The first Europeans to enter the limits of the present state of Alabama were Spaniards, who claimed this region as a part of Florida. It is possible that a member of Panfilo de Narvaez's expedition of 1528 entered what is now southern Alabama, but the first fully authenticated visit was that of Hernando de Soto, who made an arduous but fruitless journey along the Coosa, Alabama and Tombigbee rivers in 1539. The English, too, claimed the region north of the Gulf of Mexico, and the territory of modern Alabama was included in the province of Carolina, granted by Charles II. to certain of his favourites by the charters of 1663 and 1665. English traders of Carolina were frequenting the valley of the Alabama river as early as 1687. Disregarding these claims, however, the French in 1702 settled on the Mobile river and there erected Fort Louis, which for the next nine years was the seat of government of Louisiana. In 1711 Fort Louis was abandoned to the floods of the river, and on higher ground was built Fort Conde, the germ of the present city of Mobile, and the first permanent white settlement in Alabama. Later, on account of the intrigues of the English traders with the Indians, the French as a means of defence established the military posts of Fort Toulouse, near the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, and Fort Tombecbe on the Tombigbee river. The grant of Georgia to Oglethorpe and his associates in 1732 included a portion of what is now northern Alabama, and in 1739 Oglethorpe himself visited the Creek Indians west of the Chattahoochee river and made a treaty with them. The peace of Paris, in 1763, terminated the French occupation, and England came into undisouted possession of the region between the Chattahoochee and the Mississippi. The portion of Alabama below the 31st parallel then became a part of West Florida, and the portion north of this line a part of the Illinois country," set apart, by royal proclamation, for the use of the Indians. In 1767 the province of West Florida was extended northward to 32 degrees 28' N. lat., and a few years later, during the War for Independence, this region fell into the hands of Spain. By the treaty of Versailles, on the 3rd of September 1783, England ceded West Florida to Spain; but by the treaty of Paris, signed the same day, she ceded to the United States all of this province north of 31 degrees, and thus laid the foundation for a long controversy. By the treaty of Madrid, in 1795, Spain ceded to the United States her claims to the lands east of the Mississippi between 31 degrees and 32 degrees 28'; and three years later (1798) this district was organized by Congress as the Mississippi Territory. A strip of land 12 or 14 m. wide near the present northern boundary of Alabama and Mississippi was claimed by South Carolina; but in 1787 that state ceded this claim to the general government. Georgia likewise claimed all the lands between the 31st and 35th parallels from its present western boundary to the Mississippi river, and did not surrender its claim until 1802; two years later the boundaries of the Mississippi Territory were extended so as to include all of the Georgia cession. In 1812 Congress annexed to the Mississippi Territory the Mobile District of West Florida, claiming that it was included in the Louisiana Purchase; and in the following year General James Wilkinson occupied this district with a military force, the Spanish commandant offering no resistance. The whole area of the present state of Alabama then for the first time became subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. In 1817 the Mississippi Territory was divided; the western portion became the state of Mississippi, and the eastern the territory of Alabama, with St Stephens, on the Tombigbee river, as the temporary seat of government. In 1819 Alabama was regularly admitted to the Union as a state.
One of the first problems of the new commonwealth was that of finance. Since the amount of money in circulation was not sufficient to meet the demands of the increasing population, a system of state banks was instituted. State bonds were issued and public lands were sold to secure capital, and the notes of the banks, loaned on security, became a medium of exchange. Prospects of an income from the banks led the legislature of 1836 to abolish all taxation for state purposes. This was hardly done, however, before the panic of 1837 wiped out a large portion of the banks' assets; next came revelations of grossly careless and even of corrupt management, and in 1843 the banks were placed in liquidation. After disposing of all their available assets, the state assumed the remaining liabilities, for which it had pledged its faith and credit, and these form a part ($3,445,000) of its present indebtedness.
The Indian problem was important. With the encroachment of the white settlers upon their hunting-grounds the Creek Indians began to grow restless, and the great Shawnee chief Tecumseh, who visited them in 1811, fomented their discontent. When the outbreak of the second war with Great Britain in 1812 gave the Creeks assurance of British aid they rose in arms, massacred several hundred settlers who had taken refuge in Fort Mims, near the junction of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, and in a short time no white family in the Creek country was safe outside a palisade. The Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians, however, remained the faithful allies of the whites, and volunteers from Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, and later United States troops, marched to the rescue of the threatened settlements. In the campaign that followed the most distinguished services were rendered by General Andrew Jackson, whose vigorous measures broke for ever the power of the Creek Confederacy. By the treaty of Fort Jackson (9th of August 1814) the Creeks ceded their claims to about one-half of the present state; and cessions by the Cherokees, Chickasaws and Choctaws in 1816 left only about one-fourth of Alabama to the Indians. In 1832 the national government provided for the removal of the Creeks; but before the terms of the contract were effected, the state legislature formed the Indian lands into counties, and settlers flocked in. This caused a disagreement between Alabama and the United States authorities; although it was amicably setrled, it engendered a feeling that the policy of the national government might not be in harmony with the interests of the state---a feeling which, intensified by the slavery agitation, did much to cause secession in 1861.
The political history of Alabama may be divided into three periods, that prior to 1860, the years from 1860 to 1876, and the period from 1876 onwards.
The first of these is the only period of altogether healthy political life. Until 1832 there was only one party in the state, the Democratic, but the question of nullification caused a division that year into the (Jackson) Democratic party and the State's Rights (Calhoun Democratic) party; about the same time, also, there arose, chiefly in those counties where the proportion of slaves to freemen was greater and the freemen were most aristocratic, the Whig party. For some time the Whigs were nearly as numerous as the Democrats, but they never secured control of the state government. The State's Rights men were in a minority; nevertheless under their active and persistent leader, William L. Yancey (1814-1863), they pvevailed upon the Democrats in 1848 to adopt their most radical views. During the agitation over the introduction of slavery into the territory acquired from Mexico, Yancey induced the Democratic State Convention of 1848 to adopt what is known as the "Alabama Platform," which declared in substance that neither Congress nor the government of a territory had the right to interfere with slavery in a territory, that those who held opposite views were not Democrats, and that the Democrats of Alabama would not support a candidate for the presidency if he did not agree with them on these questions. This platform was endorsed by conventions in Florida and Virginia and by the legislatures of Georgia and Alabama. Old party lines were broken by the Compromise of 1850. The State's Rights party, joined by many Democrats, founded the Southern Rights party, which demanded the repeal of the Compromise, advocated resistance to future encroachments and prepared for secession, while the Whigs, joined by the remaining Democrats, formed the party known as the "Unionists," which unwillingly accepted the Compromise and denied the "constitutional" right of secession. The "Unionists" were successful in the elections of 1851 and 1852, but the feeling of uncertainty engendered in the south by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and the course of the slavery agitation after 1852 led the State Democratic convention of 1856 to revive the "Alabama Platform"; and when the "Alabama Platform" failed to secure the formal approval of the Democratic National convention at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1860, the Alabama delegates, followed by those of the other cotton "states," withdrew. Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln, Governor Andrew B. Moore, according to previous instructions of the legislature, called a state convention on the 7th of January 1861 After long debate this convention adopted on the 11th of January an ordinance of secession, and Alabama became one of the Confederate states of America, whose government was organized at Montgomery on the 4th of February 1861. Yet secession was opposed by many prominent men, and in North Alabama an attempt was made to organize a neutral state to be called Nickajack; but with President Lincoln's call to arms all opposition to secession ended.
In the early part of the Civil War Alabama was not the scene of military operations, yet the state contributed about 120,000 men to the Confederate service, practically all her white population capable of bearing arms, and thirty-nine of these attained the rank of general. In 1863 the Federal forces secured a foothold in northern Alabama in spite of the opposition of General Nathan B. Forrest, one of the ablest Confederate cavalry leaders. In 1864 the defences of Mobile were taken by a Federal fleet, but the city held out until April 1865; in the same month Selma also fell.
According to the presidential plan of reorganization, a provisional governor for Alabama was appointed in June 1865; a state convention met in September of the same year, and declared the ordinance of secession null and void and slavery abolished; a legislature and a governor were elected in November, the legislature was at once recognized by the National government, and the inauguration of the governor-elect was permitted after the legislature had, in December, ratified the thirteenth amendment. But the passage, by the legislature, of vagrancy and apprenticeship laws designed to control the negroes who were flocking from the plantations to the cities, and its rejection of the fourteenth amendment, so intensified the congressional hostility to the presidential plan that the Alabama senators and representatives were denied their seats in Congress. In 1867 the congressional plan of reconstruction was completed and Alabama was placed under military government. The negroes were now enrolled as voters and large numbers of white citizens were disfranchised.4 A Black Man's Party, composed of negroes, and political adventurers known as "carpet-baggers," was formed, which co-operated with the Republican party. A constitutional convention, controlled by this element, met in November 1867, and framed a constitution which conferred suffrage on negroes and disfranchised a large class of whites. The Reconstruction Acts of Congress required every new constitution to be ratified by a majority of the legal voters of the state. The whites of Alabama therefore stayed away from the polls, and, after five days of voting, the constitution wanted 13,550 to secure a majority. Congress then enacted that a majority of the votes cast should be sufficient, and thus the constitution went into effect, the state was admitted to the Union in June 1868, and a new governor and legislature were elected.
The next two years are notable for legislative extravagance and corruption. The state endorsed railway bonds at the rate of $12,000 and $16,000 a mile until the state debt had increased from eight millions to seventeen millions of dollars, and similar corruption characterized local government. The native white people united, formed a Conservative party and elected a governor and a majority of the lower house of the legislature in 1870; but, as the new administration was largely a failure, in 1872 there was a reaction in favour of the Radicals, a local term applied to the Republican party, and affairs went from bad to worse. In 1874, however, the power of the Radicals was finally broken, the Conservative Democrats electing all state officials. A commission appointed to examine the state debt found it to be $25,503,000; by compromise it was reduced to $15,000,000. A new constitution was adopted in 1875, which omitted the guaranty of the previous constitution that no one should be denied suffrage on account of race, colour or previous condition of servitude, and forbade the state to engage in internal improvements or to give its credit to any private enterprise.
Since 1874 the Democratic party has had constant control of the state administration, the Republicans failing to make nominations for office in 1878 and 1880 and endorsing the ticket of the Greenback party in 1882. The development of mining and manufacturing was accompanied by economic distress among the farming classes, which found expression in the Jeffersonian Democratic party, organized in 1892. The regular Democratic ticket was elected and the new party was then merged into the Populist party. In 1894 the Republicans united with the Populists, elected three congressional representatives, secured control of many of the counties, but failed to carry the state, and continued their opposition with less success in the next campaigns. Partisanship became intense, and charges of corruption of the ignorant negro electorate were made. Consequently after division on the subject among the Democrats themselves, as well as opposition of Republicans and Populists, a new constitution with restrictions on suffrage was adopted in 1901.