Alexander White (1816-1893) was a lawyer and veteran of the Second Seminole War and representative to the U.S. Congress as a Unionist Whig from 1851 to 1853. White generally supported slavery but not secession prior to the Civil War. His political views and affiliations shifted over time, however, and he was again elected to Congress as a Republican after the war. White also served briefly as a U.S. justice in the Utah territory, eventually settling in Dallas, Texas, to practice law.
White was born in Franklin, Tennessee, on October 16, 1816, to John White, a judge, and Abigail Dickenson. The family moved in 1821 to Courtland, Lawrence County, where White’s father would serve as a circuit court judge in northern Alabama and later as an associate justice on the Alabama Supreme Court. White attended the University of Tennessee at Knoxville but left in 1836 as a senior to join the U.S. Army and fight in the Second Seminole War. Following the war, he moved to Talladega, Talladega County, in 1837 and studied law under his father and was admitted to the bar the next year. White then opened a law practice with future Alabama governor Lewis E. Parsons, a partnership that would last 14 years. Also in 1838, White married Eliza McAuley of Autauga County, with whom he had at least one child. In 1855, after his first wife’s death, White married Narcissa Rodgers of Wilcox County, with whom he had at least four children. White owned a plantation in Talladega.
In addition to his law practice, White took an interest in politics, running for Alabama’s Seventh District congressional seat against Judge Samuel F. Rice, a radical secessionist, in 1851. The race was hotly contested, with White running as a Unionist Whig, a label adopted by those who wished to avoid secession; he won by a mere 400 votes in the typically Democratic district. White served from March 4, 1851, through March 3, 1853, in the Thirty-second Congress. Despite being elected as a Whig, White did not support Winfield Scott, the Whig candidate for president, in 1852. (The election was won by Democratic candidates Franklin Pierce and Alabama senator William Rufus King.) White declined renomination and after leaving Congress moved to Selma, Dallas County, in 1856 to practice law with S. R. Blake. Despite White’s previous ties to the Whig Party and opposition to secession he did not support former Pres. Millard Fillmore’s Know-Nothing Party, which was predominantly made up of former Whigs, during the presidential election of 1856. This was likely owing to the platform adopted by the party that opposed any further expansion of slavery, a move that made it very unpopular in Alabama. Before Alabama seceded from the Union, White was part of an alliance of former Whigs and conservative Democrats who hoped to prevent secessionists from gaining control of the state’s Democratic Party. In the 1860 election, White supported John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party. He likely supported Bell for his ticket’s neutrality on the issue of slavery and because his supporters were made up largely of former Whigs and those who opposed secession but could not support either the Democrat or Republican ticket. He and his family spent much of the Civil War on his plantation, though he served as a private in the Confederate States Army in some capacity and was captured in or after the Battle of Selma.
After the war, White served as a delegate to the 1865 Constitutional Convention held to revise the state’s 1861 constitution. The document most notably prohibited slavery, disavowed secession, and apportioned representation based on the white population (thus decreasing the influence of the former slave-holding counties) and thereby enabled Alabama to rejoin the Union. In 1868, White supported Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in his bid for the presidency. Following the war, White attempted to organize his previous political allies in the state into a third party but after failing in this became a Republican. White was elected to the State House of Representatives in 1872 and was a delegate to the Republican National Convention the same year. As a member of Alabama’s Republican Party platform committee, White drafted the endorsement of civil and political equality of all men, free public schools, and efforts to stimulate labor and industry in the state. The following year, White was elected as a Republican to the Forty-third Congress representing Alabama’s at-large district from March 4, 1873 to March 3, 1875. Despite his Republican affiliation and his endorsement of political equality, White supported the concept of “separate but equal,” arguing during the development of the 1875 Civil Rights Act that separate accommodations for African Americans were not a violation of their civil rights so long as the accommodations were of equal quality to those of whites. On the subject of segregated schooling, White argued that integration was not in the interest of African Americans, as he believed they generally preferred to be educated within their own communities, and that the issue was causing whites to leave the Republican Party. White lost his bid for reelection in 1874 to Burwell Boykin Lewis and soon after left Alabama.
White was appointed to the position of associate justice of the United States Court for the Territory of Utah in 1875. White served only for a short while in this position before moving to Dallas, Texas. In 1876, he began practicing law there and remained until his death on December 13, 1893. He was interred in Greenwood Cemetery in Dallas.
- Dorman, Lewy. Party Politics in Alabama from 1850 through 1860.Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1935
- Rabinowitz, Howard. Race, Ethnicity, and Urbanization: Selected Essays. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994.
- Scaturro, Frank. The Supreme Court’s Retreat from Reconstruction: A Distortion of Constitutional Jurisprudence. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000.
- Wiggins, Sarah Woolfolk. The Scalawag in Alabama Politics, 1865-1881. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1977.
- ———. From Civil War to Civil Rights Alabama 1860-1960: An Anthology from the Alabama Review. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1987.