In an interesting sidebar to the inaugural legislative session, after having so long itched for a chance to weigh in on national issues, Alabama’s leaders got their first opportunity in a most unexpected way. Learning that Andrew Jackson, a familiar figure in the Tennessee Valley by this time, was visiting the area, the legislature extended him an invitation to observe their proceedings and have the body pay him its respects. The general recently had become embroiled in Congress’s effort to censure him for his high-handed actions during the First Seminole War, specifically his unsanctioned decision to seize Spanish outposts in Florida as part of his pursuit of the defiant tribesmen. Exactly how to word a joint resolution by the Alabama General Assembly and how stridently it should praise Jackson briefly became a bit of a minor controversy in the legislature, as division over the appropriateness of his actions and whether to disapprove of the federal government’s response exposed the emerging political alignments that would carry Alabama well into its first decades of statehood. In the end the assembly issued a clumsy compromise resolution lauding Jackson but making no mention of the censure, but the damage had been done. Legislators who had been reluctant to commend the general would themselves later be subjected to the disapprobation of an electorate which viewed Old Hickory as the very embodiment of all they held dear. Soon enough practically all major political alliances in Alabama would galvanize for or against his vision of American democracy.
Observing the gathering would “form a memorable epoch in our history…you cannot estimate too highly the great interests committed to your charge, or the important consequences which may flow from your deliberations.”
There, in this upstart urban community among the bucolic, sweeping plains and rich river bottoms of central Alabama’s famed Black Belt, the long-held dream of statehood was destined to take shape. A grand capitol topped with a gleaming copper dome would serve as the focal point of the new state’s political scene once this new era dawned. Sadly, the man who willed the city in which it stood into being would not be there to celebrate Alabama’s arrival, though. Governor Bibb, already weakened from tuberculosis, suffered a bad fall while riding his horse on his plantation in Autauga County early in 1820 and passed away after a prolonged illness in July of that year at the age of only thirty-nine. The new state constitution said that should the governor become unable to serve, the governorship would be assumed by the president of the senate—a position ironically enough held at the time by Bibb’s brother, Thomas. Therefore, his sibling ultimately served the remainder of his term as governor. To the younger Bibb, then, would fall the honor of leading the first legislative session of Alabama’s statehood, convened at Cahawba in the fall of 1820. But all of that history had yet to be written in December 1819, when a very important document regarding the fate of the future state of Alabama came across Pres. James Monroe’s desk in the nation’s capital.