John Bragg (1806-1878) was a U.S. Representative from Alabama‘s First Congressional District as well as a lawyer, circuit court judge, and delegate to the Alabama Constitutional Convention of 1861. Though a staunch Unionist, he nevertheless supported Alabama’s secession from the Union.
John Bragg Bragg was born in Warren County, North Carolina, on January 14, 1806, to Thomas and Margaret Crosland Bragg. He was the eldest of five brothers, three of whom became notable. Thomas Jr. would serve as governor of North Carolina and in the U.S. Senate; William would serve as a captain in the Confederate Army and die in the Civil War; and Braxton would serve as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army during the Mexican War and as a general in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, commanding the Army of Tennessee from June 1862 to November 1863. Ill-suited to a field command, he was removed. Braxton then served as Confederate president Jefferson Davis’s military advisor until the end of the war. The other brothers, Alexander and Dunbar, were an architect and a businessman in Texas, respectively.
As a child, John Bragg attended the Warrenton Academy, located in Warren County, North Carolina. He then entered the University of North Carolina and received a degree in 1824. After graduation, Bragg read law with Judge John Hall, a prominent lawyer and justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Bragg-Mitchell Mansion He was admitted to the bar in 1830 and then established a law office in Warrenton with his brother Thomas. In 1830, Bragg entered politics, winning a seat in the North Carolina House of Commons as a Democrat. He served for four consecutive terms. In 1835, Pres. Andrew Jackson appointed Bragg to the Board of Visitors for the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Such was Bragg’s stature that Vice Pres. Martin Van Buren named him one of the 27 most important Democrats in North Carolina. By the fall of that year, however, new opportunities in Alabama and the declining popularity of the Democratic Party in North Carolina led Bragg to move to Mobile, Alabama.
Bragg established a law office in Mobile soon after his arrival. He was invited to fulfill the duties of editor for the Mobile Register during the election of 1836 while the editor himself recuperated from an illness. In 1839, Bragg secured the position of attorney for the Branch Bank of Mobile. He was appointed by Gov. Benjamin Fitzpatrick to fill an opening as judge for Alabama’s Tenth Judicial District Circuit Court in 1842 and was subsequently elected to that office, which he held for nine years. Bragg married Mary Frances Hall on April 18, 1847, at Lowndesboro, Lowndes County. The couple had six children and resided on a cotton plantation in Lowndes County.
In 1851, southern rights Democrats nominated Bragg as a candidate in the race for the First Congressional District of Mobile. His opponent in the race was Mobile mayor Charles Carter (C.C.) Langdon, a native of Connecticut and an ardent opponent of secession and southern rights who ran on the Unionist ticket. Bragg was against secession as a response to the Compromise of 1850. He convinced the voters that he would be a more effective Unionist than Langdon and won the election by a broad margin. He served one term in Congress, from March 4, 1851, to March 3, 1853, but he wearied of national politics and refused to run for Congress again.
Bragg was elected as one of four representatives for Mobile County at the Constitutional Convention of 1861, which has also come to be known as the “Secession Convention.” At those proceedings on January 11, he voted for secession, but soon after noted in correspondence to local businessman Colin J. McRae that secession would cause numerous economic and political problems for the South. Bragg surmised that these problems would include the disruption of federal activities such as the postal service and the collection of custom fees. He also correctly predicted that ports would be blockaded. In addition, he noted to McRae that he was shocked that many Alabamians believed that life would go on as usual. His health prevented him from serving in the army, so he spent the duration of the war at his cotton plantation in Lowndes County. In the spring of 1865, his home and crops were destroyed in a raid led by Union general James H. Wilson. As a brother of Confederate general Braxton Bragg, he was targeted by Union soldiers throughout the war. According to some accounts, he was threatened with hanging at one point but was spared after his wife and children begged for his life.
Bragg returned to Mobile after the war ended and died there on August 10, 1878; he was buried in Mobile’s Magnolia Cemetery. His home, a Greek Revival constructed in 1855, still stands and is known as the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion. Located at 1906 Springhill Ave., it was documented by the Historical American Building Survey, a work program of the New Deal, in 1935 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. It is now open to the public and available for rental.
Dorman, Lewy. Party Politics in Alabama from 1850 through 1860. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1935