Friday, July 5, 2013

Alabama Governor to be Furnishes White Flag of Surrender at Appomattox-- Linen Napkin From Lady Who Brought them Biscuits That Morning

Friend and contributor to these pages Mr. David Bagwell, of Point Clear, Alabama has his own "White Shoe Law Firm" in Fairhope and along with his successful law practice David is a noted historian, especially of anything related to his beloved Alabama.  David wrote the following article for the newsletter of the Historical Society of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and I am grateful for his willingness to share.  

David A. Bagwell (1)

Thomas Goode (2) Jones was a United States District Judge for the Northern and Middle Districts of Alabama from 1901 to his death in 1914. Mostly, let’s call it the Middle District.

Just for an appetizer, we have here the Confederate officer who provided the white flag of surrender at Appomattox, former Governor of Alabama and Gold -Standard Democrat, author of the first-ever lawyer’s code of ethics, nominated for the job of Federal Judge by President Teddy Roosevelt on the recommendation of black educator Booker T. Washington. And, when he died, he was succeeded as Judge by the author of the Clayton Antitrust Act. Alabama at the turn of the last century was quite a place, and Jones was quite a man.

Jones was born in Macon, Georgia in 1844, and in 1850 at the age of six moved with his parents to Montgomery, Alabama, where he would live for the next sixty - four years, give or take Army service in The Late Rebellion or Late Unpleasantness, according to how your great-grandmother might have preferred to say it.

He was a student at the Virginia Military Institute when in 1862 he, like all the others there who were eager to support its professor Thomas Jonathon [“Stonewall”] Jackson and the Southern effort, left with the VMI students en masse for the Confederate Army. Gen. Jackson, surrounded by VMI men, on the day of his death said at Chancellorsville “The Institute will be heard from today!”. Jones was heard from in the war.

Jones rose to Major in the Confederate Army, clearly a dead-end career, and the legend is that he provided and carried at least one of the white flags of truce at Appomattox. The story is that the “flag of truce” had at breakfast that day been a white linen napkin from the basket of biscuits which a local Virginia lady had brought over to the soldiers. What could be a better legend than that, to drape the future of Judge Jones? It fairly dripped with Southernness: “The Lost Cause” [sic], Appomattox, surrender, a Southern lady, a starched white linen napkin and a basket of biscuits! Not for nothing is the Montgomery baseball team named “the Montgomery Biscuits”! [or, was it actually for nothing?]. The Alabama Department of Archives and History would kill to have that “white flag”, so if your great-grandmother left it to you and you are squirreling it away, kindly out with it.

Jones continued his “military career” after The Late Unpleasantness, and he was elected Captain of the Montgomery Greys in 1876 and was Colonel of a regiment of state troops from 1880 to 1890, commanding state troops in every serious Alabama riot from 1874 to 1894. There was a great need for “State Troops” back then, a sort of early National Guard, to protect from lynchings all over Alabama [his experience led him to lead on that subject at the 1901 Constitutional Convention, as we will discuss] and maybe less nobly, coal mine labor strife around Birmingham.

The year after Appomattox, in 1866 Jones was admitted to the Alabama bar and practiced law, among other activities including journalism. As a lawyer Jones wrote the 1887 Code of Ethics of the Alabama Bar, generally acclaimed as the first-ever lawyer code of ethics anywhere, and acknowledged by the American Bar Association as the source of its first ethics code. Lawyers in the Eleventh Circuit today encounter Jones’ work regularly, whether they know it or not, since that code was the basis of the ethics provision setting out how to determine “a reasonable attorneys’ fee”, which in 1974 was adopted by the old Fifth Circuit in its landmark case Johnson v Georgia Highway Express. At the height of his law practice Jones was lawyer for the L&N Railroad, maybe the most powerful business force in Alabama through its president Milton Hannibal Smith, interestingly enough a renowned ancestor of Judge Ginny Granade of the Federal Court in Mobile.

Jones got into politics after the so-called “Bourbon Restoration” following the end of Congressional Reconstruction. That restoration resulted from the election of Republican President Rutherford B. Hays in 1876 upon resolution in the famous “smoke-filled room” of Washington, D.C.’s Wormley House Hotel, which resolved the Hays-Tilden Controversy and House challenge of the 1876 election.

Jones was elected to the Alabama legislature and was its speaker in 1886-1888.

By the 1890 Alabama Governor’s election, Reuben Kolb, Alabama’s best populist politician and a progressive white planter who had bred the “Kolb’s Gem” watermelon, was running as a Democrat for Governor with strong support in the white counties and also from black voters, but was considered a radical challenge to the post-Reconstruction Bourbon redemption. The conservative whites coalesced behind Jones, a darkhorse, on the theory that he was the weakest anti-Kolbite who could not guarantee where his delegates would go if he withdrew. Kolb was hurt but supported Jones, who was elected for the then two-year term in 1890. But in 1892 Kolb ran again, from his own separate Agrarian party, and the close election– which populists called “The Crime of ‘92" -- might be the dirtiest ever in Alabama. But Governor Jones turned out to be what passed then as a strong advocate of racial fairness and general genteel integrity, and a strong anti-lynching governor. In the silver and gold currency controversies of the 1890s [we are past all that now, aren’t we? “But wait! There’s more!” There’s still Ron Paul!] he was a gold - standard Democrat.

1901 was a big year for Jones as Elder Statesman and former Governor. In Alabama’s 1901 Constitutional Convention, in which the Chairman of the Convention announced in his opening speech that its sole purpose was to disfranchise black voters so supposedly white voters could have an election without race and class differences, Jones led an impromptu strong floor fight for serious impeachment tools to be used against Sheriffs whose dereliction led to lynchings. He didn’t get exactly what he wanted, but the final draft went most of the way.

He was elected President of the State Bar of Alabama.

In 1901 Jones was nominated as United States District Judge for the Northern and Middle Districts of Alabama by President Theodore Roosevelt on the recommendation of renowned black educator Booker T. Washington. Jones served until his death in 1914, when he was replaced by Congressman Henry DeLamar Clayton, Jr., author of the Clayton Antitrust Act of all things, but then, Judge Clayton is a story for another day.

Judge Jones and his wife Georgene Caroline Bird of Montgomery had thirteen children [four of whom died in infancy], the most famous being Judge Walter B. Jones, Circuit Judge in Montgomery who was reversed by the Supreme Court in the landmark cases NAACP v Alabama and N.Y. Times v Sullivan.

Judge Walter B. Jones caused Jones Law School in Montgomery to be named for his father.

Oddly enough, although Judge Thomas Goode Jones and his wife had thirteen children, today there is no living descendent of the pair. It’s up to us to remember Judge Jones, and that’s what this publication is designed to do.

1. David Bagwell is a member of the board of this Society and a solo lawyer in Fairhope, Alabama, which is a failed utopian colony but a wonderful little bitty picturesque town on the shores of Mobile Bay, across from Mobile. He is immediate past Chairman of his County’s Bar Association. He may be reached by electrons directed to

2. His middle name “Goode” is usually used, and it is pronounced like “Gude” rather than “Good”.


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Carol Thomas said...
I have been trying to post a very important comment without success.

Carol Thomas said...

I have reason to believe that Judge Walter B Jones is my grandfather. The story I was told is quite long. If anyone is interested, email me. I have typed this story twice and your comment section would not take it.