Alabama Governors

John Gayle

photo of portrait of Ala. Governor John Gayle




Alabama's seventh governor, John Gayle, was born on September 11, 1792, in Sumter District, South Carolina. He graduated from South Carolina College in 1813 and migrated to Monroe County, Alabama in that same year. He read law and was licensed to practice law in 1818. He served as a member of the Alabama territorial legislature, and in 1819 was elected solicitor of the first judicial circuit. From 1822-1823 he represented Monroe County in the Alabama Legislature. In 1828 Gayle was appointed to the Alabama Supreme Court, but he resigned in 1829 to represent Greene County in the legislature. He served as Speaker of the House until 1831 when he was elected governor.


At the time of the election Gayle was a planter who aligned himself with the democrats in opposition to the Whigs. When elected he was the state's "most eloquent spokesman" against nullification, which was a major issue in the 1831 election campaign.


He supported the state bank and state funded internal improvement programs. During his administration the state bank was enlarged, and branches were established in Montgomery, Mobile, Decatur, and Huntsville. The first railroad was completed in the state during Gayle's administration and Gayle proposed a canal to join the Tennessee and Tombigbee Rivers. The state's first textile mill, the Bell Factory, was incorporated in Madison County and nine new counties were created during Gayle's term of office.


Gayle was elected as an ardent supporter and friend of President Andrew Jackson. This ended in 1833 when Gayle clashed with the president concerning Indian removal, white settlement, and state's rights. In 1832 the US Government and the Creek Indians signed the Treaty of Cusseta which granted the Indians new land west of the Mississippi River. The treaty also allowed individual Indians to remain in the ceded territory if they wished. After the completion of a land survey the Indians would be granted land plots. The treaty stipulated that all illegal white settlers must be removed from the area to complete the survey. Violence resulted in 1833 when federal marshals attempted to remove some white settlers from the area.


Governor Gayle staunchly supported the settlers' right to remain on the land and denounced the Treaty of Cusseta, claiming that the state had priority in negotiations concerning land in its territory. Gayle also denounced the removal policy, labeling it "an unconstitutional interference with our local and internal affairs." During the midst of the controversy Gayle won a landslide re-election victory in 1833. In late 1833 the US government sent Francis Scott Key to Alabama to negotiate with Gayle. Key was able to settle the issue but the controversy ended the friendship and alliance between Gayle and Jackson, and led to a realignment of the state's political parties. After 1835 state righters and unionists in both the Whig and democratic parties vied for leadership positions. John Gayle left the democratic party and became Alabama's champion of the state rightists faction of the Whigs.


In 1836 and 1840 Gayle served as a presidential elector and in 1847 he was elected to the US Congress. In 1849 Gayle was appointed as a federal district judge, a position he held until his death in 1859.


Owen, Thomas, M. Annals of Alabama 1819-1900, 1900.
Owen, Thomas, M. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, 1921.
Owsley, Frank L., Jr. "Francis Scott Key's Mission to Alabama in 1833", Alabama Review 23 (July 1970): 181-192.
Stewart, John Craig. The Governors of Alabama, 1975