William Garrett.

Reminiscences of public men in Alabama : for thirty years, with an appendix online

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On motion of Mr. Hudson it was ordered that the Chair appoint a member from
each judicial circuit in this State as members of the Select Committee on the reso
lution in relation to the general ticket system. Messrs. Terry, Hall, Andress,
Dent, Loyd, McAHster, King, Dailey, Clarke, and Toulmin, were appointed said

Iii due time, Mr. Terry, Chairman, reported from the Select
Committee a bill to be entitled an "Act to Establish the General
Ticket System in Elections for Representatives in Congress from
the State of Alabama."

The bill produced a warm discussion, which lasted several days,
in which Mr. Cottrell, on the side of the Democrats, made the
longest and principal speech, ably supporting in argument the
grounds taken in support of the measure. Messrs. Terry, McCon-
nell, Jones, and Hall, likewise participated in the debate favorr.-
bly to the bill. The Whig side of the Senate was represented by
Mr. Thornton in a speech occupying a portion of two days, which,
when reported, filled ten columns of a newspaper. It was care
fully prepared by reflection and arrangement, though delivered
without notes, and many passages were forcible and eloquent. Of
the Whig debaters who acted with Mr. Thornton in opposition to
the bill, were Messrs. Alston, Buford, King, Lea, Watrous, Oliver,
and Phillips. After a sharp contest, it passed the Senate by a
strict party vote, except Mr. McVay, who briefly assigned reasons
for differing with his Democratic friends on the passage of the

After the bill was transmitted to the House of Representatives,
it encountered the most decided and persevering opposition from
the Whig members. A condensed statement from the Journal
will show the machinery and weapons with which the battle was
waged, beginning on 23d December.

The Speaker decided that it was competent to take the bill
from the orders of the day. On appeal by Mr. Moors, the
Speaker was sustained by the House 41 to 33. On motion of
Mr. Saunders, the bill was then taken from the orders of the day
yeas 44, nays 36. Mr. Mann moved to postpone its further

140 Reminiscences of Public Men, in Alabama,.

consideration until the 30th instant, and make it the special order
of the day; which motion was lost 38 to 47. He then moved
to postpone until 28th, which was also rejected 30 to 38. Mr.
Murphy moved to postpone until half-past eleven o clock on
Saturday, 26th. Mr. Saunders moved to adjourn to ten o clock
on Saturday, which motion was lost yeas 34, nays 41. The
question then recurred on ordering the bill to a third reading,
when, on motion of Mr. Roberts, the House adjourned over
Christmas, on Friday, until ten o clock Saturday morning 46 to
30. When the bill was reached in the evening session on Satur
day, Mr. Bates moved that the House adjourn until Monday,
which was lost 34 to 37. After some discussion, Mr. McLemore
renewed the motion to adjourn, which prevailed.

On Monday, 28th, Mr. Walker, of Lawrence, oifered a proviso,
to come in at the end of the bill, that the act should have effect
only in the election of members to the twenty-seventh Congress,
upon which Mr. Griffin moved the previous question, which was
refused 41 to 43. On motion of Mr. Clemens, the bill was laid
on the table. After several hours had been consumed in the
election of Presidents and Directors of the State Bank and
Branches, Mr. Rice moved to call up the bill, when, on motion of
Mr. Inge, the House adjourned until the next morning.

Mr. Winston, of DeKalb, then moved to take up the bill. On
a question of order, the Chair decided that it could not be read
without leave of the House, from which decision the House dis
sented 38 to 48. Mr. Winston then renewed his motion to take
up the bill, which was carried 47 to 44. Mr. Little raised a
question of order, alleging that a motion to take a bill from the
table merely places it among the orders of the day, and does not
bring it for the immediate action of the House. The Chair
decided otherwise, and that the bill was then before the House,
from which Mr. Little appealed. The decision of the Chair was
sustained by the House 51 to 32. Mr. Inge moved to postpone
the further consideration of the bill until Monday next, whicli
was lost 42 to 49. From the Journal, at this stage of the bill,
the following passage is quoted :

Upon a question of order, the Chair decided the bill before the House is one of
the orders of the day, and first in order, and has to be disposed of before other

Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama. 141

orders of the day can be taken up ; from which decision Mr. Hutchinson appeals
in the following form :

"A question being under consideration, which the House has decided was not
among the orders of the day, the hour of twelve arrives, and a motion is made to
proceed with the orders of the day the Chair decides the motion to take up the
order of the day out of order, no motion being entertained to suspend said order :
An appeal is taken from the decision of the Chair."

The Chair was sustained by a vote of 46 to 49, whereupon Mr.
Griffin, of Marshall, called for the previous question, which was
sustained 46 to 43. Mr. Hutchinson moved to adjourn. " The
Chair decided that a motion to adjourn was out of order before
the main question was disposed of, and the decision of the Chair
was sustained yeas 50, nays 37." The main question was then
put on ordering the bill to a third reading, and carried yeas 48,
nays 43.

The next view of the bill is on Monday, 30th December, when,
on motion of Mr. Saunders, the orders of the day were suspended,
by a vote of 47 to 40, to take it up ; and, on motion of Mr. Clem
ens, the bill was taken up 47 to 35. Mr. Winston, of DeKalb,
called the previous question, when it appeared that there was not
a quorum present yeas 44, nays 5. No Whig member voted.
Messrs. Clemens, Hall, Moore of Madison, Walker of Benton,
and Walker of Lawrence, Democrats, voting in the negative.
Mr. Mitchell moved that the House adjourn, which was lost.
Mr. Clemens moved a call of the House, which was sustained ; and
he then moved to send a messenger for Mr. Walker, of Madison,
and for Mr. John H. Garrett, of Cherokee, who were detained at
their hotels by indisposition. When these gentlemen arrived in
the Hall, Mr. Smith, of Lauderdale, moved a call of the House,
when fifty-two members answered to their names.

The next question was, "Shall the main question be now put?
and decided in the affirmative yeas 51, nays none." The main
question was put, " Shall the bill pass?" and was decided in the
affirmative yeas 50, nays 23. While these proceedings were in
progress, some of the Whig members had returned to the Hall,
from which most of them had retired when the previous question
was called, so as to prevent a quorum, and thus, if possible, to
defeat the passage of the bill. But when Messrs. Walker and
Garrett were brought in by the messengers sent for them, and a
quorum secured, the Whigs perceived that their further absence

142 Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama.

would be of no avail against the bill, and about half of them
returned to their seats, and voted against its final passage.

Next day, Mr". Crenshaw moved a reconsideration of the vote
on the passage of the General Ticket Bill. Mr. Little moved to
postpone its further consideration until the day following, which
was refused 30 to 47. Mr. Morris moved a call of the House;
which was lost 31 to 48. Mr. Williams moved the previous
question, which was sustained 49 to 34. The question on Mr.
Crenshaw s motion to reconsider was then taken, and lost 38 to
49. And here the bill was beyond all parliamentary rules to
change or defeat it, and to this extent the majority had triumphed
after a hard struggle, bravely maintained on both sides. The
scene of noise and disorder in the House at times, and especially
when the Whig members retired, and after they came back in
squads, under more or less excitement, it is unnecessary to de
scribe. No attempt would be successful. Some of them even
mounted the desks in defiance of the Speaker s call to order.
But these things took place thirty years ago, and most of the
actors are now dead, while the few that survive who witnessed
the proceedings should throw the mantle of charity over the

The debates of the House on the General Ticket Bill had been
engaged in with zeal and ability, which have been noticed in a
previous chapter relative to the election of Senator of the United
States, both measures involving strictly political competition, with
the consequences of success or defeat to animate or depress the
rival parties. As to which deserved the victory, I express no
opinion, after so great a lapse of time; but candor obliges me to
say I was very well satisfied with the results, and so far as my
influence, in the public positions I then held, permitted, I gave
it in favor of the Democratic policy on these issues. My relation
to the Whig members of the Legislature was always that of per
sonal courtesy and good feeling, and to many of them I am
indebted for great political favors, when it was my fortune to seek
preferment at the hands of the Legislature. Of such kindness I
shall ever retain the most grateful recollection.

In the meantime, after the passage of the General Ticket Bill,
a very elaborate Protest had been prepared, which Mr. Bates, for

Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama. 143

himself and about forty other Whig members, presented to the
House on the 4th of January, 1841, in which many points are
taken, by way of complaint, against the action of the majority
under erroneous and improper rulings of the presiding officer.
The second paragraph- of the Protest is in the following words:

The undersigned have been taught by the majority that no appeal can have any
other influence than to strengthen this determined system of abuses. They have
originated measures, radical in themselves, untried in practice, unknown to the
people, which are to be permanent and universal in their operation, without allow
ing to the minority the privilege to amend, or the right to discuss. They have con
strued rules to the adaptation of the particular case, and enforced them with an
eye to success alone. The minority will not examine the merits of the General
Ticket Bill. To do that they will appear before a tribunal where gag laws are not
employed for the suppression of truth. They will confine themselves to an expose
of the means resorted to by the majority to establish this system; and to do this,
let facts be submitted to a candid people.

The protest then alleges that when the bill was on its passage
in the House, Mr. Perkins submitted an amendment, and while
the Clerk was reading it, Mr. Bates, perceiving that the previous
question was likely to be called to cut off the amendment, twice
addressed Mr. Speaker, without securing his attention, after which
Mr. Winston, of DeKalb, addressed Mr. Speaker only once, and
was promptly recognized as having the floor, who, thereupon, called
the previous question, which was sustained by the majority, with
out action on the amendment offered by Mr. Perkins:

Be it further enacted, That this act shall not take effect until a majority of the
people of this State shall have voted in its favor, at the next annual election, at
which time a poll shall be opened in the different precincts in the several counties
of this State by the Sheriffs thereof giving ten days notice ; and those approving
this act may vote for it by indorsement on their ticket. " General Ticket Syxtcm,"
and the number of those voting for it shall be, under the certificates of the in
spectors of elections at the respective Court-Houses, forwarded to the Secretary of
State, who shall, within the first week of the next session of the Legislature,
communicate the aggregate of such number of votes cast by the citizens of this
State for the foregoing section of this act : and if it shall appear that the majority
of the qualified voters of this State are in favor of the general ticket system, the
foregoing act shall then become the law of this State.

Then follows a specific statement of the grounds of complaint,
charging a combination between the Speaker and the majority,
through pretended parliamentary forms, to deny the constitutional
rights of the minority, and to prevent justice from being rendered
to their efforts to amend the bill, and put it in a shape for public
approval or disapproval at the ballot-box. The rules of the House
are frequently contrasted with the decisions of the Speaker, and

144 Bemmucentes of Pvblic Men in Alabama.

reference is made to usages in the British Parliament and the
United States Congress, embodied in Jefferson s Manual, to show
the utter disregard of all authority in the pursuit of party objects.
The language is severely critical, but no coarse epithets are applied.
The closing paragraph of the protest is in the following words :

The minority feel the pride which always attends the discharge of duty, that
they can return to their constituents and tell them, that in this unconstitutional
and unrighteous attempt at disfranchisement ; this determined spirit in the North
[the northern portion of Alabama] to wield the destinies of the South in obedi
ence to their own will and wishes that we have done all that Representatives
could do. We argued as long as permitted to speak, and, when strangled, we
abandoned them. When abandonment became inefficient, we did then, for them
and for ourselves, spread upon the Journals, this, our solemn protest against
tyranny and usurpation.

Against the charges of the protest the Hon. Eobert A. Baker,
Speaker of the House, submitted a written defense, which was en
tered on the Journal, going considerably into detail on the circum
stances which originated the complaint while the general ticket
bill was progressing through the forms of Legislation. The defense
is less than two pages, while the protest covers more than six
pages of the House Journal. In its brevity lies much of the
Speaker s vindication, the closing language of which is the fol
lowing :

As a sworn officer of the House of Representatives, I have endeavored to dis
charge my duty faithfully, without regard to party. In the midst of excitement
and confusion, injustice may have been done some gentlemen on several occasions,
and no doubt as often my political friends as opponents. To hav^ my moral char
acter assailed with a charge of partiality to a political friend, and a denial of jus
tice to a political opponent, I must pronounce a calumny that ig not sustained by
the facts of the case.

The. record has been drawn upon freely, and incidents touching
the general ticket bill, from its inception in the Senate to its final
passage in the House, with extracts fiom protest and defense, in
order that the public may see that in a former day, and among
legislators of high rank for talents and virtue, what had occurred
in each end of the Capitol in party warfare. Many of the actors
at this period, and in this contest, deserve special attention, which
I hope to bestow, to some extent at least.

Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama, 145


To revive the past, and to perpetuate the names of men who
sought employments in the administration of the State Government,
I think it proper to notice the elections of 1840, here stated as
having taken place on the 5th of December on joint-ballot of both
Houses, with the following result :

For Secretary of State William Garrett 79 votes.

Thomas B. Tunstall 40 votes.

Comptroller of Public Accounts J. C. Van Dyke 119 votes.

For State Treasurer. 1st ballot. 2d ballot. 3d ballot. 4th ballot.

Samuel G. Frierson 35 38 53 63

Kobert Caruthers 39 43 45 51

Edward F. Comegys 23 18 9 (withdrawn.)

J. H. Thomason 22 20 11 4

To the several offices for which ballots were cast in their favor,
William Garrett, Jefferson C. Van Dyke, and Samuel G. Frierson,
were declared duly elected.


At this juncture, when the author of this volume was made
Secretary of State by a flattering vote of the Legislature, he be
lieves that he violates no principle of modesty, or respect for
public opinion, in submitting some particulars of his life, to accom
pany the sketches of other public officers elected at the session of
1840. Believing that the natural curiosity of his readers should
be gratified in this respect, he proceeds with the simple narrative.

WILLIAM GARRETT was born in East-Tennessee. When in his
eleventh year, he was taken from school, owing to the reverses
which came upon his father, William Garrett, senior, who had
been extensively engaged as proprietor of merchant mills and
iron foundries, as well as in other enterprises demanding large in
vestments of capital, and subject to the casualties always attending
such business. Until his twenty-first year, the junior assisted in

146 Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama.

the usual labors of the farm, and was, much of his time, occupied
in keeping the records of his father, who was for thirty-three years
Clerk of the County Court of Cocke county. In this situation he
learned not only how to make up the Minutes of the. Court, but
he had the opportunity to see how the Journals of the Legislature
were framed to show each day s proceedings with proper formality.
These entries riveted his attention, and prepared his mind for sim
ilar labors, which subsequently devolved upon him.

In January, 1833, he came to Alabama, and settled in Ben ton
county, variously occupied, and in 1837 he was elected Assistant
Clerk of the House of Representatives, under Gideon B. Frierson,
the Principal Clerk. For this office he was indebted, mainly, to
the friendship of Gen. William B. McClellan, a Representative
from Talladega, who placed him in nomination, and who, himself,
had been for ten years Engrossing Clerk of the House, with large
influence with members, and a correct knowledge of the forms of
proceeding. To this gentleman, who is yet living in honorable re
tirement, Mr. Garrett is under obligations which neither time nor
circumstances can efface from memory; and he takes this occasion
to render his sincere and grateful acknowledgments for the early
service thus rendered him, which opened the way to still greater
advancement from the Representatives and people of Alabama,
At the session of 1837, Mr. Frierson was elected Solicitor of the
Seventh Judicial Circuit, and in 1838, Mr. Garrett was elected
Principal Clerk of the House .over his competitor, Pleasant H.
May, Esq., of Tuskaloosa, a gentleman of fine address and abilities,
who is favorably mentioned by Judge O Neal in his "Bench and
Bar of South Carolina." Mr. May subsequently removed to Mobile,
to continue the practice of his profession as a lawyer, and was acci
dentally drowned at the wharf, several years before the war. He
had represented Tuskaloosa county in the House, at the session of

At the session of 1839, Mr. Garrett was again elected Clerk of
the House, and reflected in 1840, which office he resigned on
being elected Secretary of State, and for the ensuing ten years he
held the latter office without opposition. After the seat of Gov
ernment was removed to Montgomery, he was continued in office
at the session of 1849, over his competitor, John S. Storrs, Esq.,

Reminiscences of Public Mm in Alabama. 147

of Shelby, a Whig, and V. M. Benham, of Lauderdale, an inde
pendent Democratic candidate. This contest was somewhat ex
cited, from many circumstances attending it. After the expiration
of his term, in 1852, Mr. Garrett declined any further election as
Secretary of State, and retired to his farm in Coosa county, where
he now resides. He preferred the quiet and seclusion of rural
life, where he might raise his children to habits of industry, which,
with the blessing of good health, would enable them to provide
for themselves, as circumstances might render necessary.

In 1853, he was elected to the House of Representatives, of
which body he was unanimously chosen Speaker. After this
term had expired, he made no attempt to engage in public life
until 1859, when he was nominated for the Senate by the Demo
cratic party, and defeated, after receiving 1,128 votes, against 1,175
cast for his competitor, leaving an adverse majority of 47 votes
out of a total of 2,303 polled on the occasion. In alluding to the
result, the Wetumpka Dispatch of August 5, 1859, remarked:

It will be seen by the returns published in our paper, that the Democratic party
have succeeded in electing all their nominees with the single exception of our
noble old candidate for Senate, Col. William Garrett. We must confess our sur
prise at this result but, when we review the whole ground, AVC can account for it.
The opposition, of course, was a formidable party formidable both in number
and in talents and brought all their energies and appliances to bear for the de
feat of Col. Garrett. Swapping and trading of votes was the order of the day.
At all the boxes in the county, this was the ultimatum of the opposition : " Beat
Garrett anyhow ! Sacrifice any of the opposition, but beat Garrett !"

They even rallied the personal enemies of Col. Garrett in Montgomery, to assist
in their object. They have succeeded ; but the Democratic party still lives, and our
noble champion, although defeated, holds as high a place in the affections of the
true Democrrcy as he ever did. "Defeated, but not conquered," should be the
motto of Col. Garrett and his friends. \Ve predict for Col. G. that the people will
yet make amends and do him justice.

In 1863, he was elected to the Senate for a term of four years,
over Capt. Leauder Bryan, under the new Constitution of Ala
bama then in force ; but the term of service was brought to a close
by the surrender of the Confederate armies. Under the Consti
tution of 1865, he was, that year, again elected to the Senate by
defeating his competitor, Col. Richard H. Smoot. The resources
of the State had been greatly crippled by the war; everything
was prostrate and in confusion. The State had no credit; itvS bonds
were past due, and there was no recognized mode by which the,

148 Reminiscences of PvJblic Men in Alabama.

financial difficulties could be remedied, or the means procured to
protect the public faith and defray the expenses of the Govern
ment. All these obstacles had to be encountered and overcome
by legislation, and by the energies and patriotism of the people.
It was a startling crisis in the history of public affairs. At this
juncture, the President of the Senate, Hon. Walter H. Crenshaw,
appointed Mr, Garrett Chairman pf the Committee on Finance
and Taxation, in reference to which the editorial correspondence
of the Union. Springs Times, dated Montgomery, February 8, 1866,
sketching public characters, has the following :

* HON. WILLIAM GARRETT, of Coosa, is the next Senator, [after Hon. A. B.
Cooper,] most venerable in years, but second to no one in legislative experience,
having been connected, one way and another, with the affairs of the State for a
quarter of a century. He is the energetic and laborious Chairman of the impor
tant Committee of Finance and Taxation, intimately acquainted with the condition
of the finances and the fiscal resources of the State. He guards the "strong box "
with the most unsleeping vigilance, and is very often called the Cerberus of the
treasury. Always in his seat, and ever prompt at the hour to meet the various
committees of which he is a member, he can be justly classed as one of our most
useful legislators, without doing any injustice to his worthy compeers. He is a
man of large, round physique, almost corpulent, tells an anecdote of which he has
a large store admirably, and is a most genial companion. His claims to prefer
ment arc freely discussed, and will be diligently pressed by his many friends.

The day on which the Legislature adjourned, when his term of
service expired, and before all the members had retired from the
Senate Chamber, Mr. Garrett was requested to remain a few min
utes, when, to his great surprise, he was addressed by Mr. Powell,
in behalf of himself and colleagues of the Committee then present,
by reading the following letter :

JTon. William Garrett, Senator from, Coosa:

DEAR SIR The undersigned, members of the Committee on Finance and Taxa
tion, are unwilling to dissever the pleasant official relations which have so long ex
isted between us, without tendering you some expression of our high appreciation
of the courtesy, promptness, efficiency and zeal which have characterized all your

Online LibraryWilliam GarrettReminiscences of public men in Alabama : for thirty years, with an appendix → online text (page 14 of 91)