David Clopton (1820-1892) was a judge, statesmen, and Civil War veteran who served in both the U.S. and Confederate Congresses. Clopton was elected to Alabama‘s Third Congressional District in 1858 but resigned in 1861 to enlist in the Confederate Army. After brief military service, Clopton was elected to Alabama’s Seventh District in the Confederate Congress. In the post-war era, Clopton represented the Montgomery, Montgomery County, area in the Alabama House of Representatives, serving briefly as Speaker of the House before being named as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama, a position he held until his death.
David Clopton Clopton was born in Eatonton, Putnam County, Georgia, on September 29, 1820, to Sarah Kendrick and Alford Clopton, a physician; he had nine siblings. His father, a native of Virginia, was a member of the Georgia legislature and a prominent banker. Growing up, Clopton attended the local county schools and the Edenton Academy. In 1840, he graduated from Randolph-Macon College in Boydton, Virginia, and passed the Georgia bar exam in 1841, after studying under Absalom H. Chappell, also a member of the Georgia legislature. Clopton opened a practice in Milledgeville, Georgia, but relocated to Tuskegee, Macon County, in 1844. Clopton married three times. His first marriage was in 1842 to Martha Ligon, sister of Robert F. Ligon, Alabama’s lieutenant governor from 1874-76, with whom Clopton was a law partner of 19 years. (The couple would have seven children before Martha’s death in 1867.)
Clopton branched into Alabama politics in 1853, leading to his nomination as the Democratic challenger to James Abercrombie, the Whig Party representative from Alabama’s Second Congressional District. The district encompassed several counties in south-central Alabama, including Montgomery County, then considered a Whig stronghold. Abercrombie’s shifting support between the national Whig Party and the politics of southern rights in Alabama led Democrats to believe Clopton had a good chance of defeating him because of his inconsistency. In this contest, however, Abercrombie strongly defended southern rights and won the election by a fair margin. After his defeat, Clopton’s name was floated before the Alabama legislature as a possible justice of the state supreme court, but he was rejected at that time.
In 1859, Clopton again ran for Congress, albeit somewhat reluctantly, this time for Alabama’s Third Congressional District. This race was a heated one, with much campaigning by both sides, and proved close, with Clopton defeating Thomas J. Judge of Montgomery by only 221 votes. His tenure in Congress was marked by his strong support of southern rights. During the contest for the speakership of the Thirty-sixth Congress, Clopton delivered a speech declaring that the South preferred peace but would exercise its right to form a new government and resort to war if circumstances warranted it. Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861, and on January 21, 1861, Clopton left the U.S. Congress. He enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army in the 12th Alabama Infantry Regiment. Clopton was quickly promoted to quartermaster and the rank of captain, serving for roughly one year before being elected to the first Confederate Congress, despite never formally declaring himself a candidate. Clopton held Alabama’s Seventh District seat and was reelected in 1863 over John H. Cadenhead of Macon, Georgia, and remained in Congress until the Confederacy collapsed in 1865.
After the war, Clopton returned to practicing law. He married Mary F. Chambers of Columbus, Georgia, in 1871, and the couple had one child. In 1876, Clopton opened a new practice with Hillary Herbert, a future congressman and Secretary of the Navy, and William L. Chambers, one of his sons-in-law. Clopton returned to Alabama politics in 1874, when he began making speeches on behalf of Democrats running against Republicans supporting the policies of Reconstruction. In 1878, once again active in the Alabama Democratic Party, Clopton was nominated unanimously to the state legislature and elected Speaker of the House, serving from 1878 to 1879. Clopton chose not to seek reelection, however, and was later appointed by Gov. Edward O’Neal in 1884 to the position of associate justice to the Supreme Court of Alabama. In 1886, Clopton was reelected unopposed and held the office for the remainder of his life. Clopton’s second wife died in 1885, and on November 29, 1887, he married Virginia Caroline Tunstall Clay, widow of Sen. Clement Claiborne Clay Jr., who became a noted women’s suffragist after Clopton’s death.
In addition to practicing law, Clopton helped organize the First National Bank of Sheffield as well as the Sheffield Land, Coal & Iron Co., and served as director of both. He also was president of the board of trustees of the East Alabama Male College (present-day Auburn University). In addition to his other pursuits, Clopton was an active Freemason, serving as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Alabama from 1853 to 1856. Clopton died in Montgomery on February 5, 1892, and was buried in the city’s Oakwood Cemetery.
Brewer, Willis. Alabama Her History, Resources, War Record, and Public Men from 1540-1872. Montgomery: Barrett & Brown, Steam Printers and Book Binders, 1872.
Dorman, Lewy. Party Politics in Alabama from 1850 through 1860.Wetumpka, Ala.: Wetumpka Printing Company, 1935.