John Anthony Winston (born September 4, 1812 in Madison County; died December 21, 1871 in Mobile) was the 15th Governor of Alabama, from 1853 to 1857, and the first to have been born in the state. He championed the preservation of an agrarian society with strict limits on government and prevented state investments in railroad infrastructure.
He was born to William and Mary Cooper Winston of Tuscumbia and educated in private schools. He attended Cumberland College in Nashville, Tennessee and married his first cousin, Mary Agnes Walker on August 7, 1832. They settled on a plantation in Sumter County in 1835 and had one daughter, Mary Agnes, before Mrs Winston died in 1842.
Winston was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1840 and 1842, and to the Alabama State Senate in 1843 and became a leader of the more moderate States' Rights supporters in the Alabama Democratic Party. By 1844 he was operating a successful cotton commission firm in Mobile and reinvested the profits in additional cotton plantations in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas.
Winston remarried, to Mary W. Longwood. He discovered in 1847 that she had been unfaithful to him with their family doctor, Sidney Perry. Winston shot Perry to death, but county magistrates ruled the shooting a "justifiable homicide". The couple were divorced in 1850.
Winston urged members of the Alabama delegation to the 1848 Democratic Convention in Baltimore not to walk out after William Lowndes Yancey's "Alabama Platform" was rejected. He led the state's Southern Democrats through a crisis in 1850 when Northern party members formed an alliance with Whigs to oppose Secession. His efforts made him the party's nominee for the 1853 gubernatorial election, which he won without opposition after the Whig candidate dropped out.
In his inaugural address, Winston railed against the use of taxpayer money to assist private banking, railroad and shipping concerns. The development of transportation infrastructure was increasingly important to nascent industries in the Birmingham District and Tennessee Valley. Unlike previous governors, he backed his words with vetoes when railroad aid bills came out of the legislature. He did sign the landmark Alabama Education Act of 1854 which opened the door to state funding for free public schools. Little progress in that area, however, was made until after the Civil War.
Winston was re-elected in 1855 and he pledged to further reduce public outlays. He vetoed another wave of railroad bills, and even used his executive powers to limit payments authorized by bills passed over his veto. Pro-railroad elements in the Democratic party prevented him from earning the nomination for an open seat on the U.S. Senate when his term ended in 1857. General railroad legislation was passed two years later. In the 1860 National Democratic Convention in Charleston, South Carolina Winston led the walk-out over defeats for pro-slavery platform planks. He supported Stephen Douglas as the best hope for Southerners and continued to blame Yancey for the break with the national party which had opened the way for Abraham Lincoln's election.
After Alabama seceded, Winston raised troops and was commissioned a colonel in the 8th Alabama Infantry. He served on the field during the Virginia peninsula campaign in 1862, but resigned before the end of the war due to poor health. After the South's surrender, he was a delegate to the 1865 Alabama Constitutional Convention. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1867, but refused to make an oath of allegiance to the United States and was prevented from taking his seat. He railed against the federal Reconstruction policies until his death.
Winston died in December 1871 in Mobile and is buried in a family cemetery near Gainesville in Sumter County.