George Smith Houston
United States Senator
from Alabama
In office
March 4, 1879 – December 31, 1879
Preceded byGeorge E. Spencer
Succeeded byLuke Pryor
24th Governor of Alabama
In office
November 24, 1874 – November 28, 1878
LieutenantRobert F. Ligon
Preceded byDavid P. Lewis
Succeeded byRufus W. Cobb
Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus
In office
March 4, 1859 – January 21, 1861
SpeakerSamuel J. Randall
Preceded byGeorge W. Jones (1857)
Succeeded byWilliam E. Niblack/
Samuel J. Randall (1869)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alabama's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1843 – March 3, 1849
Preceded byJames Dellet
Succeeded byDavid Hubbard
In office
March 4, 1851 – January 21, 1861
Preceded byDavid Hubbard
Succeeded byJohn Benton Callis
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alabama's at-large district
In office
March 4, 1841 – March 3, 1843
Preceded byDistrict inactive
Succeeded byDistrict inactive
Personal details
Born(1811-01-17)January 17, 1811
Franklin, Tennessee
DiedDecember 31, 1879(1879-12-31) (aged 68)
Athens, Alabama
Political partyDemocratic
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.

Early life

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.[1]

Early career

After graduating law school, Houston returned to Florence 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,[2] but he was defeated in the subsequent election to that office. He then moved to Limestone County and continued to practice law. In 1837, Houston was elected in his own right to be a solicitor and held that office until 1841.[1]

U.S. House of Representatives

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.[1]

As a Southern Unionist, Houston was one of only four southern Democrats not to 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.

Civil War and Reconstruction

Following the American Civil War outbreak, Houston resigned from 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 U.S. Army General Ivan Turchin.[1]

Houston presented his credentials as a senator-elect from Alabama during Reconstruction, but the Republican Party refused to seat him.[3] 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.

Governor of 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 instead of 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 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 mostly black prisoners would be leased to private contractors.[1]

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-person 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. Lawler and Houston had a history of working as railroad directors, creating a conflict of interest. The commission eventually set the legitimate debt at $12.5 million. The Republican-controlled Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad bondholders were the most adversely affected.

Houston advocated a constitutional convention to replace the constitution adopted in 1868. Voters approved the new constitution in 1875. The constitution declared that the state could never again secede from the United States and banned educational and property qualifications for voting or holding office. Also, the constitution eliminated the position of lieutenant governor.

Personal life

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, enslaving 78 people.[1]


Houston was finally elected to the United States Senate in 1878 but died at his home in Athens on December 31, 1879.[4] He was buried in Athens City Cemetery.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "George S. Houston (1874-78)". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  2. ^ "Alabama Governors: George Smith Houston". Alabama Department of Archives and History. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  3. ^ "HOUSTON, George Smith – Biographical Inforomation". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  4. ^ "The Last Sleep: Sudden Death of United States Senator George S. Houston". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Nashville, Tennessee. December 31, 1879. p. 1. Retrieved April 25, 2022 – via
Party political offices VacantTitle last held byRobert B. Lindsay Democratic nominee for Governor of Alabama 1874, 1876 Succeeded byRufus W. Cobb U.S. House of Representatives Preceded byDistrict inactive Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Alabama's at-large congressional district March 4, 1841 – March 3, 1843 Succeeded byDistrict inactive Preceded byJames Dellet Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Alabama's 5th congressional district March 4, 1843 – March 3, 1849 Succeeded byDavid Hubbard Preceded byDavid Hubbard Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Alabama's 5th congressional district March 4, 1851 – March 3, 1861 Succeeded byJohn Benton Callis Political offices Preceded byDavid P. Lewis Governor of Alabama 1874–1878 Succeeded byRufus W. Cobb U.S. Senate Preceded byGeorge E. Spencer U.S. senator (Class 3) from Alabama March 4, 1879 – December 31, 1879 Served alongside: John T. Morgan Succeeded byLuke Pryor