William Garrett.

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

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patriotism may offer its tribute in honor of the noble dead, and to
stimulate the virtues of the living.



Reminiscences of Public Men m Alabama. 55

JAMES B. WALLACE likewise came from Tennessee to Ala
bama, and settled in Lawrence county, where he filled the office
of Judge of the County Court, and was twice elected to the Sen
ate, in which he served with distinction as a member of the Whig
party of the State Rights school. In 1838, upon the death of
Judge Henry Minor, he was appointed Clerk of the Supreme
Court, which office he held for ten years. In 1851 he was elected
from Tuskaloosa a member of the House of Representatives, in
which capacity he gave the State the benefit of enlarged expe
rience and observation in public affairs. In 1853, he was again a
candidate, but died suddenly before the election, of apoplexy.
Judge Wallace was certainly a gentleman of intelligence and culture,
well read in history and biography, with quite a taste for litera
ture. Of fine person and manners, he was a good type of the
gentleman, and filled [a wide sphere in associations with the first
intellects of the State.

JOHN M. BURKE was for many years connected with the legis
lation of the two Houses. Industrious and attentive to his duties,
with a fine business talent, he made himself useful in the councils
of the State, and was held in high esteem at the Seat of Govern
ment, and wherever known. A premature partial deafness no
doubt caused him to retire from public life, as, to some extent, it
embarrassed him upon the floor of the Senate. He was an opu
lent, intelligent planter of Wilcox county, active and enterprising,
so that his usefulness did not cease upon his becoming a private
citizen; but he devoted all his powers to the improvement and
independence of his State in agricultural and commercial pursuits.
He traveled much and observed closely, and dispensed liberally
the advantages of information gained. Of Irish descent, he was
a genial, polite gentleman, and filled a large place in the social
circle. He died many years ago.

JOHN T. RATHER, of Morgan, retired voluntarily this year, in
the 1 meridian of life, carrying with him the regrets and respect of
a large number of friends. He became connected with the State
Government at an early day, and assisted in the enactment of
those fundamental laws, which, amended and improved in the



56 Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama.

progress of events, have become the settled landmarks of the
State. A quiet, working member, with a good fund of common
sense, and intimate knowledge of the wants of the people; with
feelings and Sympathies in common with the masses, he was emi
nently qualified to act an important part in the important work of
laying the foundations of the State Government. A sagacious
turn in managing men, and directing the political movements of
his (Whig) party, he was looked to as a leader. He was a gentle
man of unobtrusive bearing and manner, a boon companion in the
social circle, witty, and with a rich fund of anecdotes, which he
told with much gusto. Few men were regarded with more favor
in the Legislature. Withal, his habits were good, rather abste
mious, and consistent as a professor of religion, which brought
about him the respect and society of that class. From 1837 to
1865 he continued in retirement, in the peaceful pursuits of agri
culture, and exerting a salutary influence upon the community and
section in which he lived. That year, his old constituents and
their descendents called him to a seat in the Constitutional Con
vention, and he aided in framing the State Constitution of 1865.
At the present writing (1870) he still lives, respected for his
virtues, and venerated for the past.

JOHN RAINS, the Senator from Marengo, was a native of New-
bern, and graduated at the University of North Carolina in
1823, and read law in the office of Judge Gaston. He removed
to Alabama, and opened a law-office at Linden, where, by his
talents, he soon rose high in public estimation. Entering the
Senate early in life, he was made Chairman of the Judiciary Com
mittee in 1837, in deference to his service in that body, and his
acknowledged abilities. His early prospects were flattering, with
promise of much usefulness and success; but he too soon fell a
victim to the influence of convivial habits, brought about, it was
supposed, by the too ardent caresses of admiring friends. He AVUS
usually quiet, and fully up to his business in the Senate, as his
reports show. He was a Whig in the political classification, and
in the debate on the financial policy of the Government, made a
strong argument against the Sub-Treasury scheme of the Admin
istration. This was his hist speech in the Senate, and in a few



Reminiscences of Publw Mm in Alabama. 57

years thereafter he died. Mr. Rains was a modest gentleman, of
quiet address, and observed the strictest rules of propriety in his
deportment. He was much respected by men of all parties.

[NOTE. On reflection by the author, Mr. Rains did not retire until after the
session of 1838.]

MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE.

During the session, one member died Mr. Dimklin Sullivan,
of Perry who was a lawyer of respectable character, matured by
a long residence in the State, and many years experience in the
Legislature. He was buried with the honors usual on such occa
sions. An appropriate and eloquent address, for the funeral, was
delivered by the Rev. D. P. Bestor, a member from Greene.

ALFRED V. SCOTT. Several gentlemen retired from legisla
tive service at the end of this session, who deserve attention in
the record here made up of passing events. Col. Scott r of Mont
gomery, had served a number of sessions in the House of Repre
sentatives, in which he sustained himself as a well informed,
intelligent gentleman. He was a son of Gen. John Scott, formerly
of Milledgeville, Georgia, and was allied with a large and influ
ential connexion in the middle and southern portions of the State,
He was highly educated, had mingled extensively in polite circles,
had fine taste, which was cultivated by extensive reading and
travel, and conversed with ease. Modest and unpretending, with
little inclination for public employment, he still drew around him
in his public position a large number of admirers, who appreciated
his character as a gentleman of the highest standard. Retiring
while young, comparatively, he devoted himself to private culture
and to his large estates. He took a leading part in the session of
1837, on the subject of the banks and currency, applying his
efforts mainly to reform the errors in the management of these
State institutions. His position in the House is indicated by his
being a member of the Committee on the State Bank and Branches,
and next to Judge Smith, the Chairman.

JOHX W. WOMACK had been several years a member from
Butler, and had established a character for intelligence and effi
ciency as a legislator. He entered public life very young enthu-



of Public Men in Alabama.

siastic, full of life and vim and humor. His social qualities were
rarely excelled warm-hearted, generous, and constant in his friend
ships, forbearing and forgiving to the infirmities of his fellow-
men. He was truly a boon companion, the center of the circle,
and his society was sought by many who admired his character.
In 1836, when excited by the political questions of the day, in a
moment of conviviality, he addressed a letter to Gen. Jackson, as
President of the United States, returning a document which the
President had franked to him as a member of the Legislature.
The letter was sharp, stung deeply, and was very unguarded in
the language used to so eminent a person. Many of his political
friends condemned it as impolitic. Mr. "Womack, however, was
so well pleased with it himself) that he had it published in the
Whig paper at Tuskaloosa. It caused a mighty stir throughout
the State, and while the Democratic papers denounced it in
unmeasured terms, the Whig papers hesitated in defending it.
The sensation seemed to moderate, and Mr. Womack was elected
by the people again and again. For a few years, he had a season
for "sowing wild oats," but that passed away, and "Richard was
himself again," in all the attributes of a man, physicially and
mentally. Nature had been lavish of her gifts upon his person.
He was tall, without being attenuated, well developed, straight as
an Indian, and with a person and manner at once dignified and
commanding a voice deep, sonorous, and Avell modulated. He
had a fine sense of the ludicrous, and his descriptions of scenes of
this character were rich and racy. In 1840, he married a lady of
wealth in Greene county, where he thenceforth resided. In the
meantime, his political opinions underwent material modifications^
so much so that he was soon in alliance with the Democratic party,
and in 1 844 took the stump for Mr. Polk. As was natural to any
gentleman of his endowments; he entertained a laudable ambition
for high places; but his way was hedged up by that unfortunate
letter. Many of the Democratic party never forgave him for it
improperly, as I think with a knowledge of the facts. But in
those days there was a hard-shell Jaekxon Democracy that never
relaxed never forgave; still, in 1847, in the Congressional Nom
inating Convention at Tuskaloosa, over which Mr. Womack pre
sided, I am sure that he could have been nominated with



of Public J\fen in Alabama. 59

unanimity instead of Mr. Samuel W. Inge; and he was impor
tuned to accept, but, from some cause, he positively declined.
About this time, Mr. Womack was referred to in a complimentary
manner by a Democratic editor, as likely to receive a foreign
mission of high grade from the President. He continued to
occupy the relation of a private gentleman and citizen, which he
filled in its requirement.

During the session of 1851, Col. Judge and myself were return
ing together from the Capitol after adjournment. Just before we
reached the Montgomery Hall, Mr. Womack advanced from the
corner, meeting us. After a cordial shake of the hands, and our
expressions of pleasure at seeing him again, he made no reply, but
continued looking. at the stream of members coming from the
Capitol, saying, "Where is this man Bulger? I have come all
the way here to see him; the name strikes me as having some
thing in it show him to me." It is needless to say he was
alluding, in a vein of humor, to Gen. M. J. Bulger, of Tallapoosa
county, on account of some peculiarity in the name.

Col. Judge told me that when he first commenced the practice
of law, one of the first writs he issued was against Pierce A.
Lewis, in which the word "summon" was accidentally omitted,

thereby commanding the Sheriff to " Pierce A. Lewis." Mr.

Womack, who was a great friend of Col. Judge, entered a motion
to dismiss the writ on the ground that it required the Sheriff to do
an unlawful thing, nothing less than to pierce A. Lewis, his client.
He went on in his peculiar vein for some time, showing the
enormity of the action commanded to be done; and then turned
over to the cause of action indorsed on the writ, on the bottom
of which Col. Judge had signed his name, with initials "P. A."
following, for "plaintiff s attorney." Mr. Womack read it, and
noted the two capital letters, saying, "Now, if your Honor please,
I don t know what these letters mean, unless it be to pierce him
ayain" The young attorney who brought the action thought his
case was gone; but the Court, after indulging Mr. Womack in his
farce, refused the motion.

About the conclusion of the war between the States, Mr,
Womack died suddenly, regretted by many friends, including
those of thirty years standing.



60 Ifominvse-ences of Public Men in Alabama.

DANIEL P. BESTOR also terminated his connection with the
Legislature at this session. He was a gentleman of high culture,
extensive reading, and a minister of the Baptist Church. He
possessed great purity of character and moral worth, and was
more at home in the pulpit, and in the atmosphere of literature
and religion, than in the Legislature. Leaving to others the man
agement of the bank questions, he addressed himself, early in the
session, to a measure for improving and equalizing the advantages
of common schools. The better to succeed, he asked the House
for a special committee on the subject, which was granted, and he,
of course, was placed at its head. He labored much and patiently
upon his favorite scheme, and at last reported it to the House,
where it at once encountered the opposition of Judge Smith of
Madison, Mr. B. G. Shields of Marengo, who was Chairman of the
Committee on Education, and some others.

Mr. Bestor obtained the floor, and delivered a speech in support
of his bill, which placed him at once in the front rank of speakers
in the House. His style was smooth and rich, his manner grace
ful, and his delivery fluent and agreeable. Among other things,
the bill contained provisions for a more rigid discipline in the
common schools, and this was one of the points on which it was
assailed. In reply to the objections, he argued to show the neces
sity of early training and control, not only in the schools, but also
in the family; and Avhile doing so, in conclusion upon that point,
he uttered this sentence: "Let a young man grow up without
restraint, to disobey his mother, and hector it over the servants at
home, and he is as unfit to submit to proper government in your
higher schools and colleges as the wild horse of the prairies, who
.sunning wind in the pride of his strength, is unfit at once to perform
all the graceful movements of the equestrian circus." Notwith
standing this effort, the bill was, a few days after, laid upon the
table.

In 1839 I attended a Temperance Convention at Tuskaloosa,
during the session. Mr. Bestor was there, active in his efforts to
promote so good a cause. A proposition was made to memorialize
the Legislature to pass a restrictive law, as an adjunct to the efforts
of the society. Mr. Bestor opposed it in a speech, in which, among
other things, he said: " What was to be expected upon the subject



Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama. 61

of temperance from a body of men, a majority of whom were
wafted to their seats upon the tide of ardent spirits?" Mr. Bestor
devoted a long life in doing good, and bore the character of an
upright Christian gentleman. He died in Sumter county a few
years ago.

ROBERT BROBXAX, of Clarke, served in the House previous to
1837, when I first knew him. In the Whig party, and as an
advocate of State Rights, he was a master spirit. He had repre
sented Autauga many years. He afterwards removed to Mobile,
where lie established a commission house. Thence he went to
Cuba, where he remained two years, to obtain a knowledge how
to raise the Cuba tobacco, and settled in Clarke county, where he
engaged in the cultivation of that plant.

In 1860, he supported Bell and Everett, and was opposed to
secession; but, after the step was taken, his resistance to Northern
aggression was intense. In 1863, he was elected to the Senate,
then quite an old man, yet exhibiting the traces of former noble
ness and command. After the surrender he emigrated to Brazil.

JOHN A. ELMOKE was a native of South Carolina, and son of
Gen. John Elmore, who removed to Alabama, and in whose honor
a county has been named. J. A. Elmore commanded a company
of volunteers in the Creek war of 1836, and has since been gen
erally known as Captain Elmore. He was elected to the Senate
from Lowndes county, in 1837, and took an active part in giving
strength and direction to the State Rights party, of which he Avas
a member. He afterwards removed to Montgomery, where he
still resides. For several years he was the law partner of the
Hon. William L. Yancey. In 1865, he was a member of the
State Convention which formed the Constitution of that year.

As a lawyer, Captain Elmore has always maintained a prominent
rank. In all the relations of life he is high-toned and agreeable,
with a character for integrity surpassed by that of no citizen. He
is now considerably advanced in years, and has the satisfaction of
looking back upon a useful and honorable career.

In 1860, he was appointed, by Gov. Moore, Commissioner to
South Carolina, to consult with the authorities of that State upon



62 Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama.

the political situation. In early life, Captain Elmore married Miss
Martin, of his native State, an accomplished lady, who was con
nected with the large and influential family of that name.

SAMUEL B. MOOKE, of Pickens, as President of the Senate in
1830, succeeded to Executive functions until 1831, to fill the
vacancy -caused by the resignation of Governor Gabriel Moore,
who was elected a Senator in Congress. In 1837, he again served
in the Senate, and then retired from public life.

For a number of years he was Judge of the County Court,
which office he filled to the satisfaction of the people. He was a
gentleman of fair abilities and strength of character, and always
enjoyed the confidence of the people. Judge Moore never
married.

The two Houses, as stated, adjourned the day after Christmas and
the members returned home to satisfy their constituents, if possible,
and to prepare for the coming elections in August, which, in those
days, were annual, a provision which existed in the Constitution
from the organization of the State Government, in 1819, to 1845,
when it was amended so as to authorize biennial elections.

In the meantime, the plan of the Administration to divorce the
Government from the banks was extensively discussed in both
Houses of Congress, and the public mind, throughout the country,
taking up the arguments used and disseminated, drifted into posi
tion. In the Spring of 1838 the bill passed the Senate, but failed
in the House. Mr. Calhoun, as the leader of the State Rights
party, advocated the measure, with what was then known as the
specie feature, requiring all public dues to be paid in coin.



Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama. 63



CHAPTER IV.

Progress Session of 1838.

In the course of the Spring and Summer of 1838, parties were
organized mainly upon the financial questions, and upon the divorc
ing of the Government from the banks. Upon this issue and its
influence on the position of the local banks, much feeling was
elicited. The leaders of the State Rights school adopted the
policy of the administration upon this subject, in its fullest extent,
to-wit: an entire separation of the government and banks, in the
collection, safe-keeping, and disbursement of the public money in
coin. The State Rights men in Alabama generally adopted the
views of their leaders, and the canvass for the Legislature this
year presented a coalescing of these with the Democratic party.
In many counties, the entire ticket elected was taken from the
State Rights party, and in others they were mixed according to
elective strength. The Democrats had a large majority in both
branches of the Legislature. The policy of the State in relation
to the banks, as generally advocated, was to resume specie pay
ments at the earliest day practicable. And there were not a few
who professed to be well versed on the currency question, who
were confident of the ability of the banks to resume specie pay
ments during the Winter of 1838-9, with the use of the appliances
and means adopted, looking to that end. At the previous session,
legislation had been moulded with a view to resumption.

Although the action of the State Bank in the effort to obtain
specie may partially appear in another chapter, when the condition
of the banks at different periods is particularly noticed, it may not
be amiss to go somewhat into detail in reference to that proceeding.
The directory of the State Bank, in August, 1838, determined to
enter the cotton market as one of the best means of accomplishing
the desired object. Agencies were organized, post notes issued,
and advances made to planters on the cotton crop to be forthcom-



64 Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama.

ing in the early Fall, to be shipped abroad as a bill of exchange
to procure specie. Thus it was expected that the planter would
be aided in his crippled condition, and encouraged in raising the
staple, whilst all the substantial interests involved would be pro
moted. The scheme was plausible enough, and for a time gave
fair promise of realizing the cherished object. Newspapers con
tained flaming advertisements of "Cotton Agents," and "Agents
for Advancing on Cotton," etc. Post notes were issued, and, as
well as the ordinary notes of the banks, used by the hundred
thousand; proper forms for receipts, and guaranties, and ware
house certificates were prepared. The agents had their clerks,
and matters were conducted with form and ceremony.

MEETING OF THE LEGISLATURE.

On the 3d day of December, 1838, the Legislature met. In
the Senate, the attendance was nearly full, and Mr. James M.
Calhoun, of Dallas, was elected President without opposition.
This was a concession by the Democratic party, not only of Mr.
Calhoun s acknowledged fitness for the position, but as a recognition
of the alliance which had been brought about under the force of
the financial question, between the Democrats proper, and the ex
treme State Rights men. Mr. Jones M. Withers was elected
Secretary; Mr. Thomas B. Childress, Assistant Secretary; and A.
R. Thomas, Door-keeper. While some change was made in that
body by the retirement or transfer to other positions of several
gentlemen, there was in some cases an accession of strength, and
in the aggregate this Senate was equal to the last. Mr. Calhoun
took the place of Mr. Beene ; Mr. Cottrell, of Mr. Elmore ; Mr.
Green P. Rice, that of Mr. Rather; Mr. McClellan, that of Mr.
Arnold ; Mr. T. L. Toulmin, that of Mr. Roberts ; and Dr. King,
of Pickens, that of Mr. Moore. Mr. Posey, of Lauderdale, who
at the previous session filled the seat made vacant by the succession
of Mr. McVay to the Executive, retired, that Mr. McVay might
return to the place he had so long occupied.

In the House, ninety-two members, out of one hundred, an
swered to the call. Mr. McClung and Mr. Shields were both
members, and again opposing candidates for the Speakership.



Rem,iniscences of Public Men in Alabama. 65

This contest was marked with more spirit than that twelve months
before. The uncertain position of Col. McCluiig upon the engross
ing question of financial policy rendered the canvass, for a while,
doubtful; but the result was in favor of Col. McClung, 48 to 42.
William Garrett was elected Clerk, over P. H. May; Joseph
Phelaii, Assistant Clerk ; Thomas Price, Engrossing Clerk ; John
Tatom, Door-keeper ; and James Rather, Messenger.

The House contained many new members, prominent among
whom may be mentioned, John P. Booth of Barbour, William B.
Martin of Bentoii, Walter H. Crenshaw of Butler, G. W. Creagh
of Clarke, James M. Boiling of Conecuh, Elisha Young of Greene,
Samuel S. Earle of Jefferson, Henry W. Hilliard and George D.
Shortridge of Montgomery, Blanton McAlpin and Abner S. Lips-
comb of Mobile, William E. Blassingame of Perry, James Aber-
crombie of Russell, Felix G. McConnell of Talladega, M. M.
Burke of Wilcox, and Mathew W. Lindsay of Morgan.

GOVERNOR S MESSAGE.

The annual message of Gov. Bagby was delivered to the two
Houses on Tuesday. In it he presented a concise view of the ope
rations of the Government for twelve months. The leading topic
of the message was the State Banks and Currency in reference to
the pecuniary condition of the State. He alleged many defects in
the system under existing laws, and recommended several changes
with a view of correcting the evils. The defective organization and
management he considered as attributable to the following causes:

1. The want of some general head, or controlling principle.

2. The frequent election of numerous Boards of Directors by
the Legislature.

3. The mode of compensating the directors in the shape of dis
counts and accommodations.

4. In not requiring the banks to keep a large amount of specie
in their vaults in proportion to their circulation.

5. The transaction of too large a portion of their business on
long time. Under the last head will be included, of course, the
unreasonably large sums loaned to individuals.

In regard to the election of directors, he recommended that the
5



66 Remmbcences of Public Men in Alabama.

number be reduced to six, the Governor to nominate double that
number, from which the two Houses were to elect, and a compe
tent salary to be allowed for their services.



Online LibraryWilliam GarrettReminiscences of public men in Alabama : for thirty years, with an appendix → online text (page 6 of 91)