Alabama Governors

William Hugh Smith

photo of portrait of Ala. Governor William Hugh Smith




William Hugh Smith was born in Fayette County, Georgia, on April 28, 1826. He moved with his parents to Randolph County, Alabama, in 1839. Smith read law under John T. Heflin of Wedowee, passed the bar in 1850, and practiced several years with James Aiken.


He represented Randolph County in the state House of Representatives from 1855 to 1859. In 1860 he was a Douglas elector. Smith was opposed to secession and slavery. In 1862 he crossed the Federal lines accompanied by his father; a Democrat, a slave holder, yet an ardent supporter of the Union. Two of his brothers served in the 1st. Alabama Regiment, US Army.


Smith returned to the state after the war and applied for a presidential pardon. Governor Lewis Parsons appointed him judge of the tenth judicial circuit but he resigned the position six months later to participate in the organization of the Republican party in Alabama. Under the Reconstruction Acts Smith worked with General Wager T. Swayne as a Supervisor of Registration until his nomination as a gubernatorial candidate in the 1868 election. He was elected governor in February 1868 but did not take office until July.


Smith was Alabama's first Republican governor. Although he was unpopular with much of the state's citizenry, many contemporary sources conceded that he was honest and sincere. Immediately after he became governor, the general assembly was convened and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal constitution. The assembly elected Willard Warner of OH and George E. Spencer of NY and IA to represent Alabama in the US Senate.


During Smith's administration the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, development of Alabama's mineral and natural resources was encouraged, and bonds were endorsed to expand the state's railways. Geneva, Escambia, and Chilton Counties were created and Colbert and Lamar Counties were reestablished.


Smith ran for reelection in 1870 but disunity in the Republican party as well as a feud between him and Senator Spencer contributed to his defeat. Democrat Robert B. Lindsay achieved a narrow victory. Smith, however, refused to turn the governor's seat over to Lindsay, claiming he had been fraudulently elected. With the support of US troops, Smith managed to hold on to his office for three more weeks following Lindsay's inauguration. Judge James Q. Smith of the second judicial circuit ordered Governor Smith to leave office and the governor complied.


In 1873 Governor David Lewis reappointed Smith as a circuit court judge. He served as a US district judge for northern and middle Alabama from 1881-85 under President Chester Arthur. The remainder of his life was devoted to the law practice established in Birmingham by Smith and his sons J.A. and William Hugh, Jr. Smith married Lucy Wortham of Randolph County in January 1852. They had five daughters and three sons. He died at his Birmingham residence on January 1, 1899.


Cash, William M. Alabama Republicans During Reconstruction: Personal Characteristics, Motivations, and Political Activity of Party Activists, 1867-80. (Ph.D. dissertation) 1973.
Fleming, Walter L. Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama , 1911