Tales of Tuscaloosa: Itinerant Politicians Featured

The Marmaduke Williams House on 17th Ave. in Tuscaloosa is early Federal Style and was erected in about 1835. The Marmaduke Williams House on 17th Ave. in Tuscaloosa is early Federal Style and was erected in about 1835. Wikimedia Commons

For much of Tuscaloosa’s early history and indeed the United States, itinerancy was common. There were clock peddlers, opticians, music teachers, dance instructors, and others whose residence in any particular town, city, or state was short-lived.  Some, such as plantation owners, farmers, miners, merchants, and craftsmen, perhaps stayed longer, but they still were subject to wanderlust. One special group was the politicians. As people moved west, those with political ambitions often looked for newer, more fertile ground and, in some cases, a fresh start. 

Two of Alabama’s earliest “immigrant” politicians were William W. Bibb, a former Congressman and U. S. Senator from Georgia and former North Carolina Congressman Marmaduke Williams. Bibb was appointed Governor of the new Alabama Territory in 1817 by President James Monroe. Williams came to Alabama in 1810 – when it was part of the Mississippi Territory. Both participated in the 1819 Alabama Constitutional Convention and opposed each other in the first gubernatorial election. Bibb was elected the first governor of the new State of Alabama and served until 1820, when he was fatally injured falling from a horse. Williams moved to Tuscaloosa in 1819 and later served as a state representative and county court judge. He was also a member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. Williams died in October 1850 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

Like Bibb and Williams, William S. Taylor came to Alabama in the early 19th century. He served several terms in the Alabama Legislature from 1833 until 1841 as a representative of nearby Fayette County. He led a company of volunteers in the Seminole Wars and later attained the rank of General in the state militia, a title he used thereafter. Subsequently, he relocated to Tippah County, Mississippi, and served in that state’s legislature. Finally, in 1847, he settled in Texas and represented Cherokee and Anderson Counties. In 1857, he was elected Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. Taylor and his wife Elizabeth had 15 children. In Fifty-Five Years in West Alabama, E. A. Powell stated that Taylor was a remarkable man of limited education who nevertheless distinguished himself in any of his endeavors and was never defeated in numerous political contests.

William H. Jack was a University of Georgia graduate who came to Tuscaloosa to practice law. In 1827, he was elected to the Alabama House. In 1830, he and his brother Patrick, an attorney from Jefferson County, emigrated to the Mexican State of Coahuila y Tejas. They became involved in the Texas Revolution, and William later served as a Congressman and Senator in the Republic of Texas. Both brothers died in 1844 in a yellow fever epidemic. Jack County and its seat, Jackville, are named in their honor. These men held successive citizenships in three countries during their relatively short lives. 

Lincoln Clark had perhaps the most circuitous career of any Alabama politician. He was born in Conway, Massachusetts. As a young lawyer, he moved to Pickens County and served three terms in the Alabama Legislature. In 1836, he relocated to Tuscaloosa and was appointed Alabama Attorney General in 1839.

Alabama Attorney General Lincoln Clark was a Massachusetts native who later became an Iowa Congressman. Public domain image courtesy of the Iowa State Historical Society.

In his memoirs, E. A. Powell stated that Clark was a defense attorney in the first trial he ever witnessed and that Clark “was considered THE great lawyer of the Bar.” In 1848, Clark relocated to Dubuque, Iowa, and subsequently served one term as a U. S. Congressman. Later, he was elected to the Iowa General Assembly. After the Civil War, Clark practiced law in Chicago, Illinois, and late in life returned to his hometown in Massachusetts.  

It is now very uncommon for an American to be elected to public office in a succession of states. As a whole, 21st century society is highly mobile, however, in at least one aspect, modern politicians are less “traveled” than those of more than a century ago. 

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Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.