Albert Taylor Goodwyn (1842-1931) was a farmer and Populist politician from Elmore County who served in both houses of the Alabama Legislature and represented Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District in the U.S. Congress from 1896 to 1897. A veteran of the Civil War, he also served as commander-in-chief of the United Confederate Veterans.
Goodwyn was born in Robinson Springs, then in Autauga County and now in Elmore County, on December 17, 1842, to Albert Gallatin, a physician, and Harriet Bibb Goodwyn; he was one of seven children. Harriet was the niece of William Wyatt Bibb and Thomas Bibb, Alabama’s first and second governors, respectively. Both of his parents were descended from notable participants in the American Revolution. Goodwyn received his early education at Robinson Springs Academy. Around 1860, he entered South Carolina College (present-day University of South Carolina) in Columbia, South Carolina, a school his father also attended.
About the time that Alabama seceded from the Union in January 1861, Goodwyn enlisted as a private in the South Carolina College Cadets, a militia group. He may have witnessed the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. One source says he, and presumably the other cadets, participated in the attack, another says the cadets offered their services to the state but were not used, and still another says he was present for the battle. He returned to Alabama and joined Company E of the Battalion of Sharpshooters of the Forty-fifth Alabama Infantry, which evolved into Company K of the Fifty-eighth Alabama Infantry. He was promoted from first sergeant to second lieutenant in May 1863 and saw action during the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns later that year. Goodwyn was captured at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, part of the Chattanooga Campaign, in November 1863 and sent to Johnson’s Island, a Union prison in Ohio, where he was promoted to captain. He remained in prison until June 1865, when he took the Oath of Allegiance to the Union and was released. The United Daughters of the Confederacy later bestowed upon Goodwyn its Southern Cross of Honor.
Goodwyn completed his education at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and graduated in 1867 with a degree in philosophy. He returned to Alabama and became a planter. In 1869, he married Priscilla Cooper Tyler, a granddaughter of Pres. John Tyler. The couple would have five children. Goodwyn also began a political career, serving as state inspector of convicts from 1874 to 1880 and was elected as a state representative from Elmore County from 1886 to 1887. He then served in the Alabama Senate from 1892 to 1896, representing Elmore, Chilton, and Shelby Counties.
During the 1890s, Alabama was engulfed by increasing political strife. White farmers across the state were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the crippling poverty in which they lived, and when the elites of the Democratic Party failed to address their concerns, many of them left the party and became Populists, particularly in north Alabama and in the Wiregrass region. There were also pockets of Populism elsewhere in the state, including in Elmore County; Goodwyn joined their ranks in the 1890s.
Also during that time, there was rampant election fraud and disfranchisement as the Democrats struggled to maintain control of the state. While Goodwyn served in the Alabama Senate, the majority legislators implemented new voting laws. Championed by Anthony D. Sayre of Montgomery (father of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald), the laws were designed to disfranchise poor whites and African Americans. The Sayre Act, passed in February 1893, required ballots to list candidates alphabetically rather than by party in order to cause confusion, and it required voters to register with election officials during an 18-day window in May, which made voting difficult for farmers. Goodwyn decried the legislation as the worst ever passed by the Senate.
Goodwyn ran for Congress as a Populist in 1894 on a platform of honest elections, protection of local industry, and a monetary system of both gold and silver, known as the bimetallic standard. At the time, expanding the amount of money in circulation with silver coinage was a major campaign issue. Running against incumbent judge and Civil War veteran James Edward Cobb of Macon County in the primary, Goodwyn initially lost the race. Newspapers reported a close election, with Goodwyn receiving 9,903 votes to Cobb’s 10,651. Goodwyn contested the results. Congressional witnesses testified that Cobb won through fraud, alleging that elections officials had used the votes of dead men to secure Cobb’s victory. Congress overturned the election results, and Goodwyn took Cobb’s seat on April 22, 1896. He was one of two Alabama Populists in Congress at the time; the other was Milford Wriarson Howard of Fort Payne, DeKalb County. Only nine Populists were elected to Congress in 1894.
Goodwyn represented Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District, which included Elmore, Chilton, Autauga, Chambers, Clay, Coosa, Lowndes, Macon, Randolph, and Tallapoosa Counties. He served on the Committees on Claims and Reform in Civil Service and left Congress on March 3, 1897, after losing a reelection bid to Democrat Willis Brewer in 1896. That same year, Goodwyn ran in the gubernatorial race. Despite support from both Republicans and Populists, Goodwyn lost badly to Joseph F. Johnston. Goodwyn contested both losses on the grounds of election fraud, but neither was overturned, and he then devoted much of his later years to farming.
Goodwyn maintained his support for the Confederacy. At some point, he served as a trustee of the Confederate Veterans Home at Mountain Creek, Chilton County, now Confederate Memorial Park. In 1928, he was elected the commander-in-chief of the United Confederate Veterans for 1929-1930 at its reunion in Arkansas. In addition to calling for camaraderie among Confederate veterans, he reportedly said that the U.S. government was obligated to uphold the principles of the Confederacy and its belief in white supremacy. As part of his duties, he attended the inauguration of Herbert Hoover in 1929. Goodwyn also served as honorary vice president of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, an organization that sought to restore Lee’s Virginia plantation, Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County, and open it as a “national shrine.” The organization was able to purchase the property in 1929. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Goodwyn died at the age of 88 on July 1, 1931, during a visit to his daughter’s home in Birmingham. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery.