Category: Collections

The Hugo Black Study at the Bounds Law Library

The editors welcome this post from our colleague, Dr. Julie Seraphina Griffith, that offers a glimpse into the home study of United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black through descriptions of its furnishings and numerous books.

The Hugo Black Study at the Bounds Law Library

The Hugo L. Black Collection consists of over one thousand books, personal correspondence, tapes and transcripts of interviews, descriptions of court decisions, office materials, biographical and bibliographical information, photographs, student papers, lecture notes, and personal memorabilia. The collection is stored in several different locations throughout the Bounds Law Library. Hugo Lafayette Black (1886-1971) was born in Clay County, Alabama, and is one of the most distinguished graduates of the University of Alabama’s law school. He served two terms as a United States Senator from 1926-1937, and was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1937 until 1971. Black died shortly after his retirement.

The Hugo L. Black Collection books are located in the Hugo Black Study, which was dedicated 40 years ago during ceremonies that celebrated the relocation of the School of Law in 1978 to a new building.

An image of the Hugo Black Study.
The Hugo Black Study at the Bounds Law Library

Renovations made in 2015 include lighting that makes the room and its contents much more visible. Photographic portraits of the Supreme Court can be seen adorning the tops of two walls. Black’s tennis racket is propped against the fireplace and his golf clubs are on the left. Items on Black’s desk include an exquisite black ocean globe, an Art Deco inspired design in which the color black represents the water rather than traditional blue. A smaller globe with blue oceans sits atop a typist’s desk placed by a wall of bookshelves. The Hugo Black Study is centrally located on the main floor of the library, adjacent to the Circulation and Reference Desks. Visitors are able to view the entirety of the study through a partial door that provides a full view of the room and its contents. The study is a replica of Black’s home study in Alexandria, Virginia. It was designed and built to accommodate all the original contents—everything is just as it was when Black was working there on a daily basis.

While the furnishings from Black’s home study in Alexandria, Virginia, were shipped to the library in 1973, most of his favorite books did not arrive until 1983. The study contains over one thousand books, including primary and secondary legal materials, a large collection of historical writings, and other genres. There are, of course, numerous works on law-related topics as well as many other books that reveal his broad reading interests. These range from Thomas Jefferson to poetry to tennis and instructions for playing bridge. Hugo Black was a well-read man.

The books have been catalogued and are now arranged on the shelves, not according to Black’s original shelving preferences but by Library of Congress call number order so that the books can be easily located for research purposes. [1] All the books are accessible via online catalog searches. These books have a location code that indicates their placement in the Hugo Black Study, and another code indicating that they are part of the larger holdings of the library’s John C. Payne Special Collections. [2]

Distinguishing features of Black’s books are the broad subject matter, variation of format—cheap paperback copies are juxtaposed with valuable rare books—and the fact that he read and reread the materials regularly. In some books, his written comments reveal an ongoing conversation between Black and the author.

Black's signature under F. Guiterman's bookplate.
Black’s signature underneath the former owner’s bookplate in this example of browsing second-hand bookstores

In addition, Black wrote to himself as he reread the books, providing examples of how his thought developed regarding certain topics. Black valued content over container and regularly perused used bookstores and catalogs. Roger K. Newman’s biography of Black contains an entire chapter, entitled “Books Are My Friends,” devoted to Black’s reading habits in which he discusses Black’s literary friendships with Will Durant, Carl Sandburg, and Alfred Knopf, among others. For example, Knopf published a book of Black’s opinions and he “usually took Black to dinner” several times each year. [3]

The classics were a significant influence on Black’s mindset, ideas, and interpretations. He studied Latin and Greek at Ashland College in Clay County, Alabama. This lifelong interest began when, as a law student, he sat in on an undergraduate English course taught by Dr. Charles H. Barnwell. This course prompted his “ever-increasing interest in the literature, philosophy and history of ancient Greece and the Greek way of life.” [4] Biographer Howard Ball comments that Black’s books by and about Greek philosophers, poets, and historians “are worn from repeated use, underlined and replete with marginalia, [and] indicative of the personal conversations Black had with the authors of these books.” [5]

Black also gave these books to his grandchildren, and had both his wives and his law clerks read Pericles and Aristotle, among many other Greek authors. While Aristotle was Black’s “favorite author,” Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way was Black’s favorite book and the first required reading that he assigned to new law clerks. [6] He was so fond of the works of Hamilton that he “literally coerced his children into reading them, with further admonitions to read Livy or Plutarch when the boys were in college or in the military.” [7] The books in Black’s study include two, five-volume sets of Plutarch’s Lives and Writings; one singular Modern Library edition; and a five-volume set of Essays and Miscellanies, with an introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. [8]

Among the vast array of valuable Hugo Black resources held by the Bounds Law Library is an autographed copy of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s book, Stride Toward Freedom. The library has shown this inscription to a variety of interested patrons, including local elementary schoolchildren and visiting legal scholars. The inscription reads; “To Justice Hugo Black, In appreciation for your genuine good-will, your perceptive vision, your broad humanitarian concern, and your unswerving devotion to the noble principles of our democracy, with warm regards, Martin King, Jr.”

Inscription from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Black.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s inscription to Justice Black in Stride Toward Freedom

The Hugo Black Study is extraordinary. In its totality, the study exists apart from its surroundings as an intact historical artifact.  One of Black’s former law clerks, David Vann, upon seeing the study after it was relocated to the library, said that it was “kind of a shock really,” to see the study again. [10] Due to the careful preparation and design that went into the planning of the space, the room’s original furnishings, and the magic of Black’s books, the Hugo Black Study captures an authenticity of spirit that is as when Black used it almost fifty years ago. The essence of its atmosphere remains the same.

Julie Seraphina Griffith

[1] Griffith, Julie. “Digital Description and Access: The Hugo Black Collection at the University of Alabama School of Law Library.” A “New Voices” Award-Winning Paper presented at the 2002 Joint SCLA/SELA Conference. The Southeastern Librarian 51:3 (2003): 26-30.

[2] The Bounds Law Library Special Collections is named after former law professor John C. Payne.

[3] Newman, Roger K. Hugo Black: A Biography. 2nd edition. New York: Fordham University, 1997: 451-452.

[4] Black, Hugo L. “Reminiscences” Alabama Law Review 18:1 (1965): 3, 7.

[5] Ball, Howard. Hugo Black: Cold Steel Warrior. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996: 7.

[6] Newman, 445-446.

[7] Ball, 7.

[8] Plutarch’s Lives: the Translation called Dryden’s. Corrected from the Greek and revised by A. H. Clough. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1974: 5 volumes.  Plutarch’s Lives: the Translation called Dryden’s. Corrected from the Greek and revised by A.H. Clough. New York: Colonial, 1905: 5 volumes. Plutarch: The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. Translated by John Dryden and revised by Arthur Hugh Clough. New York: Modern Library, 19-?. Plutarch’s Essays and Miscellanies: Comprising all his Works Collected under the Title of “Morals.” Translated from the Greek by several hands, Corrected and revised by William W. Goodwin. New York: Colonial, 1905: 5 volumes.

Image of Pandora's Box from Plutarch's Essays and Miscellanies.
A reproduction of Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s 1871 Pandora’s Box is the frontispiece on volume one of Plutarch’s Essays and Miscellanies [9]
[9] Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s gorgeous illustration of Pandora’s Box provides a particularly appropriate example of Black’s treasured classics collection as well as many situations he encountered during his long career as a public servant. Pandora (meaning “all-gifted” in Greek and Black was certainly a gifted man) was given a beautiful box by Jupiter to present to her husband, Epimetheus, who was the brother of Prometheus. When Epimetheus opened the box, only hope remained, after “a multitude of evils and distempers…dispersed themselves all over the world.” Black remained ever hopeful as he addressed a multitude of controversial issues throughout his career.

[10] Pruitt, Paul M., Jr. “The Return of Hugo Black: the Significance of the Hugo Black Collection at the University of Alabama” Alabama Law Review 43:1 (1991): 301.

 

An Exhibit: Early Statutory Compilations and Codes

The books presented in this post may seem to be nothing more than dusty old lawbooks, but they are in fact the mortal remains of Alabama’s frontier period. The energetic, mostly young men who made up Alabama’s legislatures faced the issues—national and local—of Jacksonian America. In response they spelled out their attitudes, self-interests, and startling biases for future generations to ponder. So in the adventurous spirit of that time, we invite our readers to read the signposts of what were once new ideas. We encourage you to visit our physical exhibit “Early Statutory Compilations and Codes” located in the main hall of UA’s Law Library.

Early Statutory Compilations and Codes

Occupying a parallel universe to Alabama’s case law, the state’s early statutory laws were diligently compiled every ten years. The legislature gave this task to highly regarded lawyers and judges who made every effort to produce volumes that would be intelligible to lawyers and lay persons. These compilers and codifiers kept in mind the frontier conditions prevailing over most of the state; they knew that these volumes were going to be packed in saddlebags and carried “on circuit.”

1823:  The state of Alabama’s first statutory compilation was assembled by Harry Toulmin, a long-tenured territorial judge who had previously published “digests” of legislation for Kentucky (1802) and the Mississippi Territory (1807). Toulmin’s 1823 Digest of the Laws of the State of Alabama . . . is an important source of Mississippi legislation—relevant to early Alabama lawyers since Alabama had been, from 1798 to 1817, the eastern half of the Mississippi Territory. Arranged alphabetically, Toulmin’s Digest was the final masterpiece of a long life of service. Assisted by the distinguished attorney Henry Hitchcock, Toulmin worked confidently, subdividing statutes, adding historical notes, and omitting obsolete sections.

Image of Toulmin's Digest title page.
Toulmin’s Digest title page
Image of Toulmin's Digest detail.
Toulmin’s Digest detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1833:  John G. Aikin published the state’s first decennial digest in 1833. Aikin followed the same alphabetical arrangement as Toulmin, with helpful marginal notes and a copious index. In addition he provided an appendix containing the “Rules of Proceedings and Practice in the Courts.” The latter was needed, since in 1832 the legislature had created a three-judge Supreme Court, replacing the banc of circuit judges who had previously served as the state’s appellate tribunal. Aikin reissued his Digest with a supplement in 1836. Attorney and belletrist Alexander B. Meek published Meek’s Supplement in 1841, containing a militia code and important changes in chancery practice that had been adopted by the Supreme Court in January 1841.

Image of Aikin's Digest detail.
Aikin’s Digest detail
Image of Aikin's Digest title page.
Aikin’s Digest title page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1843:  Alabama’s second decennial compilation was published in 1843. Its author was Clement Comer Clay, one of the state’s most notable and controversial Jacksonian Democrats. Clay served as governor from 1835 to 1837; from 1837 to 1841 he was U.S. senator from Alabama. The result of his labors was strikingly similar to that employed by Aikin. Like Aikin he included court rules—in Clay’s case, rules for the Supreme Court, circuit courts, county courts, and chancery courts, as well as treatments of judicial procedures in common law and chancery.

Image of Clay's Digest title page.
Clay’s Digest title page
Image of Clay's Digest detail.
Clay’s Digest detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1852:  The 1840s witnessed a national discussion of codification, culminating in New York’s celebrated Field Code. In 1849 Governor Henry W. Collier proposed creation of an Alabama code commission. Lawmakers complied and a commission headed by Collier’s former colleague John J. Ormond set to work. In February 1852 the legislature adopted the code they had produced. The 1852 Code of Alabama was controversial because of the modifications its authors made in the state’s common law pleading. Yet their work provided the foundation for Alabama codes for many decades.

Image of 1852 Code of Alabama detail.
1852 Code of Alabama detail
Image of the 1852 Code of Alabama title page.
1852 Code of Alabama title page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Robertson and Book Consumers in Early 19th Century Kentucky

The following is a post by our friend Kurt X. Metzmeier containing commentary on a letter from our collection.

George Robertson and Book Consumers in Early 19th Century Kentucky

by Kurt X. Metzmeier

In an interesting 1820 letter, Kentucky lawyer George Robertson illustrates some of the difficulties of a book consumer on the expanding American frontier:

Lancaster 6th July 1820

Gentlemen,

You have written to me twice that you had rec’d two boxes of books for me and sent them to Jas Anderson and Co. in Lexington.  Since the reception of this information I have sent three times to Mr. Anderson but can’t find the boxes. They say they never rec’d them.

I’m very anxious to get them—and fear that you did not send them. It is the third attempt I have made to get books here and have never succeeded yet. There is something very strange in the fatality that befalls my books.

Be so good as to examine and if you have them, send them on as soon as possible—or let me know what has become of them.

Respectfully &c

G. Robertson

Robertson Letter, 1820

The letter is a nice find. It involves one of the towering figures in Kentucky legal history at an early point in his life. It also shines a light into the book trade on the American frontier and does so in the middle of an economic crisis.  Finally, the tone of the letter is relatively mild but you can faintly discern the rumblings of a legendary temper, one that would lead to one of the more famous fits of pique in Civil War history, a stubborn conflict that would involve governors, state and federal courts, and President Lincoln’s own wallet.

George Robertson (1790-1874)

George Robertson, whose portrait hangs in the courtroom of the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville, served on Kentucky’s highest court 1829 to 1834, when he resigned to resume his private practice. He returned to the court to serve from 1864 to1871.[1] For a quarter-century, he led the prestigious law department at Transylvania University, teaching men like John Marshall Harlan the rudiments of jurisprudence.[2] His decisions on issues of criminal law and tort law were widely cited, and Kentucky histories and bar tributes mark him as a leading figure in the pantheon of state judges.[3]

George Robertson

However, in 1820 this was all in the future. Robertson was at this time a journeyman lawyer (he had been practicing law since he turned 19-years-old) and a U.S. Congressman serving his third term. He had just completed a term as chair of the public lands committee and, in the prior year, had successfully sponsored a bill which he wrote to establish the territorial government of Arkansas.[4] However, being “poor and having a growing family,” he would soon quit his seat to concentrate on the practice of law.[5]  Perhaps the two boxes of books he purchased were the working law library he needed to establish his new law office.

The Kentucky Book Market in 1820

From his home in the Bluegrass, Robertson would have had many opportunities to assemble a well-balanced library and legal collection.[6] Nearby Lexington was the intellectual capital of Kentucky for its first half century. As noted by pioneer William A. Leavy (whose 1873 manuscript memoir depicts a commercial life in pioneer Lexington), in 1820 it already had several booksellers.[7] Most had long associations with the publishing centers in Philadelphia and Cincinnati.[8]

As the letter suggests, many Kentuckians also purchased books by post. In “Nursery of a Supreme Court Justice,” Peter Scott Campbell and I examined probate records of books in the library of Robertson’s neighbor from nearby Danville, James Harlan.[9] We found Harlan owned many titles from the “Law Library.” Set up like the old Book-of-the Month Club, the Law Library was published by Philadelphia firm of T. & J.W. Johnson, which reprinted English legal treatises and mailed them out regularly to subscribers.

Hugo Black and the Classics: An Exhibit

Hugo Black and the Classics is an exhibit in the University of Alabama School of Law Library’s Hugo Black Study that offers insight into Justice Black’s strong interest in Greek and Roman classical works. The collection shown here represents one component of the more than one thousand volumes of Black’s books held at the Bounds Law Library.

HUGO BLACK AND THE CLASSICS

Hugo Lafayette Black (1886-1971) was a native of Clay County, Alabama, and a 1906 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law. Elected to the United States Senate in 1926, Black proved to be a reformist senator and leading New Dealer. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him to the United States Supreme Court.

Confirmed despite a furor over his earlier brief association with the Ku Klux Klan, Black served on the Supreme Court for thirty-four years, promoting the First Amendment, working to make the Bill of Rights applicable to the States, and supporting the landmark civil rights decisions of the Warren Court.

Both as Senator and Justice, Black sought to follow programs of reading and self-education. He found Will Durant’s 1929 article, “One Hundred Best Books,” to be particularly useful. Durant’s vision of history was anchored firmly in the Greek and Roman classics, and the writers of antiquity likewise appealed to Black.

In part this was because Black enjoyed the dignity and measured tone of the classics in translation, but even more because he viewed human nature as essentially unchanging. To his mind, the historians and philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome had set forth many observations perfectly applicable to mid-twentieth century America. Daniel J. Meador, who was a Supreme Court clerk for Justice Black in 1954, later commented on Black’s interest in the classics in Mr. Justice Black and His Books (1974), “If there is any single book out of the hundreds he owned which might be said to have been the favorite, it is Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way…. Law clerks over a span of many years recall having The Greek Way recommended by Black in their initial interview with him, or in the early days of the clerkship…. More than any other single book, The Greek Way is essential reading for anyone attempting to understand the mind of Justice Black.”

In his quest for the classics, Black frequented the various out-of-print bookshops of the Washington, D.C. area. He was also a dedicated reader of dealers’ catalogues. Preferring older editions, he assembled a collection of more than forty volumes on the classics.

Numerous volumes contain Black’s annotations and underlined passages. These books, many of which reflect the height of Victorian classical scholarship, can be considered the cornerstone of Black’s larger library of more than one thousand volumes.

Image of Black's underlinings and marginal notes.
Black’s underlinings and marginal notes in Aristotle’s Politics

Accompanying this post are images of several pages featuring Black’s underlinings and annotations.

Black habitually wrote in his books, commenting on passages that he liked or disliked, summarizing texts, and pointing out ideas, facts, or passages for future reference. The pages seen here from Black’s copy of Aristotle on Government reflect his lawyerly interest in practical abstractions. See page 98 for his brief observations: “City—object of law,” “Object of Government to live well and happily,” and “Rulers should be best, not richest.”

Image of Black's underlinings and marginal notes.
Black’s underlinings and marginal notes in Aristotle’s Politics

As Aristotle turns to practical instructions concerning governance (p. 210), Black’s marginalia matches the philosopher’s didactic mood: “Laws not men” (for a passage arguing against giving magistrates discretionary powers), “Pay all Officials,” and most pointedly, “No life terms.” This last annotation, sadly, gives us no idea what Black, the holder for a lifetime appointment, actually thought about Aristotle’s advice.

Image of Black's underlinings.
Black’s underlinings and notation in Edith Hamilton’s, The Greek Way

Reading Hamilton’s commentary on Thucydides (p. 187), Black singled out a passage of some eight lines which eloquently discusses “greed, that strange passion for power and possession”—a complicated emotion that is, according to the author, at the root of all wars. Similarly in The Greek Way (p. 202), Black singles out a passage which, though written in Hamilton’s conversational style, constitutes a solemn warning to the powerful Democratic states of Black’s times—or of our times.

Image of Black's underlinings.
Black’s underlinings in Edith Hamilton’s, The Greek Way

“She [Athens] had reached the point where she did not care to use fine words about ugly facts, and the reason was that they had ceased to look ugly to her.”

Debt and Default on the Alabama Frontier: Notes on a 19th Century Justice’s Ledger

The subject of this blog post is a ledger used by Justices of the Peace in Clarkesville, Alabama during the 1820s and 1830s. Justices of the Peace used ledgers like this one to record developments in the cases they heard. This ledger specifically deals with the complaints filed between neighbors for outstanding debts. In it, we see the financial mechanisms of an early 19th century Alabama frontier society. Thanks to Hudson Cheshire, our former research assistant and newly-minted J.D. for this post.

Debt and Default on the Alabama Frontier: Notes on a 19th century Justice’s Ledger

Hudson Cheshire

The subject of this blog post is a ledger used by Justices of the Peace in Clarkesville, Alabama during the 1820s. The ledger is about 200 pages long, with cardboard panels and a badly deteriorated leather spine. It is 14 ½ inches in length, 6 ¼ inches wide, and 1 ¼ inches deep.[1]

William A. Robinson, a Justice of the Peace of Clarkesville County, Alabama, began recording cases in this ledger in June of 1824.

Image of first page of Justices' Docket.
First page of Justices’ Docket

The last case recorded is from August of 1830. During this period, the docket went into the hands of at least two successive justices: Samuel Beckham, from July of 1827 to May of 1828, and Kendrick Ford from September 1828 to July of 1830. The successive justices continued to record developments in the cases first handled by their predecessors. The contents of this book were not, in all likelihood, a matter of public record, but instead a mechanism for recording, for future reference, whether disputes had been resolved. Thus, there is little in the ledger by way of common law precedent or factual background for any of the legal disputes.  In that respect, it is closer to an accounting notebook than a legal document. Still, it sheds light on the legal lives of Alabamians in the 1820s. To best contextualize the ledger’s contents, a few words are in order regarding Clarke County circa 1825 and the Justices’ legal duties.

Clarke County is located in southwest Alabama, just below the Black Belt and west of Monroe County, the hometown of author Harper Lee and inspiration for the setting of To Kill A Mockingbird. In the novel, narrator Scout Finch credits the events of the book to Andrew Jackson: “If General Jackson hadn’t run the Creeks up the creek, Simon Finch would never have paddled up the Alabama, and where would we be if he hadn’t?”[2] If the Creek War of 1813 accounts for the origin of Lee’s fictional town of Maycomb, it also seems to have been a major catalyst for population growth in Clarke County. While Alabama historian Thomas Owen writes that by the time of the Creek War, Clarke County was populated enough to “furnish many soldiers to Gen. F.L. Claiborne’s army,” he also notes that the greatest population growth occurred in the decade after the war. According to Owen, a tannery, shoe factory, water mill, “iron screw” (for cotton packing), and a sawmill were all erected in Clarke County between the war’s end and 1821.[3]

The Justices who kept this ledger lived in Clarkesville, which, in the years the ledger covers, was the county seat (in 1831 the citizens voted for the county seat to be moved to Grove Hill, “the geographic center of said county”).[4] That in this time Clarkesville was the seat of a rapidly growing county is interesting because this particular ledger is almost exclusively devoted to cases involving debt and financial obligations. Through the ledger, we see the financial interdependence of a growing rural community. We see the Justice of the Peace, not just as a public servant, but also as a tradesman, who played the role of facilitating financial transactions between the citizens of his community.

Kenneth A. Roberts and the United States Capitol Shooting of 1954: An Exhibit from our Collections

On March 1, 1954, two hundred and fifty-four members of the Eighty-third Congress were debating immigration issues when a Puerto Rican Flag was unfurled and pistol fire erupted from the “Ladies’ Gallery” of the House of Representatives chamber. Four Puerto Rican nationalists, Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andres Figueroa Cordero, and Irving Flores Rodriguez fired thirty shots at the representatives below, wounding five of them. One of the wounded was the Democratic representative from Alabama’s Fourth District, Kenneth A. Roberts who was shot in the leg. The suspects were arrested, tried and convicted in federal court, receiving what amounted to life sentences. Eventually, all were pardoned in 1978 and 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, and they returned to Puerto Rico. Lolita Lebron would become a Puerto Rican nationalist heroine. She died in 2010 from complications from bronchitis.

Image of Puerto Rican Flag
Puerto Rican Flag. Recovered from floor of Gallery # 11 of the House of Representatives, U.S. Capitol

The Puerto Rican flag that Lebron had draped around her, one of the weapon magazines, and evidence envelopes were given to representative Roberts and are displayed in the library’s John C. Payne Reading Room.

Kenneth Allison Roberts was born in 1912 at Piedmont, Alabama, the second of four children born to John Franklin and Josephine Burton Roberts. He graduated from Howard College (Samford University) in Birmingham and entered the University of Alabama School of Law in 1932. In 1935, Roberts graduated from law school and was admitted to the bar. During World War II he joined the Navy and served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Roberts represented Alabama’s Fourth District in the U.S. Congress from 1951 through 1965. He is notable for his support of progressive legislation including: deduction of child care expenses for working mothers, air pollution control, safety belt standards, refrigerator safety, and the labeling of hazardous substances. Roberts co-authored legislation for migrant workers, children’s healthcare, and American Indian healthcare. Following his congressional career he resumed practicing law in Washington, D.C., and kept an office in Brewton, Alabama. He served on the U.S. Vehicle Equipment Safety Advisory and the National Highway Safety Advisory committees. Roberts died in Potomac, Maryland on May 9, 1980.

Alabama’s 1901 Constitution: Instrument of Power

This post features a “Lifetime” voter-registration certificate recently discovered in a local antiques mall. It is an attractive and oddly cheerful bit of ephemera from a tragic era in Alabama history–the time of mass disfranchisement by means of the state’s 1901 constitution. Pondering the significance of the certificate, only slightly larger than a 19th-century dollar bill, led to the following thoughts.

Alabama’s 1901 Constitution: Instrument of Power

In the late 1890s, after overcoming serious challenges to their power, Alabama Democratic politicians decided to take decisive action. They had used various illegal tactics—chiefly ballot-box stuffing—to defeat “fusionist” coalitions of agrarians, Populists, and Republicans. They had won the elections; they remained in power. But in the process their exercise of power had lost any claim to a basis in morality. In order to prevent future challenges (and to shield themselves from the temptation to cheat), they decided to follow a plan first carried out in Mississippi in 1890 and since perfected in other southern states. The plan’s chief feature was the adoption of a new constitution, one whose voter registration provisions would disfranchise large numbers of citizens. African American voters were the primary targets; but significant numbers of hill country white voters were likewise vulnerable. The Democrats justified disfranchisement on the grounds that it would “purify” politics by eliminating unworthy voters—surely one of our most striking examples of blaming the victims. If any further excuse were needed, the Democrats, especially the “Bourbons” of Alabama’s Black Belt counties, claimed that a new constitution would maintain “White Supremacy.” This last argument, it should be noted, was exactly how they had justified ballot box stuffing. After one or two false starts, the disfranchisers engineered a constitutional convention to meet in Montgomery in the late summer of 1901.

The disfranchisers didn’t shy away from making their chief motives crystal-clear. Consider the following quotes taken from convention president John B. Knox’s opening address.

“And what is it that we want to do? Why, it is, within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this State.” [Journal of the Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention (1901), 9.]

“But if we would have white supremacy, we must establish it by law—not by force or fraud. If you teach your boy that it is right to buy a vote, it is an easy step for him to learn to use money to bribe or corrupt officials or trustees of any class. If you teach your boy that it is right to steal votes, it is an easy step for him to believe that it is right to steal whatever he may need or greatly desire. The results of such an influence will enter every branch of society; it will reach your bank cashiers, and affect positions of trust in every department; it will ultimately enter your courts, and affect the administration of justice.” [Journal of the Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention (1901), 12.]

The Democratic majority at the 1901 convention proceeded to adopt two voter registration plans, a “temporary plan” in effect through December 20, 1902, and a “permanent” plan to be used from January 1903 on.

The Temporary Plan (1901 Const., Art. 8, §180) was put in place in order to placate white voters from North Alabama; its chief feature was the “fighting grandfather” clause, by which the adult (age 21) male descendants of Confederate soldiers could register to vote. The section likewise allowed the registrars to enroll “All persons who are of good character and who understand the duties and obligations of citizenship under a republican form of government.”

Under the Temporary Plan, registration was to be carried out by three-man county boards of registrars, each to be chosen by the governor, acting with the commissioner of agriculture and the state auditor (Art. 8, §186).

Lifetime Registration (Art. 8, §187). By February 1, 1903, the boards of registrars were to file in their respective offices of Probate, lists of those persons registered. Each person who registered on or before January 1, 1903, unless he subsequently became disqualified, “shall remain an elector during life, and shall not be required to register again unless he changes his residence, in which event he may register again on production of his certificate.”

See the image of one such certificate, issued to D. Pierson, of Reform Beat, Pickens County, on May 6, 1902.

Image of certificate, recto

The Permanent Plan required would-be voters to:

–be 21 years old and male (Art. 8, §177);

–be a resident in state for 2 years (with lesser residence requirements for voting in county and municipal elections) (Art. 8, §178);

–have paid all poll taxes from 1901 onward (Art. 8, §178);

–be able to read and write any article of the U.S. Constitution, and have been gainfully employed for the previous 12 months (with exemptions for persons whose illiteracy or unemployment was due to physical disabilities) (Art. 8, §181), or

–be the owner of 40 acres of land or other property valued at $300 or more, on which the taxes have been paid (with exemptions for men whose wives meet the property requirement).

Image of certificate, verso
Life Certificate of Registration, verso

The Permanent Plan also barred from voting (Art. 8, §182) any persons who have been convicted of any of a list of more than 20 crimes, including “any crime punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary.” Likewise anyone “convicted as a vagrant or tramp” and any person “offering to sell his vote or the vote of another” or “of buying or offering to buy the vote of another.”

Under Art. 8, §183, no person could vote in a primary election without being officially registered to vote.

The ratification election for the 1901 Constitution was held on November 11, 1901. The official vote was 108,613 (in favor) to 81,734 (against).

Twelve Black Belt counties voted in favor of the constitution by a vote of 36,224 to 5,471. The “vote in the other fifty-four counties of the state was 76,263 against to 72,389 for the constitution.” See Malcolm C. McMillan, Constitutional Development in Alabama (Chapel Hill, NC: James Sprunt Studies, 1955), 350. McMillan also notes a report (Mobile Register, November 13, 1901) that the Black Belt counties were slow in reporting their votes—an old tactic by which Black Belt political bosses could determine how many votes they “needed” to count. Thus on the face of the official returns, we are expected to believe that a considerable majority of African American voters voted to disfranchise themselves.

In the years following adoption, African American voting almost vanished and white voting declined. The late Sheldon Hackney calculated that 35 per cent of potential white voters were “disfranchised by the poll tax alone.” He concluded ironically that “The convention had done its job well.” See Hackney, Populism to Progressivism in Alabama (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 208.

In addition to McMillan and Hackney, interested readers may consult the following works:

Glenn Feldman, The Disfranchisement Myth: Poor Whites and Suffrage Restriction in Alabama (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2004).

R. Volney Riser, Defying Disfranchisement: Black Voting Rights Activism in the Jim Crow South, 1890-1908 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010).

William Warren Rogers, The One-Gallused Rebellion: Agrarianism in Alabama, 1865-1896 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1970; subsequent edition, University of Alabama Press, 2001).

William Warren Rogers, et al., Alabama: The History of a Deep South State (Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 1994; subsequent edition, 2010).

Bailey Thomson, ed., A Century of Controversy: Constitutional Reform in Alabama (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002).

Samuel Webb, Two-Party Politics in the One-Party South: Alabama’s Hill Country, 1874-1920 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997).

Hannis Taylor’s Science of Jurisprudence: Book as Text, Book as Object, Book as Legacy

For the next offering in our series titled “Preserved in Amber,” we feature a post by U.A. law student Hudson Cheshire on our Hannis Taylor collection. This collection consists of a copy of Taylor’s 1908 treatise The Science of Jurisprudence with two of his letters affixed to the endsheets. The letters are addressed to Cambridge history professor J.B. Bury. They seem blatantly self-promotional, but Cheshire demonstrates that they are also poignant and suggestive documents—items that transform this copy of a long-forgotten book into a unique archival object. Taylor (1851-1922) was a politician, lawyer, and prolific author associated with Mobile and Washington, D.C. We at Litera Scripta have long regarded him as an interesting and collectible writer (the subject, also, of a well-constructed biography).

Hannis Taylor’s Science of Jurisprudence: Book as Text, Book as Object, Book as Legacy

In any physical book there are multiple stories at work.

Of course, there is the text itself: the words and sentences and paragraphs through which the author communicates his ideas. But in addition to the text, the history surrounding the text also tells a story. One might think of Harper Lee’s childhood in conjunction with her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. But every text is also influenced by other texts. Doubtless, Go Set a Watchman changed the way most readers see the stoic, justice-seeking attorney, Atticus Finch. Finally, the physical object of a book also tells a story: with time, any physical book may be dog-eared, annotated, or otherwise marked by its readers. Through these physical traces we are given glimpses of another story still. Perhaps the greatest allure of opening an old book is the chance to observe all of these different stories as they intersect and intertwine.

The subject of this blog post is a 108-year-old copy of a little-known book: The Science of Jurisprudence, by Hannis Taylor. Title page, The Science of JurisprudenceThe book is noteworthy in its own right as the work of a once important Alabama resident advancing a unique theory about American history. The library’s particular copy of the book is interesting for what are pasted onto its end sheets: two shamelessly self-promotional letters from the author to a professor overseas. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the collection, however, is what happened only months after the letters were penned.

To say the least, there are many different stories buried in this particular old book. Perhaps the best place to begin is with the book’s author: Hannis Taylor. Though nearly forgotten in contemporary scholarship, Taylor was an important figure in his own time, not only for his published writings, but also for his influence as both a lawyer and political figure.

Ephemera from an 1898 Congressional Campaign

Editors’ Note

This post represents the second installment in a new category that we hope will be an occasional feature of our blog. Posts in this category will feature materials that are unique in some way, perhaps through ownership, creative attachment or insertion of documents, or other unusual items. Our previous post, “Next to His Bible”: John Randolph Griffin’s copy of the Louisiana Civil Code was the inspiration for this category that we have titled, Preserved in Amber. Our current post features an interesting small collection that is described by Hudson Cheshire, a 2017 J.D. candidate at the University of Alabama School of Law.

Ephemera from an 1898 Congressional Campaign

The topic of this post is a recently acquired collection that offers a glimpse into the life of a small town politician in early 20th century Alabama. The collection includes a copy of Alabama Reports Volume XXVII (the Alabama Supreme Court cases argued in the June term of 1855), and three documents that were laid within its pages. Two of the documents are laundry receipts for one Samuel Blackwell. The third is a notice for a series of events where Blackwell would be speaking in his 1898 campaign for Congress.Blackwell 01

Samuel Blackwell, the subject of the laundry receipts and political flyer, lived from 1848 to 1918 and is buried in the Decatur City Cemetery. While history has relegated Blackwell to obscurity, the sparse documents that remain suggest a man of relative political success in his place and time.Blackwell 02

Blackwell began his career in public service early, enlisting in the Confederate Army at fourteen years old. By his fifteenth birthday, he was a prisoner of war in Camp Douglass, a large Union prisoner camp in Chicago. Years later, as the Morgan County delegate for the Constitutional Convention of 1901, Blackwell recounted a comrade’s sardonic description of the conditions at Camp Douglass: “We slept until after breakfast, skipped dinner, and went to bed before supper.” [Journal of the Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Alabama, 1901, 3025].

A document from 1903 indicates that Blackwell served at least one term as mayor of New Decatur in the early twentieth century and in the 1910-1912 Biennial Report of the Attorney General of Alabama, Samuel Blackwell is listed as the Blackwell 03Solicitor for the Morgan County Law and Equity Court. Perhaps the only lasting glimpse into Blackwell’s perspective comes from his words at the 1901 Constitutional Convention, preserved in the Official Proceedings. Describing the Convention’s atmosphere of pessimism regarding the voting capacity of the general population, historian Sheldon Hackney quotes Blackwell saying, “nature has marked the weak and incompetent to be protected by Government, rather than to be the directors of the Government.” [Populism to Progressivism in Alabama, 196].

Had Blackwell been successful in his 1898 campaign for Congress, he would have been better remembered in Alabama history. Nevertheless, available records merit the assumption that Blackwell was an influential political figure at the turn of the century, if only in his own small corner of the world.

Hudson Cheshire, Research Assistant, Bounds Law Library

 

Justice Hugo Black Study Reopens

Following significant renovations this summer, the Hugo Black Study at the Bounds Law Library has reopened to visitors.Hugo Black Study The exhibit, which is a replica of Justice Black’s Alexandria Virginia study, underwent improvements including repainting, a new ceiling, and redesigned lighting. The study contains contents and furnishings donated by Mrs. Elizabeth Black and more than one thousand volumes belonging to Justice Black that were transferred to the law school by the Supreme Court Library in 1983. As United States senator and supreme court justice, Black collected the works of his favorite authors and accumulated an impressive number of volumes on law, history, philosophy, and other topics. He underlined and annotated many of his books, making them a unique source of insight into his thoughts and opinions.

The collection is located in room 211 of the Bounds Law Library and is available to scholars by appointment, and the public is invited to view the study during regular library hours.