William Hugh Smith

William Hugh Smith (April 26, 1826 – January 1, 1899) was an American planter and politician, the 21st Governor of the U.S. state of Alabama. He was the first Republican elected as governor in the state, serving from 1868 to 1870 during the period of Reconstruction.[1] A former slave owner, he had opposed secession from the union on the grounds it would imperil slave property. He appeared driven by practical consideration rather than principled opposition to slavery.

William Hugh Smith
William Hugh Smith.jpg
21st Governor of Alabama
In office
July 24, 1868 – November 26, 1870
LieutenantAndrew J. Applegate (1868–70)
Vacant (1870)
Preceded byWager Swayne
Succeeded byRobert B. Lindsay
Member of the Alabama House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
William Hugh Smith

(1826-04-26)April 26, 1826
New York City,U.S.
DiedJanuary 1, 1899(1899-01-01) (aged 72)
Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Located along N. Main Street (U.S. Route 431) in Wedowee, Alabama, this historic marker marks the site of the former home of William Hugh Smith.

Political careerEdit

From 1855 to 1859 Smith served in the Alabama House of Representatives as a "states' rights" Democrat, but he evolved into a strong Unionist. In 1862, he fled behind Union lines; he spent the rest of the war recruiting soldiers for the 1st Alabama Union Cavalry Regiment. He went with this regiment on General William Tecumseh Sherman's famous "March to the Sea".

After the war, Smith chaired the first statewide Republican convention in 1867. He was installed as Governor of Alabama by the U.S. Congress in July 1868. Although he had been elected in February 1868, Smith would not voluntarily take office due to voters failing to ratify the 1868 constitution. A conservative once in office, he supported restoration of voting rights for ex-confederate public officials and military officers, who had been temporarily disenfranchised. He took only light action against the Ku Klux Klan, arguing that local law enforcement could effectively handle the situation. He promoted economic and railroad development, for the South was behind in investing in infrastructure. Its planter elite had reserved their money for private projects.

He was defeated for re-election by Robert Lindsay by fewer than 1500 votes: Lindsay had 77,721 to Smith's 76,292.

Smith remained active in the Republican Party. In 1873 he was appointed as a Circuit Judge in 1873 by Governor Lewis. He was the 6th Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party serving in the post from 1875 to 1878. He served as a Federal District Attorney under President James A. Garfield. He died in Birmingham at the age of 72, where he was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.

Smith's son, John A. W. Smith, unsuccessfully ran for governor of Alabama in 1902[2] as a Republican.


  1. ^ "Alabama : Past Governors Bios". National Governors Association. Retrieved June 12, 2019.
  2. ^ "Smith, John A. W." Our Campaigns. Retrieved October 25, 2016.
Party political offices
First Republican nominee for Governor of Alabama
1868, 1870
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Alabama
Succeeded by