Arthur Bagby

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Arthur Bagby

Arthur Pendleton Bagby (born 1794 in Louisa County, Virginia; died September 21, 1858 in Mobile) was Governor of Alabama from 1837 to 1841 and later served in the U.S. Senate and as the United States' minister to Russia.

Bagby was born in Virginia to James M. and Mary Jones Bagby, and was educated there before the family moved to Monroe County in the Alabama Territory. Bagby read law there and opened a practice in Claiborne in 1819. He married the former Emily Steel the same year.

Bagby began his political career when he was elected to represent Monroe County in the Alabama House of Representatives in 1821. He was re-elected the following year and named Speaker of the House. He was elected to the Alabama State Senate in 1825 and also became president of that body, but returned to the lower house in 1834. During the 1820s he switched his loyalty from John Quincy Adams' National Republicans to Andrew Jackson's Democratic Party. He opposed the creation of a federal bank, but supported Jackson's position that federal law trumped state law.

In 1828 Bagby remarried, to the former Anne Elizabeth Connell of South Carolina. He and Anne had at least five children, including Confederate general Arthur Bagby, Jr.

Bagby ran for Governor of Alabama during the economic panic of 1837 and defeated independent Samuel Oliver. He continued the failings of previous governors in failing to intervene in a corrupt private banking system. He opposed plans to expand the state bank's capacity to loan capital to cotton planters, but was overruled by the legislature. The depressed cotton market left the state in serious debt. Nevertheless, he was re-elected in 1839. A year later the Merchants Bank of New York reported that the state owed $11.5 million in bond debt and was only barely able to fund interest payments.

Meanwhile, Bagby's attention was focused on advancing his party's power in the U.S. Congress. He signed a General Ticket Bill sponsored by William Lowndes Yancey that called for Alabama's five representatives to be elected at-large rather than by district. The result was the loss of two seats for the Whigs in the 1841 election. The measure was overturned by popular referendum that November.

As Governor, Bagby also assigned state militia members to assist General Winfield Scott with the removal of Cherokee Indians from the lower Appalachians and to South Alabama and Florida to fight in the Seminole War. He authorized the construction of the first state penitentiary at Wetumpka and ended the practice of debtor's prison.

After his second term, Bagby was selected by the state legislature to fill the vacancy in the U.S. Senate left by the resignation of Clement Clay, and re-elected in 1842 for a full term. As Senator, Bagby chaired of the committees on Territories, Claims, and Indian Affairs. He voted for the annexation of Texas as a slave state. He briefly served as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Russian court in St Petersburg under President James Polk. He resigned after less than a year when Zachary Taylor assumed the presidency.

Bagby then returned to Alabama and served on a committee working to codify state laws. He resided in Camden, Wilcox County for a while before moving to Mobile in 1856. In retirement, Bagby proved unable to support himself and died from yellow fever in 1858 with no property and more than $3,000 in debt. He is buried at Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile.

Preceded by:
Hugh McVay
Governor of Alabama
1837-1841
Succeeded by:
Benjamin Fitzpatrick
Preceded by:
Clement Clay
U.S. Senator from Alabama
1841-1848
Succeeded by:
William Rufus King
Preceded by:
Ralph Ingersoll
U.S. Minister to Russia
1848-1849
Succeeded by:
Neill Brown

References