Edward Berton Almon (1860-1933) was an attorney, judge, and politician from Tuscumbia, Colbert County, who served ten consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives for the Eighth Congressional District. Almon was a conservative southern Democrat during a time of important political and social change, but he is best known for his support in Congress on behalf of the World War I-era hydroelectric and nitrate project at Muscle Shoals, Colbert County, that would become the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Almon was born on a farm near Moulton, Lawrence County, on April 18, 1860, to parents George V. and Nancy (Eubank) Almon from Bedford, Virginia. His paternal grandfather, Nathaniel Almon, served in the War of 1812 and emigrated with his family from North Carolina to Pulaski, Tennessee, and then in 1822 to Lawrence County, where Edward Almon's parents also settled. One of seven children, his older brother George C. Almon became a lawyer and prominent judge; other members of the Almon family also had legal careers in the area. Edward Almon attended rural schools in Moulton and graduated from the State Normal School (present-day University of North Alabama) in Florence, Lauderdale County, in 1881. He enrolled in law school at the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, received his degree in 1883, and returned to the Tennessee Valley. There, he entered into a law partnership with James T. Kirk of Tuscumbia. In 1887, he married Luie Clopper of Tuscumbia. The couple would have two daughters and a son.
A staunch Democrat who chaired the Colbert County Democratic executive committee, Almon won one term in the state senate (1892-1894) and later was elected as judge of the 11th judicial circuit court of Alabama. He ran successfully in 1910 for the Alabama House of Representatives and was chosen in 1911 to be Speaker of the House, a post he held for four years during his two additional terms in the legislature. In 1914, Almon defeated Progressive and Socialist candidates to represent Alabama's Eighth Congressional District when the seat was left open by the retirement of Christopher Columbus Harris. The district encompassed the northernmost counties bordering Tennessee (Lauderdale, Limestone, Madison, and Jackson) as well as Colbert, Lawrence, and Morgan counties.
Almon participated in a number of important national debates during his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1916, he joined fellow Alabamian John Burnett and 49 other congressmen in rejecting the declaration of war against the German Empire that marked the beginning of American involvement in World War I; he viewed the war as unnecessary and an unwarranted waste of life for conscripted young men. Like many conservative southern Democrats, he opposed women's suffrage and the Nineteenth Amendment. (Alabama rejected the amendment in 1919.) However, when several southern Democrats threatened to leave the party in 1928 rather than support Al Smith, a Catholic and opponent of the Temperance movement, for president, Almon remained loyal and campaigned in the state on Smith's behalf. Almon also was active in the Good Roads Movement then sweeping Alabama. He was chairman of the Colbert County Good Roads Association, and in Congress, he served two terms as chairman of the House Committee on Roads.
Almon's most important, and certainly his longest-lasting, contribution to Alabama was his support for industrial development
at Muscle Shoals that eventually led to the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). In 1916, Pres. Woodrow Wilson
announced the construction of nitrate-producing facilities and a hydroelectric dam on the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals
as part of the national defense effort during World War I. Almon joined other Alabama congressmen to lobby for the facility,
promising his constituents that when the war ended, the facilities might produce fertilizer for the region's farms. The end
of the war, however, also ended federal funding for the uncompleted project, and the plants were put up for lease. Almon supported
Henry Ford's offer to lease the plant, decrying a competing offer by Alabama Power as a quest for profits and an attempt to create a statewide electricity monopoly. He argued that Ford's manufacturing plan
would result in cheaply and efficiently produced fertilizer for use on southern cotton fields. Even after Ford withdrew, Almon continued to encourage private companies to lease the facilities. But, in late 1932,
he joined with the rest of the state's congressional delegation to support government development in the guise of the Tennessee
Valley Authority. Almon accompanied President-elect Franklin Roosevelt on a tour of the facilities in January 1933, demonstrating
his career-long determination to see regional development along the Tennessee River. On May 17, 1933, Almon introduced a compromise
bill in Congress that would become the TVA Act signed into law the following day. Then, in one of his last actions in Congress,
he cast his vote for the creation of the TVA. Almon died in office in Washington, D.C., on June 22, 1933, and was buried in
Oakwood Cemetery in Tuscumbia. His seat in Congress was won by Archibald Hill Carmichael.
Downs, Matthew L. Transforming the South: Federal Development in the Tennessee Valley, 1915-1960. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, (forthcoming).
Feldman, Glenn. Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama, 1915-1949. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999.
Green, Elna C. Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman Suffrage Question. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
Matthew L. Downs
University of Mobile
Published July 2, 2014
Last updated December 16, 2014