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Alabama Governors

Henry Watkins Collier

photo of portrait of Ala. Governor Henry Watkins Collier

 

1849-1853

 

Henry Watkins Collier was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia., in 1801. He moved with his family to the Alabama Territory in 1818. After reading law in Nashville, Tennessee, he opened a practice in Huntsville, in 1822 before becoming a partner in a firm in Tuscaloosa. In 1827, Collier was elected to the state legislature and the next year the legislature appointed him to the supreme court. Governor Clement Comer Clay reappointed him to the supreme court in 1836. He became chief justice of that body the next year and served in that capacity for twelve years.

 

In 1849, Collier was overwhelmingly elected governor. The slavery debate and the controversy sparked by the Wilmot proviso in Congress occupied much of his time during his two terms in office. The Southern rights faction wanted a convention called to demand a redress of Southern grievances by the federal government. Without assurances from the federal government that slavery would not be restricted in the territories, the Southern rights faction advocated secession. The pro-Union advocates also wanted the federal government to leave questions about slavery to the states, but they insisted that the Southern states remain part of the federal system. Governor Collier was a strong Southern rights supporter, but he opposed immediate secession.

 

The new governor showed support for Southern rights in his inaugural address delivered on December 17, 1849. Collier called for delegates to attend the Southern convention in Nashville, but he refused to call a state convention for ardent Southern rights advocates after the delegation from the Nashville convention returned to Alabama. The governor never did call a state convention, for he preferred the Congressional compromise offered by Henry Clay. A cautious, conservative, man, Collier readily accepted the Compromise of 1850 over immediate secession. In the gubernatorial election of 1851, the Southern rights faction supported Collier for re-election as a compromise candidate after William Lowndes Yancey refused to run, and with much conservative support he defeated the staunchly pro-Union advocate B.G. Shields by a decisive margin.

 

Governor Collier was also a supporter of prison reform in Alabama and he encouraged the work of Dorothea Dix during his two terms in office. He often visited the state penitentiary and took an active role in its administration. The governor promoted diversification of the economy and encouraged the introduction of textile mills in the state. Impressed with the advances Massachusetts had made with its public school system, Governor Collier promoted better administration of education in Alabama and more equitable funding for education among communities.

 

Governor Collier retired from public life in 1853 after the end of his second term in office even though the legislature offered him a seat in the United States Senate. He died in Bailey's Springs, Alabama, in 1855.


Authorities:
Moore, Albert Burton. History of Alabama, 1934.
Owen, Thomas M. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, 1921.
Stewart, John Craig. The Governors of Alabama, 1975.