Alabama Governors

David Peter Lewis

photo of Ala. Governor David Lewis




David Peter Lewis was born in 1820 in Charlotte County, Virginia. When a child he moved with his parents to Madison County, Alabama, where he received an education and studied law. He built a successful law practice in Lawrence County and represented that county in the 1861 constitutional convention. Although Lewis opposed secession, he signed the ordinance of secession passed by the convention. He was elected to the Confederate Provisional Congress at Montgomery but resigned his seat. Governor John G. Shorter appointed him circuit court judge in 1863, a position he held for several months. Eventually Lewis crossed the Union lines and remained in Nashville until the end of the war. He then returned to his law practice in Huntsville.


After the 1868 presidential election, Lewis, a Unionist, left the Democrats and joined the Republican party. In 1872 he defeated Democrat Thomas H. Herndon of Mobile in the race for governor. In the same election the Democrats achieved a majority in both houses of the state legislature. To ensure the return of George Spencer to the US Senate, Lewis refused to recognize the Democratic legislature and instead recognized a Republican legislature. The Republicans met at the federal courthouse and thus became known as the "courthouse" legislature. When Lewis asked President Grant to intervene in the legislature dispute, the President responded by referring the matter to Attorney General George H. Williams. On December 17, 1872, the General Assembly was reorganized based on Williams' compromise instructions. The Republicans had a majority of two in the house while the Democrats had a majority of one in the senate.


Otherwise the Lewis administration was uneventful compared to the administration of Republican William H. Smith. The railroad bond issue continued to plague Lewis as it had his predecessor, Governor Lindsay. Lewis doubled taxes but the public debt grew despite the measure.


Other events of note occurred during Lewis' term as governor. The national Panic of 1873 resulted in an economic crisis over which Lewis had no control. In 1873 Anniston was incorporated as a city. The State Normal School (now the University of North Alabama) was established at Florence and at Huntsville, the State Colored Normal and Industrial School (now Alabama A and M University) was created.


In 1873, L.J. Williams, a black representative from Montgomery County, and Jeremiah Haralson, a black senator from Dallas County, attempted to push a civil rights bill through the legislature. Lewis remained distant from the bill which was defeated by both Democrats and white Republicans.


After serving as governor, Lewis, a bachelor, returned to his law practice in Huntsville. He died on July 3, 1884.


National Cyclopedia of American Biography, sv.
Owen, Thomas M. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, 1921.
Summersell, Charles G. Alabama: A State History, 1955.
Wiggins, Sarah W. The Scalawag in Alabama Politics, 1865-1881, 1977.