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FW: ANB - Bio of the Day: David P. Lewis, Alabama Governor

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      From: ANB Biography of the Day [mailto:biod-request@...]
      Sent: Sunday, December 17, 2000 1:00 AM
      Subject: ANB - Bio of the Day

      American National Biography Online

      Lewis, David Peter (1820?-3 July 1884), governor of Alabama,
      was born in Charlotte County, Virginia, the son of Mary Smith
      Buster and Peter C. Lewis. In the 1820s the family moved to Madison
      County, Alabama, where Lewis's father became a county commissioner
      but died soon thereafter. His mother remarried. After attending
      the University of Virginia and reading law in Huntsville, Alabama,
      Lewis moved to Lawrence County in 1843 and practiced law. He
      never married and until 1860 was not involved in politics.

      In 1860 Lewis owned $20,000 in real property and $42,185 in
      personal property (including thirty-four slaves). He was a Douglas
      Democrat and represented Lawrence County in the 1861 Alabama
      constitutional convention, where he opposed secession. However,
      he signed the ordinance under instructions from his constituents.
      In 1861 he was elected to the Provisional Confederate Congress
      and was appointed to the Patents and Indian Affairs committees.
      He resigned his office on 29 April and joined a volunteer company,
      which was soon disbanded. In 1862 Lewis and other North Alabama
      Unionists organized a secret Peace Society, and he declined appointment
      as lieutenant colonel in Colonel Philip Roddey's command. In
      1863 Governor John Gill Shorter appointed Lewis as judge of the
      Fourth Alabama Judicial Circuit Court. Lewis resigned on 1 January
      1864. Although exempt from conscription as the owner of a public
      mill, he was ordered to report for military service in the fall
      of 1864. He refused and crossed through the Federal lines to
      Nashville, where he remained for the duration of the Civil War.

      Lewis returned to Alabama in July 1865, began a law practice
      in Huntsville, and soon applied for a pardon under the clause
      in Andrew Johnson's plan of Reconstruction that required men
      with over $20,000 to apply individually. In 1868 he attended
      the Democratic National Convention as a delegate but the next
      year quietly joined the Republican party in Alabama. By this
      time Lewis had established a reputation as a man of "firm but
      not obtrusive" opinions, a learned and respected attorney.

      As a native white Republican (scalawag), Lewis joined others
      of his background to battle for control of the party in Alabama.
      Unlike many other states in the Reconstruction South, in Alabama
      white natives managed to control their party even though they
      were outnumbered by blacks and newcomers. Nevertheless, Lewis
      was outraged, because Alabama Unionists were insufficiently rewarded
      for their prewar opposition to secession. Especially offensive
      was the officeholding disability, whereby men who had sworn to
      uphold the federal Constitution and subsequently broke that oath
      by aiding the Confederacy could not hold office until Congress
      voted to remove this disability. Lewis was furious that those
      who had "sincerely grieved at the success of secession, and whose
      only crime was a fatherly sympathy for his son, who joined the
      rebel army to avoid the disgrace of conscription," were deemed
      as guilty as those who had concocted the scheme of secession.
      He advocated general amnesty and removal of the disabilities
      from all who had opposed secession in 1860. Other than these
      occasional outbursts over political neglect of Unionists, Lewis
      was not embroiled in Republican party quarrels.

      As a man with few political enemies, Lewis was a desirable candidate
      for governor in 1872. Having lost the Alabama governorship in
      1870, Republicans now recognized how essential for their party's
      success was the support of the conservatives of 1860. Lewis was
      elected governor of Alabama over Democrat Thomas Hord Herndon
      in 1872; however, the outcome of the election of the legislature
      was disputed. Both parties claimed control of the general assembly,
      and both parties organized legislatures. Although Lewis recognized
      the Republican-controlled legislature, U.S. attorney general
      George Henry Williams resolved the impasse by creating a fusion
      legislature, with Republicans holding a slight majority.

      The resulting configuration of the legislature produced a stalemate;
      in addition, the panic of 1873 wreaked economic havoc on the
      state, then suffering from earlier reckless railroad development.
      Lewis has been unfairly blamed for Alabama's economic crisis.
      Actually, the damage had been done between 1868 and 1872, when
      first a Republican and then a Democratic government appropriated
      the state's credit to build first a Republican-backed railroad
      and then a Democratic-backed one. Lewis remained aloof from the
      most important legislative action of his administration, the
      efforts made by his party to pass a civil rights bill. Stormy
      debates in both houses revealed the division within the Republican
      party regarding racial issues, and the bills died.

      In 1874 Alabama Republicans hoped to repeat their 1872 success
      and nominated Lewis for a second term. However, Republican internal
      quarrels and congressional debate over a federal civil rights
      bill doomed his prospects. Furthermore, Alabama Democrats made
      race the issue of the 1874 campaign and resorted to widespread
      intimidation and violence to win the election. Democrats ostracized
      white Republicans and employed economic reprisals against members
      of the black population who did not respond to physical intimidation
      and violence. Black Republicans, angry that their white colleagues
      had not supported passage of a civil rights bill in Alabama,
      attacked their white party leaders, calling Lewis a man of "utter
      lack of backbone" who had betrayed black Republicans. As Democrats
      waved the flag of white supremacy, whites deserted the Republicans,
      and the Democrats won in a landslide.

      After he tried and failed to receive an appointment as a federal
      district judge in 1874, Lewis retired from active politics. In
      1875, when Democrats rewrote the Alabama constitution, he supported
      ratification of the new document. By the fall of 1876 Lewis,
      like many other Alabama scalawags, had quietly returned to the
      Democratic party. He explained that Republican Reconstruction
      had been a "disgraceful failure" and that he saw no hope among
      Republicans for southern men of conservative views. After leaving
      public office Lewis resumed his law practice in Huntsville until
      his death there.


      A small collection of Lewis manuscripts is in the Governor David
      P. Lewis Papers, Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH),
      Montgomery. Other letters are widely scattered in manuscript
      collections. For example, see Records of the Judiciary, Disabilities,
      Alabama, 42d Cong., Committee on the Records of the U.S. House
      of Representatives (RG 233), National Archives; Records of the
      Adjutant General's Office (RG 94), National Archives; William
      E. Chandler Papers and Andrew Johnson Papers, Library of Congress;
      and William Hugh Smith Papers, ADAH. Two Lewis letters are published
      in Sarah Van V. Woolfolk, "Amnesty and Pardon and Republicanism
      in Alabama," Alabama Historical Quarterly 26 (1964): 240-48.
      Another appears in the Montgomery daily Alabama State Journal,
      8 Sept. 1872. His 1865 amnesty and pardon application is in Register
      of Applications for Amnesty and Pardon, vol. 2, p. 174, ADAH;
      and a sworn statement (12 Aug. 1865) is in Records of the Adjutant
      General (RG 94). The legal affairs of Peter C. Lewis, David P.
      Lewis, and Mary Lewis Webb can be followed in Pauline Jones Gandrud,
      Alabama Records (probate records of Lawrence and Madison counties,
      n.d.), Special Collections, University of Alabama Library.

      Two biographical sources are Thomas McAdory Owen, History of
      Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography (1921), and W. Brewer,
      Alabama: Her History, Resources, War Record, and Public Men (1872).
      Ezra J. Warner and W. Buck Yearns, Biographical Register of the
      Confederate Congress (1975), and Kenny A. Franks, "David Peter
      Lewis," in Encyclopedia of the Confederacy, ed. Richard N. Current
      (1993), are critical of Lewis. See also Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins,
      The Scalawag in Alabama Politics, 1865-1881 (1977), and Malcolm
      C. McMillan, ed., The Alabama Confederate Reader (1963). Obituaries
      are in the Huntsville Advocate, 4 July 1884; the Montgomery Daily
      Advertiser, 5 July 1884; and the Huntsville Weekly Democrat, 9 July 1884.

      Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins

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      Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins. "Lewis, David Peter";
      American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
      Access Date:
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