Alabama Governors

Robert Burns Lindsay

photo of Ala. Governor Robert Burns Lindsay




Robert Burns Lindsay was born on July 4, 1824, in Lochmaben, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. He was the only foreign-born citizen to serve as a governor of Alabama, a situation made possible by the 1868 constitution. Lindsay was educated in Scotland at parochial schools and the University of St. Andrews. In 1844 he came to America to visit his brother David in North Carolina. Robert remained in North Carolina where he studied law and taught school. He moved to Tuscumbia, Alabama, in 1849 where he continued teaching until 1852 when he was admitted to the bar and began a law practice.


Lindsay was elected to represent Franklin County in the state legislature in 1853. In 1857 he was elected to the state senate. He was a presidential elector to the 1860 Democratic convention and chose to support Douglas when the party split. Lindsay opposed secession but served in Roddy's cavalry during part of the Civil War.


In 1865 he returned to the state senate. In the governor's race of 1870, Lindsay narrowly defeated the incumbent Republican governor, William H. Smith. Smith at first refused to concede the office to Lindsay, claiming he was fraudulently elected, until forced to do so by a court order.


During Lindsay's administration the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) was established to provide education in agriculture and mechanical arts. The cities of Gadsden and Birmingham were incorporated in 1871.


Lindsay's major problem was the failure of the Republican-controlled Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad to meet its bond interest payments. The Democratic-controlled South and North Railroad soon failed as well. According to historian Sarah W. Wiggins, "The debate over the state's involvement with railroad construction paralyzed the General Assembly during much of Lindsay's administration...In the end Governor Lindsay's compromise decision to stand behind some of the questionable bonds...satisfied no one." [Wiggins, p. 76]


Lindsay refused to run for a second term. He retired to his private law practice which he continued even though he was stricken with paralysis soon after leaving office. He married Sarah Miller Winston, sister of Governor John Winston, in 1854. Of the nine children born to them, only four daughters were still living at the time of his death on February 13, 1902.


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.