50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 22. Alabama

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

22. Alabama

Capital: Montgomery

Nickname: Yellowhammer State

Motto: Audemus Jura Nostra Defendere

(We Dare to Defend Our Rights)

About the State

Prior to European colonisation, the state was home to Native American tribes including the Alabama, who spoke Muskogean, and the Cherokee, whose language was a dialect of Iroquoian. Both the English and French tried to settle in the region, with Charles II including part of it in a land charter is granted in establishing the Province of Carolina, while the southern portion was part of New France. The two colonial powers fought over the area during the 18th century, each attempting to consolidate their claim by forming allegiances with Native American tribes. After the Seven Years’ War ended in 1763, control went to the British until the Revolutionary War, when they ceded the region to Spain, who ultimately gave it to the United States in 1795. It was organised by the Federal Government in the Mississippi Territory, but its borders did not reach the Gulf of Mexico until 1812, when the US annexed the region around Mobile that had been part of Spanish West Florida. During the War of 1812 with Britain, General Andrew Jackson was also the commander of combined state militias that fought in Alabama with the Lower Creek and Cherokee to defeat the Red Stick Creeks, in a conflict that had started as a civil war within the Creek tribes.

When Mississippi separated to become a state in 1817, the eastern portion was named the Alabama Territory and achieved statehood itself on December 14th, 1819, becoming the 22nd to join the Union. In the 1830s, the Indian Removal Act resulted in many of the tribes who were native to the region being forced to relocate further west. As with its neighbours, the wealth of Alabama grew through the production of cotton, but at the expense of hundreds of thousands of African-Americans who were held as slaves to farm the crop. In the southern part of the state, the area called the “Black Belt” – a reference to the topsoil of that colour – was particularly fertile and many of the plantations were concentrated in this region and thus so was a lot of the population. In 1861, Alabama seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, providing more than 120,000 men to the war effort. Alabama’s nickname of the “Yellowhammer state” came about from the uniforms – which had yellow sleeves – of the Huntsville Company that fought in Kentucky during the Civil War. The Battle of Mobile in 1864 resulted in the Union gaining control of the last remaining port the Confederacy had held east of the Mississippi River, which was an important victory for tactical reasons and also gained momentum for President Lincoln ahead of his re-election bid later that year.

As with all of the southern states, following a period of reconstruction after the war had ended, African-Americans were subjected to disenfranchisement, through methods such as poll taxes; segregation, via Jim Crow laws; and were victims of lynchings and beatings, orchestrated by the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups. Conditions were made worse in the state by the falling price of cotton in the early 20th century, followed by the crop being destroyed by boll weevil infestations. Starting during the First World War, with a second wave from the 1940s to 70s, African-Americans left Alabama and surrounding states to head north and west in search of better opportunities. Some of the most noted events of the Civil Rights Movement took place in Alabama, with the peaceful protesters standing up in the face of continued violence by the KKK. In 1955, it was in Montgomery that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus – as the law required her to do because of the colour of her skin; the campaign focused its attempts to end segregation in schools, restaurants and department stores in Birmingham; and it was in that same city that peace marches were dealt with through the use of water cannons and dogs by the police.

Alabama has shifted from an agricultural economy to a diversified one that has invested to bring jobs in finance, health care, aerospace, steel production and automobile manufacturing to the state. It also a has large tourism sector, primarily focused around the beaches in the south, on the Gulf of Mexico. Alabama is the 30th biggest state in terms of area and, with just over 4.8 million residents, ranks 23rd in population. No Presidents of the United States have been born, or made their home, in the state, nor does it have any “Big Four” sports teams, but baseball legends Hank Aaron and Willie Mays are both natives of Alabama.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 9

2008 Result: McCain 60.8% Obama 36.9%

Latest Poll: Romney +18%

Alabama has voted for the Republican Presidential candidate in 9 of the last 10 elections – the one exception being Jimmy Carter in 1976, who was from neighbouring Georgia – and Mitt Romney is sure to win the state in November.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There are no Senate elections in Alabama in 2012. The state has seven Representatives in the House, of which six are Republican and one is a Democrat, a ratio that is expected to be maintained after the election.

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