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Path to Statehood

In 1817, the present-day states of Alabama and Mississippi were both part of one Mississippi Territory. When Congress designated Mississippi as a new state in 1817, it provided that the eastern half of the territory would become the new Territory of Alabama.

Alabama’s territorial capital was St. Stephens, a busy frontier town located on the Tombigbee River, north of Mobile. There, the territorial legislature wrote the first laws for Alabama. The territorial governor was William Wyatt Bibb, a doctor and former U.S. senator from Georgia.


The population boomed as settlers arrived overland from the north and east. Many planters brought enslaved workers with them, but most of the new settlers were small farmers. Fewer numbers of merchants and professionals, some of them from New England, helped build new towns.


The territory’s 1818 census counted nearly 68,000 residents, well above the 60,000 needed to write a constitution and seek statehood.

In July 1819, forty-four delegates convened in Huntsville to draft a state constitution. They signed the document on August 2 and sent a copy to Congress.

While awaiting action by the federal government, Alabama conducted the first elections for state officials in September. The new state legislature met in Huntsville that fall to take up important business, including setting county boundaries, creating roads, and establishing the court system. William Wyatt Bibb, now the state’s first elected governor, made plans for moving the government to Cahawba, a new town located where the Cahawba and Alabama rivers met, near Selma.


On December 14, 1819, President James Monroe signed a congressional resolution accepting the new Alabama constitution, thereby formally admitting Alabama as the 22nd state of the United States.


On August 5, Huntsville residents had their first opportunity to read the new constitution as copies were circulated from the print shop of John Boardman.

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