George Smith Houston
|United States Senator|
March 4, 1879 – December 31, 1879
|Preceded by||George E. Spencer|
|Succeeded by||Luke Pryor|
|24th Governor of Alabama|
November 24, 1874 – November 28, 1878
|Lieutenant||Robert F. Ligon|
|Preceded by||David P. Lewis|
|Succeeded by||Rufus W. Cobb|
|Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus|
March 4, 1859 – January 21, 1861
|Speaker||Samuel J. Randall|
|Preceded by||George W. Jones (1857)|
|Succeeded by||William E. Niblack/|
Samuel J. Randall (1869)
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Alabama's 5th district
March 4, 1843 – March 3, 1849
|Preceded by||James Dellet|
|Succeeded by||David Hubbard|
March 4, 1851 – January 21, 1861
|Preceded by||David Hubbard|
|Succeeded by||John Benton Callis|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Alabama's at-large district
March 4, 1841 – March 3, 1843
|Preceded by||District inactive|
|Succeeded by||District inactive|
|Born||January 17, 1811|
|Died||December 31, 1879 (aged 68)|
|Parent(s)||David Ross Houston|
Hannah Pugh Reagan
George Smith Houston (January 17, 1811 – December 31, 1879) was an American Democratic politician who was the 24th Governor of Alabama from 1874 to 1878. He was also a congressman and senator for Alabama.
Houston was born near Franklin, Tennessee on January 17, 1811 to David Ross Houston and Hannah Pugh Reagan. The paternal grandson of Scots-Irish immigrants, Houston and his family moved near Florence, Alabama at age 16. There, Houston worked on the family farm and read law at Judge George Coalter's office. He eventually studied law at a school in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
After graduating law school, Houston returned to Lawrence and was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1831 as a Jacksonian Democrat, representing Lauderdale County. In 1834, Governor John Gayle appointed Houston to be district solicitor, but he was defeated in the subsequent election to that office. He then moved to Limestone County and continued to practiced law. In 1837, Houston was elected in his own right to be solicitor, and held that office until 1841.
In 1840, Houston was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives. During his tenure, he chaired the House Military Affairs Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the House Judiciary Committee.
As a Southern Unionist, Houston was one of only four southern Democrats to not sign Senator John C. Calhoun's "Address of the Southern Delegates in Congress to their Constituents" in 1849, which questioned the federal government's right to limit slavery in territories won in the Mexican–American War. Opposition to the congressman grew, and he didn't seek re-election in 1848.
Houston ran for Congress again in 1850 and won. In December 1860, Houston was chosen to represent Alabama in the so-called "Committee of Thirty-Three". The Committee adopted the Corwin Amendment, which would have amended the United States Constitution so that Congress could never abolish slavery.
Following the outbreak of the American Civil War, Houston resigned his office and returned home. Two of his sons fought for the Confederate States of America, but Houston himself stayed out of the war. In 1862, Houston's property was ransacked by Union general Ivan Turchin.
Houston presented his credentials as a Senator-elect from Alabama during Reconstruction, but the Republican Party refused to seat him. Houston attended President Andrew Johnson's 1866 National Union Convention to oppose the Radical Republicans. Houston attempted to become a U.S. Senator again in 1867, but was defeated by former Governor John A. Winston. Like in the Civil War, Houston would play no part in Reconstruction in Alabama.
In 1874, Houston ran a successful campaign for governor, garnering 53% of the vote and ousting incumbent David P. Lewis. Houston's election was the start of a long line of Democratic governors of the state, not being broken until 1986. Houston ran on a platform of "redeeming" the state and promising honesty and economy as opposed to Republican profligacy. The Democrats also intimidated many Republican voters, especially blacks. Houston served as a Bourbon Democrat, advocating conservatism, limited government, and white supremacy. As governor, the state legislature approved the creation of one of the nation's first public health boards. Though it was created in 1875, no monies were appropriated to it until 1879. With a shrinking population, Governor Houston advocated for immigration into Alabama, with limited success. In a widely condemned move Houston expanded the state's contract lease system, in which prisoners, mostly black, would be leased to private contractors. As a Senator he gained a reputation as "one of the most corrupt Senators in Alabama's history."
Governor Houston also attempted to reform the state's educational system. However, his efforts were unsuccessful due to his administration's inherited debt from railroad bonds. Houston created a three-man commission, headed by himself, to study the debt issue and to recommend a program to retire it. Tirstam B. Bethea of Mobile and Levi W. Lawler of Talladega served as the other two commissioners. Both Lawler and Houston had history of working as railroad directors, creating a conflict-of-interest. The commission eventually set the legitimate debt at $12.5 million. Bondholders of the Republican-controlled Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad were the most adversely affected.
Houston advocated a constitutional convention to replace the constitution adopted in 1868. Voters approved the new constitution in 1875. Among other things, the constitution declared that the state could never again secede from the union and banned educational and property qualifications for voting or holding office. Also, the constitution eliminated the position of lieutenant governor.
In May 1835, Houston married Mary I. Beatty and had eight children, four of whom died in childhood. His wife died before 1860, and Houston remarried in 1861 to Ellen Irvine, who bore him two additional children. By 1860, Houston was a successful cotton planter and possessed 78 slaves.
Houston was finally elected to the United States Senate in 1878, but died at his home in Athens on December 31, 1879. He was buried in Athens City Cemetery.