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William Hugh Smith

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William Hugh Smith

Located along N. Main Street (U.S. Route 431) in Wedowee, Alabama, this historic marker marks the site of the former home of William Hugh Smith.

William Hugh Smith (April 28, 1826 in Fayette County, Georgia – January 1, 1899 in Birmingham, Alabama) was a planter and politician, the 21st Governor of the U.S. state of Alabama. He was the first Republican elected as governor in the state, serving from 1868 to 1870 during the period of Reconstruction. A former slave owner, he had opposed secession from the union on the grounds it would imperil slave property. He appeared driven by practical consideration rather than principled opposition to slavery.

Political career

From 1855 to 1859 Smith served in the Alabama House of Representatives as a "states' rights" Democrat, but he evolved into a strong Unionist. In 1862, he fled behind Union lines; he spent the rest of the war recruiting soldiers for the 1st Alabama Union Cavalry Regiment. He went with this regiment on General William Tecumseh Sherman's famous "March to the Sea".

After the war, Smith chaired the first statewide Republican convention in 1867. He was installed as Governor by the U.S. Congress in July 1868. Although he had been elected in February 1868, he would not voluntarily take office due to the failure of the voters to ratify the 1868 constitution. A conservative once in office, he supported restoration of voting rights for ex-confederate public officials and military officers. He took only light action against the Ku Klux Klan, arguing that local law enforcement could effectively handle the situation. He promoted economic and railroad development, for the South was behind in investing in infrastructure.

He was defeated for re-election

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