James Edwin Belser (1805-1859) represented Alabama’s Second Congressional District as a Democrat from 1843 to 1845. He served in many other positions throughout his career as a civil servant in the state, including Montgomery County clerk and county solicitor, state representative, and state commissioner. Despite his many political accomplishments, Belser remained focused on his law practice. His views on the sectional crisis are unknown. Belser was also well known for editing The Planters’ Gazette, the Montgomery-based newspaper that evolved into the Montgomery Advertiser.
Belser was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on December 22, 1805, to Christian “Jacob” Belser Sr. and Martha Clark Belser; he had a brother. (Some sources list his father as William Belser and his mother as Yvervant. Some sources also list his birth year as 1800 and his year of death as 1854, as does a headstone in Oakwood Cemetery.) His father Christian was a successful lawyer-turned-planter. Belser studied in the Charleston public school system until his family’s departure to the Sumter District around 1820. Soon after arriving, Belser began taking private tutoring lessons.
In 1825, the Belser family moved once again, this time settling in Alabama, in Montgomery. There, Belser studied law under future senator and governor Benjamin Fitzpatrick and future Alabama Supreme Court justice Henry Goldthwaite. He was later admitted to the Alabama State Bar and began practicing soon after. Goldthwaite’s brother George served in the U.S. Senate and shared a Montgomery law practice with future U.S. Supreme Court justice John Archibald Campbell. Belser was married to Elizabeth Jane Falconer, also of South Carolina, in 1823. They would have a daughter who died in infancy, and Elizabeth would die of yellow fever in 1826. Belser married again in 1827, to Adeline J. Stokes of Georgia, with whom he had two children.
In 1828, Belser was elected court clerk for Montgomery County and then appointed solicitor of Montgomery County. He was elected to the same position soon after and then to the Alabama House of Representatives. In 1830, Belser began editing the Montgomery-based newspaper The Planters’ Gazette, which was created to counter proponents of nullification in South Carolina. Belser became an owner of the paper in 1836 it would evolve into the Montgomery Advertiser and Planters’ Gazette and Montgomery Advertiser, selling his share in 1847. Around 1842, Belser was appointed by his former mentor, Gov. Benjamin Fitzpatrick, as a state commissioner. Belser and others were tasked with recovering funds from the federal government that Alabama expended during the Second Creek War of 1836.
In 1843, Belser was elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-eighth Congress of the United States to represent Alabama’s Second Congressional District. The seat had been held previously by southern-rights advocate and later pro-secessionist David Hubbard. The district went inactive afterwards and all races were held at-large until the next election. Belser would only serve one term, from March 4, 1843, to March 3, 1845, declining to seek reelection. While in Congress, he supported the annexation of Texas and the admission of Florida and Iowa into the Union. The open seat was won by the anti-secessionist Whig Henry Washington Hilliard. In 1845, Belser returned to Montgomery and resumed practicing law. He switched political affiliations in 1848 and became a member of the Whig Party. He was again elected to the State House of Representatives, in 1853, and would go on to win reelection in 1857. He supported the construction of railroads in the state to connect its regions. Belser died from pneumonia in Montgomery on January 16, 1859, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.