Taul Bradford

Taul Bradford (1835-1883) was a lawyer and orator who served in the Alabama House of Representatives from 1870-72 and in the U. S. House of Representatives for Alabama’s Third Congressional District from 1875-77.

Bradford was born on January 20, 1835, in Talladega County to Jacob Tipton Bradford and Louisiana Taul Bradford; he had at least five siblings. He was educated at the public school in Mardisville, Talladega County, before receiving a college preparatory education from William F. Perry, later general in the Confederate Army and Superintendent of Education for the state of Alabama. Following his attendance at the University of Alabama, he read law in Talladega and was admitted to the Alabama State Bar in 1855. He married Mary J. Hardie in 1856. The couple would have 12 children, though four died in early infancy.

Bradford practiced law in his home county until the beginning of the American Civil War. A slave owner and an advocate of secession, Bradford voluntarily enlisted in the Confederate Army and was elected to the rank of major in the Tenth Alabama Infantry regiment. Harsh weather and exposure to the elements while in the field took their toll, and poor health led him to resign his commission in August 1861 to recover. He re-entered service in 1862, obtaining the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Thirtieth Alabama Infantry regiment. (Future congressman Charles Shelly Miller also served in the Thirtieth.) The regiment traveled to Kentucky, but Bradford fell ill once again and resigned his commission for a second time in October 1862.

After the war, Bradford returned to the courtroom. His law practice included partners John W. Bishop and his brother Tipton Bradford until the latter left the firm in 1882. His work included arguing cases before the Alabama Supreme Court. An unreconstructed southerner, he objected to the use of Black jurors in the circuit courts, arguing that it was unconstitutional.

Described in the press as an eloquent speaker and a conservative Democrat, Bradford was elected by voters of Talladega County to the Alabama House of Representatives. His election had a rocky beginning, with Bradford initially being arrested and charged for violating U.S. election laws in his bid to win the seat. Investigation into the election found that Bradford’s opponent, George W. Braxdall, had received a large number of illegal votes submitted by unregistered and underage voters. Although Braxdall was not found responsible for illegally influencing the election’s outcome, investigators ruled that the illegal votes from the tally be omitted, giving Bradford the winning majority. Bradford was acquitted in U.S. District Court. Following Bradford’s acquittal, the Alabama House of Representatives voted to revoke Braxdall’s claim to the post, and Bradford was allowed to take his seat.

While in office, Bradford served on a committee formed to investigate the administration of and conditions at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind (present-day Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind), as well as the Freedmen’s Hospital located in Talladega, Talladega County. He was also part of the committee appointed to investigate possible fraud in the issuance of railroad bonds and state bonds. The complicated issue would embroil Gov. William Smith and his successor, Robert Burns Lindsay, and have financial implications outside of Alabama. He also served on the Committee on Revision of the Laws. From this committee, he introduced bills to define and punish corruption committed by circuit judges and sheriffs and to make willful trespasses on land a punishable crime.

In 1874, Bradford won the seat to represent Alabama’s Third Congressional District in the U.S. Congress and served from 1875-77 in the 44th Congress. He took the seat left open by Republican Charles Pelham, who did not seek reelection. The district then consisted of Barbour, Bullock, Coffee, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Lee, and Russell Counties. While in office, he sponsored legislation to establish a postal route for Clay County citizens and to repeal taxes on spirits distilled from fruits. He supported the construction of a breakwater in Mobile Bay and Mobile Harbor, and a petition of the citizens of Mobile to repeal a bank-tax law. He also championed the improvement of the Alabama River and the use of public lands to build schools in Alabama. He strongly opposed the Electoral Bill (also known as the Electoral Commission Act) that created the Electoral Commission to decide the contested 1876 presidential election between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. Bradford argued that the bill was unconstitutional and an improper delegation of power by Congress.            

Bradford did not seek reelection, and his seat was won by Democrat Jeremiah Williams. He then ran for George Spencer’s vacated U.S. Senate seat in 1878 but was unsuccessful. His name was mentioned as a nominee in subsequent elections for Senate and even Alabama governor, but he never secured a nomination again. Bradford suffered from poor health throughout his life, with issues increasing for a number of years prior to his death. In June 1883, newspapers stated he had recently experienced a hemorrhage.

Bradford died at the age of 48 from tuberculosis on October 28, 1883. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Talladega.

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