of land 12 or 14 miles wide near the present northern boundary of Alabama and Mississippi was claimed by South Carolina, but in 1787 that state ceded this claim to the federal government. Georgia likewise claimed all the lands between the 31st and 35th parallels from its present western boundary to the Mississippi river, and did not surrender its claim until 1802. Two years later, the boundaries of Mississippi Territory were extended so as to include all of the Georgia cession.
In 1812, Congress added the Mobile District of West Florida to the Mississippi Territory, claiming that it was included in the Louisiana Purchase. The following year, General James Wilkinson occupied the Mobile District with a military force. The Spanish did not resist. Thus the whole area of the present state of Alabama was then under the jurisdiction of the United States, although Indians still owned most of the land by treaty and occupation.
In 1817, the Mississippi Territory was divided; the western portion became the state of Mississippi, and the eastern portion became the Alabama Territory, with St. Stephens, on the Tombigbee River, as the temporary seat of government.
Conflict between the Indians of Alabama and American settlers increased rapidly in the early 19th century. The great Shawnee chief Tecumseh visited the region in 1811, seeking to forge an Indian alliance of resistance from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. With the outbreak of the War of 1812, Britain encouraged Tecumseh's resistance movement. Several tribes were divided in opinion. The Creek tribe fell to civil war. Violence between Creeks and Americans escalated, culminating in the Fort Mims massacre. Full-scale war between the United States and the "Red Stick" Creeks began, known as the Creek War. The Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, and other Creek factions remained neutral or allied to the United States, some serving with American troops. Volunteer militias from Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee marched into Alabama, fighting the Red Sticks. Later, federal troops became the main fighting force for the United States. General Andrew Jackson was the commander of the American forces during the Creek War and later against the British. His leadership and military success during the wars made him a national hero. The treaty of Fort Jackson (August 9, 1814), ended the Creek War. By the terms of the treaty the Creeks, Red Sticks and neutrals alike, ceded about one-half of the present state of Alabama. Later cessions by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw in 1816 left only about a quarter of Alabama to the Indians.
The sudden extinguishment of Indian title to large areas of land, coupled with the development of new cotton hybrids that could be grown in Alabama, fueled a rush of settlement and development that became known as "Alabama Fever".
In 1819, Alabama was admitted as the 22nd state to the Union.
One of the first problems of the new commonwealth was that of finance. Since the amount of money in circulation was not sufficient to meet the demands of the increasing population, a system of state banks was instituted. State bonds were issued and public lands were sold to secure capital, and the notes of the banks, loaned on security, became a medium of exchange. Prospects of an income from the banks led the legislature of 1836 to abolish all taxation for state purposes. This was hardly done, however, before the Panic of 1837 wiped out a large portion of the banks' assets. Next came revelations of grossly careless and even of corrupt management, and in 1843 the banks were placed in liquidation. After disposing of all their available assets, the state assumed the remaining liabilities, for which it had pledged its faith and credit.
In 1830 the Indian Removal Act set in motion the process that resulted in the Indian Removal of southeastern tribes, including the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole. In 1832, the national government provided for the removal of the Creeks via the Treaty of Cusseta. Before the actual removal occurred between 1834 and 1837, the state legislature formed the Indian lands into counties, and settlers flocked in.
The state's prosperity grew with the development of large cotton plantations in the Black Belt, whose owners' wealth depended on the labor of enslaved African Americans. In other parts of the state, the soil supported only subsistence farming. Most of these farmers owned few or no slaves. By 1860 the success of cotton production led to planters holding 435,000 enslaved African Americans, 45% of the state's population.
These early Alabama settlers were noted for their spirit of frontier democracy and egalitarianism, and their fierce defense of the republican values of civic virtue and opposition to corruption. J. Mills Thornton (1978) argues that Whigs argued for positive state action to benefit society as a whole while the Democrats feared any increase of power in government or in such private institutions as state-chartered banks, railroads, and corporations. Fierce political battles raged in Alabama on issues ranging from banking to the removal of the Creek Indians. Thornton suggested there was one overarching issue in the state's politics: how to protect liberty and equality for white people. Fears that Northern agitators threatened their value system angered the voters and made them ready to secede when Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 (Thornton 1978).
Until 1832, there was only one party in the state, the Democratic, but the question of nullification caused a division that year into the (Jackson) Democratic party and the State's Rights (Calhoun Democratic) party; about the same time an opposition party emerged, the Whig party. It drew support from plantation owners and townsmen, while the Democrats were strongest among poor farmers and Catholics in the Mobile area. For some time, the Whigs were almost as numerous as the Democrats, but they never secured control of the state government. The State's Rights faction were in a minority; nevertheless under their active and persistent leader, William L. Yancey (1814-1863), they prevailed upon the Democrats in 1848 to adopt their most radical views. During the agitation over the Wilmot Proviso which would bar slavery from territory acquired from Mexico, Yancey induced the Democratic State Convention of 1848 to adopt what is known as the "Alabama Platform." It declared that neither Congress nor the government of a territory had the right to interfere with slavery in a territory, that those who held opposite views were not Democrats, and that the Democrats of Alabama would not support a candidate for the presidency if he did not agree with them on these questions. This platform was endorsed by conventions in Florida and Virginia and by the legislatures of Georgia and Alabama. Old party lines were broken by the Compromise of 1850. The State's Rights faction, joined by many Democrats, founded the Southern Rights Party, which demanded the repeal of the Compromise, advocated resistance to future encroachments and prepared for secession, while the Whigs, joined by the remaining Democrats, formed the party known as the "Unionists," which unwillingly accepted the Compromise and denied the "constitutional" right of secession.
Secession and Civil War, 1861-1865Edit
The "Unionists" were successful in the elections of 1851 and 1852. Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and uncertainty about agitation against slavery led the State Democratic convention of 1856 to revive the "Alabama Platform". When Democratic National convention at Charleston failed to approve the "Alabama Platform" in 1860, the Alabama delegates, followed by those of the other cotton "states," withdrew. Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln, Governor Andrew B. Moore, as previously instructed by the legislature, called a state convention. Many prominent men had opposed secession. In North Alabama, there was an attempt to organize a neutral state to be called Nickajack. With President Lincoln's call to arms, most opposition to secession ended.
On January 11 1861 The State of Alabama adopted the ordinances of secession from the Union (by a vote of 61-39). Until February 18 1861 Alabama was informally called the Alabama Republic. It never changed its formal name which always has been "State of Alabama."
Governor Moore energetically supported the Confederate war effort. Even before hostilities began, he seized Federal facilities, sent agents to buy rifles in the Northeast, and scoured the state for weapons. Despite some resistance in the northern part of the state, Alabama joined the Confederate States of America. Congressman Williamson R. W. Cobb was a Unionist and pleaded for compromise. When he ran for the Confederate congress in 1861, he was defeated. (In 1863, with war weariness growing in Alabama, he was elected on a wave of antiwar sentiment.) The new nation brushed Cobb aside and set up its temporary capital in Montgomery and selected Jefferson Davis as president. In May, the Confederate government abandoned Montgomery before the sickly season began, and relocated in Richmond. Virginia.
Some idea of the severe internal logistics problems the Confederacy faced can be seen by tracing Davis's journey from Mississippi, the next state over. From his plantation on the river, he took a steamboat down the Mississippi to Vicksburg, boarded a train to Jackson, where he took another train north to Grand Junction, then a third train east to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a fourth train to Atlanta, Georgia. Yet another train took Davis to the Alabama border, where a final train took him to Montgomery. As the war proceeded, the Federals seized the Mississippi River, burned trestles and railroad bridges, and tore up track. The frail Confederate railroad system faltered and virtually collapsed for want of repairs and replacement parts.
In the early part of the Civil War, Alabama was not the scene of military operations, yet the state contributed about 120,000 men to the Confederate service, practically all the white population capable of bearing arms. Most were recruited locally and served with men they knew, which built esprit and strengthened ties to home. Medical conditions were severe. About 15% of fatalities were from disease, more than the 10% from battle. Alabama had few well-equipped hospitals, but it had many women who volunteered to nurse the sick and wounded. Soldiers were poorly equipped, especially after 1863. Often they pillaged the dead for boots, belts, canteens, blankets, hats, shirts and pants. Uncounted thousands of slaves worked with Confederate troops; they took care of horses and equipment, cooked and did laundry, hauled supplies, and helped in field hospitals. Other slaves built defensive installations, especially those around Mobile. They graded roads, repaired railroads, drove supply wagons, and labored in iron mines, iron foundries and even in the munitions factories. The service of slaves was involuntary: their unpaid labor was impressed from their unpaid masters. About 10,000 slaves escaped and joined the Union army, along with 2,700 white men.
Thirty-nine Alabamians attained flag rank, most notably Lieutenant General James Longstreet and Admiral Raphael Semmes. Josiah Gorgas who came to Alabama from Pennsylvania, was the chief of ordnance for the Confederacy. He located new munitions plants in Selma, which employed 10,000 workers until the Union raiders in 1865 burned the factories down. Selma Arsenal made most of the Confederacy's ammunition. The Selma Naval Ordnance Works made artillery, turning out a cannon every five days. The Confederate Naval Yard built ships and was noted for launching the CSS Tennessee in 1863 to defend Mobile Bay. Selma's Confederate Nitre Works procured niter, for gunpowder, from limestone caves. When supplies were low, it advertised for housewives to save the contents of their chamber pots--urine, a rich source of nitrogen.
Alabama soldiers fought in hundreds of battles; the state's losses at Gettysburg were 1,750 dead plus even more captured or wounded; the famed "Alabama Brigade" took 781 casualties. In 1863, the Federal forces secured a foothold in northern Alabama in spite of the opposition of General Nathan B. Forrest. From 1861, the federal blockade shut Mobile, and, in 1864, the outer defenses of Mobile were taken by a Federal fleet; the city itself held out until April 1865. [Rogers, ch 12]
According to the presidential plan of reorganization, a provisional governor for Alabama was appointed in June 1865. A state convention met in September of the same year, and declared the ordinance of secession null and void and slavery abolished. A legislature and a governor were elected in November, and the legislature was at once recognized by President Andrew Johnson, but not by Congress, which refused to seat the delegation. Johnson ordered the Army to allow the inauguration of the governor after the legislature ratified the thirteenth amendment in December, 1865. But the passage, by the legislature, of Black Codes or vagrancy and apprenticeship laws designed to control the Freedmen who were flocking from the plantations to the towns, and its rejection of the fourteenth amendment, intensified the congressional hostility to the presidential plan.
In 1867, the congressional plan of Reconstruction was completed and Alabama was placed under military government. The Freedmen were now enrolled as voters and large numbers of white citizens were disfranchised. The new Republican party, comprised of Freedmen, Scalawags and Carpetbaggers now took control, two years after the war ended. A constitutional convention, controlled by this element, met in November 1867, and framed a constitution which conferred universal manhood suffrage. Whites who had fought for the Confederacy were disfranchised. The Reconstruction Acts of Congress required every new constitution to be ratified by a majority of the legal voters of the state. The whites of Alabama largely stayed away from the polls, and, after five days of voting, the constitution needed 13,550 to secure a majority. Congress then enacted that a majority of the votes cast should be sufficient. Thus the constitution went into effect, the state was readmitted to the Union in June 1868, and a new governor and legislature were elected.
The next two years are notable for legislative extravagance and corruption, according to white Alabamians. The state endorsed railway bonds at the rate of $12,000 and $16,000 a mile until the state debt had increased from eight million to seventeen million dollars, and similar corruption characterized local government. The native white people united, formed a Conservative party and elected a governor and a majority of the lower house of the legislature in 1870; but, as the new administration was largely a failure, in 1872, there was a reaction in favor of the Radicals, a local term applied to the Republican party. In 1874, however, the power of the Radicals was finally broken, as the Conservative Democrats elected all state officials. A commission appointed to examine the state debt found it to be $25,503,000; by compromise, it was reduced to $15,000,000. A new constitution was adopted in 1875, which omitted the guarantee of the previous constitution that no one should be denied suffrage on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude, and forbade the state to engage in internal improvements or to give its credit to any private enterprise.
After 1874, the Democratic party had constant control of the state administration. The Republicans were by now largely a party supported by African Americans. It held no local or state offices, but did have some federal patronage. It failed to make nominations for office in 1878 and 1880 and endorsed the ticket of the Greenback party in 1882. The development of mining and manufacturing was accompanied by economic distress among the farming classes, which found expression in the Jeffersonian Democratic party, organized in 1892. The regular Democratic ticket was elected and the new party was then merged into the Populist party. In 1894, the Republicans united with the Populists, elected three congressional representatives, secured control of many of the counties, but failed to carry the state. They continued their opposition with less success in the next campaigns. Partisanship became intense, and Democratic charges of corruption of the Black electorate were matched by Republican and Populist accusations of fraud and violence by Democrats. Despite opposition by Republicans and Populists, Democrats completed their dominance with a new constitution that restricted suffrage and effectively disfranchised African Americans in 1901.
Origins of New South 1876-1914Edit
Birmingham was founded on June 1, 1871 by real estate promoters who sold lots near the planned crossing of the Alabama & Chattanooga and South & North railroads. The site of the railroad crossing was notable for the nearby deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone-the three principal raw materials used in making steel. Its founders adopted the name of England's principle industrial city to advertise the new city as a center of iron and steel production. Despite outbreaks of cholera, the population of 'Pittsburgh of the South' grew from 38,000 to 132,000 from 1900 to 1910. Chemical and structural constraints limited the quality of steel produced from Alabama’s iron and coal. These materials did, however, combine to make ideal foundry iron, and, because of low transportation and labor costs, Birmingham quickly became the largest and cheapest foundry iron producing area. By 1915 twenty-five percent of the nation’s foundry pig iron was produced in Bimingham.
New South Alabama, 1914-1945Edit
Feldman (1999) has shown that the Second KKK was not a mere hate group; it showed a genuine desire for political and social reform. Alabama Klansmen were among the foremost advocates of better public schools, effective prohibition enforcement, expanded road construction, and other "progressive" measures, benefiting poor whites. By 1925, the Klan was a powerful political force in the state, as powerful figures like J. Thomas Heflin, David Bibb Graves, and Hugo Black manipulated the KKK membership against the power of the "Big Mule" industrialists and Black Belt planters who had long dominated the state. - - In 1926, Bibb Graves, a former chapter head, won the governor's office with KKK members' support. He led one of the most progressive administrations in the state's history, pushing for increased education funding, better public health, new highway construction, and pro-labor legislation. At the same time, KKK vigilantes---thinking they enjoyed governmental protection--launched a wave of physical terror across Alabama in 1927, targeting both blacks and whites. The conservative elite counterattacked. The major newspapers kept up a steady, loud attack on the Klan as violent and unAmerican. Sheriffs cracked down on Klan violence. The counterattack worked. The state voted for Al Smith in 1928, and the Klan's official membership plunged to under six thousand by 1930.
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- Flynt, Wayne. Alabama in the Twentieth Century (2004)
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- Feldman, Glenn. Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama, 1915-1949 (1999)
- Frady, Marshall. Wallace: The Classic Portrait of Alabama Governor George Wallace (1996)
- Grafton, Carl, and Anne Permaloff. Big Mules and Branchheads: James E. Folsom and Political Power in Alabama 1985.
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- Alabama Archives
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