Peter Myndert Dox (1813-1891) represented Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1869 to 1873. Dox moved in 1855 from western New York to Huntsville, Madison County, where he became a planter. Prior to his move to Alabama, Dox also worked as a judge in the common courts of New York State. After the Civil War, Dox reentered politics in Alabama, serving on the Alabama Constitutional Convention in 1865. Dox was unlike many northerners who came to or stayed in Alabama after the war. He arrived prior to the war, was sympathetic to the South, and exhibited the paternalistic attitudes towards African Americans that were common among his race, gender, and class.
Peter Dox was born in Geneva, New York, on September 11, 1813, to Abraham and Ann Carey Nicholas Dox; records indicate he may have been one of five siblings. He was raised in upstate New York. Dox’s maternal grandfather, John Nicholas, represented Virginia in Congress from 1793 to 1800. His father was a veteran of the War of 1812 and an important local investor in a glass factory. Dox studied law at Hobart College (present-day Hobart and William Smith Colleges) in Geneva and eventually joined a law practice there.
Dox affiliated himself with the Know-Nothing Party, and in the 1840s represented Ontario County in the New York House on an anti-immigrant stance, while remaining neutral on slavery. The party gained a following due to the rise of nativism, or anti-immigrant sentiment, in the United States and its lack of official position on slavery made candidates a less popular choice than Republicans and Democrats. As third-party popularity decreased, many Know-Nothings aligned with the budding Republican Party, whereas Dox and a few others sided with Democrats. In November 1855, he served as a judge of Ontario County, resigning from the position in March 1856. That year, Dox moved to Madison County, Alabama, and purchased a small plantation just outside of Huntsville, where he would live throughout the war. Some sources say he married a woman from Madison County with the last name Pope, whereas another says he was married twice, to Matilda Walker, who died in 1871, and then to Margaret Simpson, who died in 1925.
There is also little known about what he did during the Civil War other than continue on his plantation throughout the war. He was elected as a delegate to the September 1865 Alabama Constitutional Convention that disavowed secession and outlawed slavery, but was rejected by Congress. The 1868 Constitution facilitated the state’s reentry into the Union.
In 1868, Dox was elected to the 41st Congress to represent Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District surrounding Huntsville. He won the open seat that had been held by Republican John Benton Callis, a Union Army veteran who was badly wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. Dox believed that he was only elected to Congress because former Confederates remained disenfranchised. He won reelection and served until 1873, during which time he dealt with Reconstruction and the enfranchisement of newly freed slaves across the South. He generally followed the Democratic ticket. He abstained from voting on a resolution making the 14th and 15th Amendments part of the U.S. Constitution in 1870. He voted against attempts to pass “Enforcement Acts” to protect Freedmen voting rights, including the Civil Rights Act of 1871 to protect Freedman from Ku Klux Klan violence and similar acts in 1872. Otherwise, his contributions to Congress were minor.
Dox believed that freedmen should have limited rights in the post-emancipation society, given his comments on race and the lack of rights of former Confederate soldiers. He thought that educating freedmen would provide them too much opportunity, which would challenge white supremacy in the region. He also believed that because of an equal education, he could no longer acquire services formerly provided by enslaved persons.
In 1870, Dox expressed his personal thoughts on the cause of the Civil War and on Reconstruction in a July 6 speech promoting the readmission of Georgia to the Union. (Congress would barely approve such a measure on July 24 along a party line vote as many Republicans abstained, enabling it to pass.) Though he opposed secession and did not believe it was authorized by the Constitution, he cast some blame on the North for the war for compelling the South to secede to protect its lawful institution of slavery. He also described Reconstruction policies as vindictive and reports of political violence in Alabama as exaggerated. He suggested that restoring voting rights to former Confederates would bring order to the South. Dox did not run for reelection and returned to farming for the remainder of his life. His open seat was won by Democrat John Henry Caldwell.
Dox died in Huntsville on April 2, 1891, and he was buried in Maple Hill Cemetery.