Union Army veteran and Republican John Van Patter McDuffie (1841-1896) settled in Alabama after the Civil War and became a planter, attorney, and probate judge in his adopted state. He represented the state’s Fourth Congressional District for one term and was one of the last Alabama Republicans to serve in Congress until the 1960s.
McDuffie was born in Addison, New York, on May 16, 1841, to Isaac and Cynthia McDuffie; he had five siblings. His maternal grandfather fought in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The family moved to Illinois when he was a child, and he later attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. McDuffie enlisted in the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 and served in Company B, Second Regiment of the Iowa Volunteer Cavalry for the duration of the war. The regiment fought in Mississippi at the May 1862 Siege of Corinth and the October 1862 Battle of Corinth and in Tennessee in the Battles of Franklin (November 1864) and Nashville (December 1864). McDuffie’s service also led him to Louisiana and Mississippi and northern Alabama, with duty in Florence, Lauderdale County, and Huntsville, Madison County, late in the war. At its close, he was mustered out of the Union Army as a sergeant-major in Selma, Dallas County. He settled in nearby Hayneville, Lowndes County.
After the Civil War, McDuffie studied law, was admitted to the Alabama State Bar in 1868, and was appointed probate judge for Lowndes County to replace Judge James W. Graham. Graham initially refused to vacate his post in the local provisional government but eventually surrendered his position to McDuffie after consenting to federal authority. He married Martha Alice Quinn Kelly, a native of Ohio, in 1870. Some sources say she was the widow of John Manning Kelly who was reportedly born in Ohio, moved to Missouri, was a captain in the Confederacy, and was killed in Missouri in 1861. She then fled to Alabama. McDuffie adopted Quinn’s two daughters; the couple would have four children, two of whom died at a young age.
McDuffie served for 12 years as probate judge, until 1880. He was active in Republican Party politics and was a delegate to the Republican Conventions in 1872 and 1876. He first ran for Congress in 1886, losing to Democrat Alexander Caldwell Davidson and contested the election. He succeeded in his second congressional run, against Democratic incumbent Louis Washington Turpin, a planter and former tax assessor for Hale County who had defeated Davidson in the Democratic primary. Turpin was declared the winner and began his term on March 4, 1889. McDuffie, however, successfully challenged Turpin’s initial victory. He argued that Turpin’s reported votes were far greater than the actual voter returns, and that large-scale fraud by partisan vote counters had given the seat to Turpin. The U.S. House of Representatives approved his seating on June 4, 1890, largely along party-line votes, though many members, Democrat and Republican, did not vote. The Alabama delegation, which consisted entirely of Democrats, voted against the Republican McDuffie, except for Turpin who did not vote. In the 1890 election, McDuffie lost the seat to Turpin and again contested the election, though unsuccessfully, and his term ended on March 3, 1891. He generally voted along party lines during his brief tenure.