Gathering again in rented quarters on November 2, 1818, the General Assembly hammered out a series of laws and agreements that both moved Alabama towards statehood and wrestled with some of its emergent hot button political issues. Earlier in the year, legislators had authorized the formation of a commission to find a centrally located, accessible site for a capital to which the admittedly paltry machinery of territorial government would be moved from St. Stephens once statehood was granted. Hoping to head off a debilitating power struggle between North Alabama (the Tennessee Valley) and South Alabama (the virtual remainder), after much deliberation, they decided to recommend Tuscaloosa. The humble village at the falls of the Black Warrior stood approximately equidistant from Alabama’s primary population centers.
The commissioners were preempted in sealing the deal, however, by the governor himself. During the interim between meetings of the legislature, Bibb had busied himself in maneuvering to establish a capital city further south at the junction of the Cahaba (often spelled Cahawba at the time) and Alabama Rivers, where he envisioned a great city. To do so he surreptitiously had tapped into connections in Washington to obtain sizable grants of federal land whose location he alone had the prerogative of choosing. In his address delivered to the legislature at the opening of its session, he revealed his scheme to the body. The legislature endorsed the proposal on November 21, but only after representatives from North Alabama obtained a concession that Huntsville would serve temporarily as the state capital until the planned city, which would be called Cahawba, could actually be built. They further hedged their bets against the grand endeavor of capital-making by including in the legislation a provision that only if Cahawba remained the capital in 1825 would it be declared permanent.
Governor Bibb surprised the territorial legislature by proposing the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers (above), at the time an undeveloped wilderness, as the site of Alabama’s state capital. The site proved to be problematic as it was prone to flooding and occasional outbreaks of yellow fever. In 1825 Tuscaloosa was named as the new state capital.
Had they cared to, close observers of the machinations by which the Alabama Territory lurched towards statehood in the fall of 1818 might have noticed much of it orchestrated by a small cadre of closely allied affiliates that historians now recognize as Alabama’s first political party. Alabama came of age in what historians often term the “Era of Good Feelings,” an interlude in American political history characterized by general rising prosperity, optimism, and a preoccupation with expansion rather than the partisan squabbles that characterized what came immediately before and after. While Alabama might have been a model of harmony and consensus on many fronts in its brief independent territorial days, it nevertheless contained serious political factions the most influential of which was a relatively wealthy and enterprising group of well-connected men who had moved to Alabama from Georgia’s Broad River region. Alternately known to their eventual detractors as the “Royal Party” or the “Georgia Faction,” this influential group of Alabama founders has also been dubbed the “Broad River Group” by noted historian of the era J. Mills Thornton III. The group included such notable movers and shakers as future governors Thomas and William Wyatt Bibb, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, and Sens. Charles Tait and John W. Walker. On one level they were the very epitome of aspiring Alabama immigrants, cognizant of the opportunity the land possessed and working assiduously to cultivate its benefits. But their unusually strong connections to Washington and positions as power brokers made them uniquely important. The group in many ways reigned over political life in the territory as if it were their virtual fiefdom, reserving as their prerogative the right to appoint themselves or their growing number of friends to virtually every significant office in the territorial and early state governments and orchestrating to a remarkable extent some of Alabama’s most important financial institutions. Despite all they had done to bring the state into existence, these erstwhile champions of the territory would surely be called into question if anything in their planning went wrong. As the second session of the territorial legislature closed, few could imagine just how soon that would happen.