Alabama Governors

Israel Pickens

photo of portrait of Ala. Governor Israel Pickens





Alabama's third governor was a native of North Carolina and represented the "North Carolina Faction" in early Alabama politics. Israel Pickens was born on January 30, 1780. After reading law he served in the North Carolina Senate from 1808-1810 and represented North Carolina in the US House of Representatives from 1811-1817. After leaving Congress he was appointed land registrar for the St. Stephens Office, Alabama Territory. In 1819 he represented Washington County at the State Constitutional Convention and served as president of the Tombeckbe Bank and the Bank of Mobile.


The 1821 gubernatorial election was largely a battle between the "Georgia Faction" (or Royal Party) and the "North Carolina Faction," with state banking and reapportionment as the main issues. Despite Pickens' ties to private banks, the effects of the depression of 1819 had convinced him of the need for a state bank. Pickens' opponent, Dr. Henry Chambers, supported private banking and was backed by the "Georgia Faction" of William H. Crawford, Charles Tait, and John Williams Walker. Many new settlers to the state viewed the Georgia men as too aristocratic and elitist, while Pickens was seen as the "spokesman for the have-nots." Pickens won the election by a vote of 9,114 to 7,129.


Israel Pickens was inaugurated as Alabama's third governor on November 9, 1821. In his first message to the state's General Assembly, he urged the passage of a reapportionment law and state banking act. During the third session of the Assembly, held November-December 1821, the legislators quickly passed a reapportionment bill with none of the controversy experienced during earlier attempts. Pickens attempts to establish a state supported bank were thwarted by the legislators who preferred a state bank controlled by private interests. Pickens was successful in gaining approval of the sale of university lands to fund a state bank.


The 1822 General Assembly was unable to provide an acceptable bank bill, but Pickens' power was increased when the Assembly elected two "North Carolina Faction" men to the US Senate. William R. King was re-elected and William Kelly replaced retiring John William(s?) Walker.


The 1823 election confirmed the demise of the "Georgia Faction." Dr. Henry Chambers once again lost to Pickens by a vote of 6,942 to 4,604. This time banking was the only issue and Pickens' victory was viewed as a mandate for Pickens to proceed with a state banking bill. On December 20, 1823, the General Assembly passed a satisfactory banking bill and by July 1824, the state bank had begun operation in the state capital of Cahaba.


Once the banking issue was settled and the "North Carolina Faction" was firmly established in power, Alabama politics settled down for the remainder of Pickens' term. The state was a strong supporter of Andrew Jackson during the 1824 presidential election and 1825 was marked by a visit from Marie Joseph Paul, the Marquis de Lafayette. General Lafayette traveled though the Creek Indian country of eastern Alabama and reached Montgomery on April 3, 1825. Here he was feted by the town and welcomed by Governor Pickens. Lafayette traveled down the Alabama River stopping in Cahaba and Mobile before continuing to New Orleans. Lafayette's visit was the event of the year and cost the state $15,715.18, $4,000 more than the amount in the state's contingency fund.


Pickens was considered a successful and able governor. "He was a man of exceptional capability, vision and compassion" (Stewart, p. 59). After hand-picking his successor for governor, Pickens was appointed to the US Senate to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Dr. Henry Crawford. Pickens served a short time and retired to Cuba due to ill health where he died on April 24, 1827. Besides Pickens' political abilities he was active in the American Colonization Society, was interested in scientific research, and invented a lunar dial.



Abernethy, Thomas Perkins. The Formative Period in Alabama, 1965.
Brantley, William H. Three Capitals, 1947.
Owen, Thomas, M. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, 1921.
Stewart, John Craig. The Governors of Alabama, 1975.