Alabama Governors

Thomas Seay

photo of portrait of Ala. Governor Thomas Seay




Thomas Seay was born on November 20, 1846, near Erie in present day Hale County. This area was part of Greene County at the time of his birth to Reuben and Ann McGee Seay. Thomas grew up on a plantation until age twelve when the family moved to Greensboro. There he attended Southern University until the outbreak of the Civil War interrupted his studies.


In 1863 Seay enlisted in the Confederate Army and served with his company around Mobile. He was captured at Spanish Fort and at Blakeley and was imprisoned on Ship Island. Seay returned to Southern University after the war, graduating in 1867. He then studied law and practiced as a junior member of Coleman and Seay from 1869 to 1885. Seay also engaged in planting.


Thomas Seay began his political career in 1874 when he ran unsuccessfully for the state senate. He was successful in 1876 and remained in the senate for ten years, serving as president from 1884-1886. Seay was elected governor in 1886 and reelected in 1888.


This administration is noteworthy for Seay's success in reducing taxes while increasing social services and running state government in the black. An advocate for social welfare programs, the central Alabama native supported crucial legislation. During his administration women and children were limited to an eight hour work day. Pensions were provided for disabled Confederate veterans and their widows. Seay was also supportive (in the context of late 19th century standards) of measures to improve the rights and education of Alabama's black citizens.


Several new schools were established during Seay's term. Among these were the State Normal School at Troy (now Troy State University) and the State Normal School for Colored Students in Montgomery (now Alabama State University). In Talladega the Alabama Academy for the Blind was established, removing that responsibility from the Alabama Institute for the Deaf.


Bessemer was founded in 1887 and the iron and steel industry in Jefferson County began to boom soon after. An especially exciting event to occur while Seay was in office was the 1887 visit of President Grover Cleveland to Montgomery.


Other events during Seay's administration were not so joyful. The convict lease system began and businessmen soon realized the opportunity for exploitation of this work force. The Hawes Riot took place in Birmingham; thirteen people died. Evidence of discontent among Alabamians occurred when farmers organized the Farmer's Alliance to draw attention to their problems.


In 1890 Seay was defeated by James M. Pugh in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat. He did not run for office again although he helped Thomas G. Jones in his campaign for governor against Populist Reuben Kolb.


Seay married Ellen Smaw of Greene (later Hale) County on July 12, 1875. She bore him a son and a daughter before her death in 1879. In 1881 he married Clara de Lesdernier by whom he had four more children. Seay died at the age of 49 on March 30, 1896 in Greensboro.
Alabama Department of Archives and History, Public Information Subject Files.
National Cyclopedia of American Biography.
Owen, Thomas M. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, 1921.
Stewart, John Craig. The Governors of Alabama, 1975.
Summersell, Charles G. Alabama: A State History, 1955.
Summersell, Charles G. "The Alabama Governor's Race in 1892." Alabama Review, January 1955.