Robert Fulwood Ligon (1823-1901) served as Alabama’s fourth lieutenant governor from 1874-76 and then as the U.S. representative for Alabama‘s Fifth Congressional District. He was also a planter, lawyer, and veteran of the Mexican War and the Civil War.
Ligon was born in Watkinsville, Oconee County, Georgia, on December 23, 1823, to attorney Robert Ligon of Halifax County, Virginia, and Wilhelmina (Fulwood) Ligon of Georgia. He was the eldest child and had four sisters and a brother. Ligon obtained his early education in Watkinsville and later attended the University of Georgia in Athens. Ligon relocated to Tuskegee, Macon County, in 1844 and studied law under judge David Clopton, who was married to Ligon’s sister Martha. Ligon was admitted to the bar in 1845 and together with Clopton formed a law partnership of some 19 years.
From 1849 to 1850, Ligon served as a captain in the U.S. Army during the Mexican War in the First Alabama Battalion. He married Emily Paine in 1850 in Watkinsville; the couple would have five children. In 1854, Ligon obtained a land patent for 319 acres in Macon County about 9 miles south of Tuskegee. In 1860, Ligon owned 64 slaves; his plantation encompassed 1,200 acres on which he raised livestock and cultivated cotton, vegetables, and hay. Ligon was a Methodist, a Mason, and a member of the Democratic Party.
Ligon’s political career began when he was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1849, serving until 1850. He then was elected to the Alabama Senate in 1861 and served until 1864. Ligon took several leaves of absence from the Senate to serve in the Confederate Army in the “Macon Confederates,” Company F of the Twelfth Alabama Infantry Regiment under the command of Maj. Gen. Robert Emmett Rodes, rising to the rank of captain. (His brother Edward A. Ligon was a doctor and served as a surgeon in the company.) After the war, Ligon returned to his law practice. He made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1872. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1874, during the administration of Gov. George S. Houston. The political controversy in Alabama over Reconstruction precipitated Ligon’s election. The Republican Party controlled political power at that time, and Alabama Democrats worked to defeat Republican governor David P. Lewis in his bid for re-election as a means to regain political power for ex-Confederates. Their strategy included nominating conservative Democrat and Unionist Houston and ex-Confederate Ligon to ensure winning the white vote. They were rewarded, and Democrats retook control of the Alabama government, ending Reconstruction some three years earlier than the rest of the former Confederate states. The Democrat-controlled legislature abolished the Office of Lieutenant Governor with the ratification of the 1875 Alabama constitution in an attempt to streamline and improve state government operations. Ligon’s term was exempted and he was allowed to serve in the office until 1876. (The office was reinstated with the 1901 Alabama Constitution.)
Ligon was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1876, serving from 1877-79 as the representative from Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District. He replaced John Henry Caldwell and was succeeded by Thomas Williams after losing his bid for re-nomination. He returned to Tuskegee to practice law until 1884, when he retired and moved to Montgomery, Montgomery County. He worked in banking and agriculture and held positions on the board of trustees for the Alabama Female College (present-day Huntingdon College) in Montgomery and the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (present-day Auburn University) in Auburn, Lee County.
Ligon died in Montgomery on October 11, 1901. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery. Several prominent structures in Alabama are associated with his family. Ligon Memorial Hall, built in 1947 at Huntingdon College, was named in honor of Ligon and his son, Robert Fulwood Ligon Jr. It is currently a women’s residence hall. Also at Huntingdon, Flowers Memorial Hall is home to Ligon Chapel. The current Alabama governor’s mansion was built in 1907 for Ligon Jr. and was first occupied by Seth Gordon Persons, who took office in 1951.
- Bailey, Richard. Neither Carpetbaggers Nor Scalawags: Black Officeholders During the Reconstruction of Alabama, 1867-1878. Montgomery, Ala.: NewSouth Books, 2010.
- Going, Allen Johnston. Bourbon Democracy in Alabama, 1874-1890. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992.