Alabama Governors

Edward Asbury O'Neal

photo of portrait of Ala. Governor Edward Asbury O'Neal




Edward Asbury O'Neal was born September 20, 1818, in Madison County and died November 20, 1890 in Florence, Lauderdale, County. He was the son of Edward and Rebecca Wheat O'Neal, the former a native of Ireland. When Edward was four years of age, his father died and his mother took over the family affairs and the education of her sons.


O'Neal was educated at Green Academy and at LaGrange College, from which he graduated in 1836. He studied law under James W. McClung of Huntsville, was admitted to the bar in 1840 and began his law practice in Florence. In 1841, he was appointed to the office of solicitor of the fourth circuit and served for four years. In 1848 he was unsuccessful in his candidacy for election to the Thirty-first Congress.


O'Neal was a leader in the secession movement. He joined the Confederate army on June 4, 1861 as a captain. In Richmond he was promoted to major in the Ninth Alabama Infantry Regiment. On October 21, he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel. This was followed by a promotion to colonel in March 1862 and reassignment to the Twenty-sixth Alabama Infantry Regiment at Richmond.


While commanding this regiment, he was wounded at the battle of Seven Pines. He led Rhodes' brigade in the Battle of Boonesboro, in which he was severely wounded. In 1864 O'Neal returned to Alabama where his regiment was strengthened and sent to fight Sherman near Dalton, GA. Although he never received the commission, O'Neal served as acting brigadier general at the close of the war.


After the war O'Neal returned to Florence and resumed his law practice. In 1875 he was elected to serve as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He served as the chairman of the Committee on Education.

O'Neal was elected governor in 1882 and reelected in 1884. The principle concerns of his administration were reduction of taxes, prison reform, and aid to education. The legislature created a Department of Agriculture and the Office of Examiners of Accounts. Reforms to improve the treatment of convicts began. Congress granted forty-six thousand and eighty acres of land to the University of Alabama. Jefferson Davis laid the cornerstone of the monument to the memory of Confederate soldiers on the capitol grounds in Montgomery.


O'Neal's administration was marred by State Treasurer Isaac H. Vincent's theft of $250,000 of state funds. This incident led O'Neal to establish the Office of Examiner of Accounts and begin a strong campaign to bring tax collectors in line. (Stewart, p. 130) Robert McKee, private secretary to Governor O'Neal, stated that "the embezzlements of the late treasurer have swept away nearly every dollar of the surplus funds of the state, the accumulations of eighth years of almost niggardly economy in public expenditures." (Woodward, p. 73) The same month that Vincent absconded with the state's funds, the state Superintendent of Education "reported defalcations among county superintendents of education over a period of three years amounting to over $40,000." (Woodward, p. 73)


In his biennial message on November 12, 1884, O'Neal stated, "that the settlement had been made with the sureties on Vincent's bond, for an amount equal to only a small portion of the amount in default; and that he was still making every possible effort to discover Vincent's whereabouts and have him brought to trial." (Owen, Vol. 2, p. 1324)


At the end of his second term as governor, O'Neal returned to Florence where he lived until his death in 1890.


Owen, Thomas M. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, 1921.
Stewart, John Craig. The Governors of Alabama, 1975.
Woodward, C. Vann. Origins of the New South, 1877-1913, 1971.