Stanley Dent

Stanley Hubert Dent (1869–1938) served six terms as the Democratic representative to the U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s Second District, from 1909 until 1921. He was known for his opposition to the restriction of liquor sales and support of larger armed forces and greater military preparedness prior to U.S. entry into World War I. In this regard, he stood in contrast to isolationists as well as Pres. Woodrow Wilson and others who called for universal conscription.

Dent was born on August 16, 1869, to Stouten Hubert Dent and Anna Beall Young in Eufaula, Barbour County. He had five siblings and is sometimes referred to as Stanley Hubert Dent Jr. His father was a lawyer, education superintendent, and plantation owner who had served as a captain in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. His maternal grandparents constructed Fendall Hall in Eufaula. The family was considered part of the conservative class of Democrats known as the “Bourbons.”

In 1886, Dent graduated from Southern University (which later merged with Birmingham College to become Birmingham-Southern College) in Greensboro, Hale County. He then attended the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville, Virginia. Dent completed his law degree in 1889 and was admitted to the Alabama bar that year. He began practicing law in his hometown of Eufaula. Dent briefly served as the Superintendent of Education for Barbour County after his father vacated the position in 1897, until an election could be held for a replacement. That same year, Dent married Etta Tinsley of Louisville, Kentucky; the couple would have one child, a son. The pair relocated to Montgomery, Montgomery County, in 1899, and Dent worked in a law firm with future governor William Calvin Oates; Dent’s political career began to blossom following his move to Montgomery. In 1902, he was appointed by Gov. William Jelks as prosecuting attorney for Montgomery County, a position he held for seven years.

In 1908, Dent successfully ran for Alabama’s Second Congressional District seat, previously held by Democrat Oliver Wiley. (The district consisted of Baldwin, Butler, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Escambia, Montgomery, Pike, and Wilcox Counties.) His major opponent in the primary race was William H. Samford, son of recently deceased governor William J. Samford. An important part of his platform was his opposition to a proposed bill that aimed to prohibit the transportation of liquor into dry counties. Dent opposed the bill because he believed that it interfered with individual freedoms and likewise also opposed the Eighteenth Amendment, enacting Prohibition, for the same reason.

Dent notably served on the House Committee on Military Affairs during World War I. During the debates prior to the United States’ entrance into the war, Dent worked within the committee to prepare the nation for participation in the conflict. He successfully pushed legislation to increase the numbers of citizen soldiers in the National Guard and bring Army enlistment numbers to 220,000; the bill was passed as the National Defense Act of 1916. Dent’s position on the bill and in other debates on mobilization placed him between the Republicans, President Wilson, and those who supported isolationism.

Dent became chairman in October 1916 and used his position to staunchly oppose Pres. Woodrow Wilson’s universal conscription proposal, outlined in his April 2, 1917, speech calling for a declaration of war on Germany. Dent believed in voluntary enlistment and altered the subsequent legislation to authorize the president to call for 500,000 volunteers, another 500,000 if required, register all young men ages 19 to 25, and draft up to 500,000 more only if the Army did not have enough volunteers. The Senate later removed the volunteer stipulation and pushed ahead with selective service. After the war, Dent helped persuade his fellow Democrats to advocate for a smaller peace-time army and defeat a bill proposing compulsory training.

In the 1920 election race, Dent lost his bid to opponent John Russell Tyson, who played on white supremacy in Alabama to weaken Dent’s support in the state. Tyson claimed that Dent did not do enough to keep white soldiers separated from African American soldiers in hospitals and from serving under African Americans in the military hierarchy. Following his defeat, Dent returned to practicing law. He did not participate in politics again until 1933, when the Twenty-first Amendment that would end the prohibition on the sale and manufacture of alcohol was brought before the citizens of the United States for approval. Dent successfully campaigned to be a delegate of Alabama’s ratification convention and was unanimously elected as its president. The convention approved the amendment. The next year, Dent ran for a judgeship in the Montgomery Circuit Court but was defeated, receiving the fewest votes of the three delegates. Dent died of a heart attack on October 7, 1938. He is interred at Eufaula Cemetery in Eufaula.

Additional Resources

Ward, Robert. “The Political Career of Stanley Hubert Dent, Jr.” Master’s thesis, Auburn University, 1951.

‧– – –. “Stanley Hubert Dent and American Military Policy, 1916-1920.” Alabama Historical Quarterly 33 (Fall and Winter 1971): 177-89.

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