James Taylor Jones

James Taylor Jones James Taylor Jones (1832-1895) was an attorney, veteran of the American Civil War, and politician from Demopolis, Marengo County. He represented Alabama's First and Fourth Congressional Districts in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was an Episcopalian and a Mason.

Jones was born in Richmond, Virginia, on July 20, 1832, to Richard and Anne Jane Taylor Jones, a cousin of Pres. Zachary Taylor; he had three brothers and one sister. When he was two, the family moved to Demopolis. He was educated in the local schools and then the College of New Jersey in Princeton, New Jersey, graduating in 1852 with a bachelor of arts. He attended law school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and received his degree in 1855. He returned to Demopolis in 1856 and opened a law practice with noted attorney George Gaines Lyon, nephew of Francis Strother Lyon and grandnephew of George Strother Gaines. Jones was married twice: to Ada Byron Vaughan in 1862, and, after her death in 1873, he married Virginia Mercer Reese in 1875. He would have 13 children in total, eight of whom lived to adulthood.

Jones enlisted in the Confederate Army on May 10, 1861, in Lynchburg, Virginia, as a private in the 4th Alabama Infantry, Company D, also known as the Canebrake Rifle Guards, because the company consisted of men from Marengo and Perry counties where cane was prominent. The brigade fought in Virginia at the Battle of Bull Run, also known as Manassas, the first major action of the war. On April 21, 1862, he was elected first lieutenant. He was wounded on July 1, 1862, at Malvern Hill; a ten-dollar gold piece in his pocket deflected the bullet and saved his life. Upon the regiment's reorganization, he was promoted to captain on October 3. Jones saw action in the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania in July 1863 and the Battle of the Wilderness, in Virginia, in May 1864. During the fighting, the 4th Alabama engaged 250 men in battle, and Jones was one of 58 men from his regiment who were wounded. Judge John A. Campbell, who was Confederate assistant secretary of war, promoted Jones to judge advocate of the Confederate War Department, in which capacity he served from 1864 until the end of the war. He fled from Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital, on April 2, 1865, the day before Union troops entered the city, and walked 30 days to his home in Demopolis.

During Reconstruction, Jones reopened his law practice and attempted to launch a career in politics. He was a delegate to Alabama's 1865 Constitutional Convention, in which he and other politicians abolished slavery, repealed the ordinance of secession, and repudiated the state's wartime debt. Elected as the sole representative from Marengo County to the state legislature in 1865, Jones served as chair of the Committee on Federal Relations. In that capacity, he introduced and argued for the resolution to abolish slavery. In 1872, Jones was elected state senator from Marengo County, but the election results were disputed, and he did not serve. In 1874, he unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Congress as a Democrat from the Fourth Congressional District of Alabama, which then consisted of Lowndes, Dallas, Hale, Perry, and Wilcox Counties. He ran against Charles Hays, a Republican planter from Greene County. At the time, Alabama was still controlled by Republicans who won many political offices during the Reconstruction period after the war.

In 1874, Democrat George S. Houston was elected governor of Alabama and Democrats regained control of the state, effectively ending Reconstruction. As a Black Belt politician and former Confederate soldier, Jones belonged to the ranks of Democrats known as Bourbons or Redeemers. After the state was redistricted in 1876, Jones sought public office again and was elected to the 45th Congress in 1877. He represented the First Congressional District, which included Choctaw, Clarke, Marengo, Mobile, Monroe, and Washington Counties. During his first term, he was appointed to the Committee on Mines and Mining and the Committee on the Territories. He supported the development of Alabama's waterways, introducing legislation to improve Mobile Harbor as well as navigation on the Warrior and Tombigbee rivers in 1877. He also supported funding inland mail routes.

Jones was defeated for reelection in 1878 by attorney and Civil War veteran Thomas H. Herndon of Mobile, Mobile County. After Herndon died on March 28, 1883, only two weeks into his third term, Jones was elected to fill the vacant seat, taking office on December 3, 1883. There, he again continued to support waterway development. He served on the Committee on Rivers and Harbors and introduced legislation to improve inland navigation and the Coosa River. He also continued his earlier efforts to improve Mobile Harbor, arguing that the harbor was of national significance; its accessibility from the Alabama coalfields facilitated the export of coal to Central and South America. During his tenure in Congress, Jones lobbied successfully for the designation of 46,000 acres of federal land worth $1,000,000 for the University of Alabama in 1884 for rebuilding the campus, which had been largely destroyed during the Civil War. He was also credited with raising $300,000 for the Alabama Mechanical and Agricultural College (now Auburn University) for renovations and additions to that campus. Jones won two additional terms in Congress, but in 1888, his popularity came under threat after he supported the Blair Education Bill, which would have provided funds for educating both Black and white children in Alabama. Although Jones is often recorded as not having sought re-election for his incumbent seat to the 51st Congress in 1888, he was actually unseated in a convention challenge by his former Marengo County neighbor, Democratic colleague, and friend, Richard Henry Clarke.  

Jones then returned to Demopolis, where he continued to be involved in politics, serving as chairman of national Democratic Party's Congressional Campaign Committee in 1888. In 1892, he became the judge of the First Judicial Circuit of Alabama, a position he held until his death. He was appointed commander of the United Confederate Veterans association when it was organized in 1892. Jones died of tuberculosis on January 15, 1895, and was buried in Lyon Cemetery in Demopolis. In 2022, James Taylor Jones was inducted into the Alabama Lawyers’ Hall of Fame by the Alabama State Bar.

Further Reading

  • Going, Allen J. Bourbon Democracy in Alabama, 1874-1890. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1951.
  • Woolfolk Wiggins, Sarah. The Scalawag in Alabama Politics, 1865-1881. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1977.

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