Presidents Day prompts reflection on Alabama and the presidency

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Celebrating Presidents Day means reflecting on the highest office in the land. (Officeial White House Facebook)

As we celebrate Presidents Day today, here in Alabama we can not only reflect on those who have held the country’s highest office, but also look at how we, as Alabamians, have had an impact on the presidency.

Here is a look at Alabama’s history with the Oval Office, and how we have affected the highest office in the land:

Any Alabama presidents to celebrate on Presidents Day?

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This Presidents Day, lets recall that William Rufus King is the only Alabamian to serve as vice president. (Franklin Pierce Museum)

We can get this Presidents Day trivia answer out of the way quickly. No, there has never been a POTUS from Alabama. However, there are a few Alabamians who at least held an office that was in line to the presidency — and one even earned a party nomination for president.

Alabama has had one resident serve as vice president. William Rufus King of Selma serving as the VP for President Franklin Pierce. However, King served as VP for only six weeks, as he became the first vice president to die in office after a battle with tuberculosis.

Alabama has had one other person picked as a running mate for a major party. John Sparkman, who served in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate from 1937 until 1979, was also the Democratic Party’s nominee for Vice President in the 1952 presidential election as the running mate for Adlai Stevenson. They were defeated soundly by the Republican ticket of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.

Other Alabamians who have held an office that was actually in the presidential line of succession include:

  • Rep. William Bankhead: Served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from June 4, 1936 –January 3, 1937. Bankhead, a Democrat, represented Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.
  • Condoleeza Rice: Served as Secretary of State under Pres. George W. Bush during Bush’s second term.
  • Sen. Jeff Sessions: Served as Attorney General for Pres. Donald Trump in 2017 and 2018.

Which Alabamian came closest to being elected president?

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Four-time Alabama governor George Wallace made an unsuccessful run for the presidency. (George Wallace Collectibles)

Here in Alabama, we can celebrate Presidents Day and look upon some Alabama history at the same time (despite no presidents being from Alabama). Alabama’s 4-term governor George Wallace — one of the state’s most controversial figures — actually came closer than other Alabamian to being elected president.

After Pres. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963, Wallace entered the Democratic primaries in 1964 campaigning on his opposition to integration and a tough approach on crime. Wallace was a polarizing figure during the Civil Right Era, and might have ridden that ability to divide straight to the White House.

Although he had relatively strong showing in the early primaries, Wallace eventually dropped out of the 1964 presidential race, but resurfaced as an Independent in the 1968 presidential election. Wallace’s bid for the presidency came up short in 1968 but had enough momentum to prompt a run as a Democrat in the 1972 primaries.

His polling numbers rose quickly at the beginning of the primaries and he looked poised to make a serious run at the Democratic nomination for president. But Wallace’s bid for the Oval Office effectively ended on May 15, 1972, when he was shot five times while campaigning in Maryland.

He was hit in the abdomen and chest, and one of the bullets lodged in Wallace’s spinal column, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. Although he won the primary in Maryland and in Michigan, the assassination attempt ended his campaign.

Alabama’s choice for president over the years

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Presidents Day also means I look back at the presidents of my lifetime. Yes, that is me with Pres. George W. Bush, circa 2005. (Michael Seale)

Winning Alabama has not always meant winning the election for presidential candidates. In fact, the winner of Alabama has lost the election more often than he has won. So while we are patriots here in Alabama and celebrate Presidents Day as adamantly as the next state, we don’t often determine the winner of presidential elections.

Here are some cool facts about Alabama’s presidential election history:

  • The last Democrat to win Alabama was Jimmy Carter in 1976. Carter won Alabama with 55.73 percent of the votes over Gerald Ford.
  • Three times since the two-party system has been prevalent in national elections, an independent party candidate has received the most votes in the presidential election in Alabama. Wallace in 1968, Harry Byrd in 1960 and Strom Thurmond in 1948.
  • An incumbent president has won Alabama just four times in the last 20 elections (Roosevelt in 1944, Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Bush in 2004).
  • Alabama has 9 electoral votes, but has had as many as 12.

What does Presidents Day mean to you? Let us know, and stay up to date on what’s happening around Alabama—follow The Bama Buzz on FacebookInstagramTikTok + LinkedIn.

Michael Seale
Michael Seale
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