Choosing Capitals in Antebellum Southern
STEPHANIE D. MOUSSALLI*
FROM 1812 TO THE CIVIL WAR, SIX STATES ON THE SOUTHERN FRONTIER
joined the Union: Louisiana (1812), Mississippi (1817), Alabama
(1819), Arkansas (1836), and Florida and Texas (1845).' The constitu-
tions their founding fathers wrote in preparation for statehood all
included very similar provisions for the siting of the state capital (see
Table 1).2 In each case, the founders chose the initial seat of govern-
ment, and then added provisions for it to be relocated in the future,
either by legislative action or popular referendum.
Why did all these constitutional conventions make such similar deci-
sions? They were under no compulsion to do so, and in fact on a num-
ber of other issues they freely ignored the constitutional precedents set
by older states. Furthermore, each new state faced different circum-
stances and problems in deciding on a capital.
This study concludes that the similarity of the capital provisions in
these constitutions was due to the similarity of the capital-related dynam-
ics set up by the conventions. In each case, these dynamics caused the
final decision on locating the capital to depend on a combination of
three factors: location-the ease of accessibility for people from all cor-
ners of the state; investment-the presence or absence of an existing or
traditional capital and/or the necessary infrastructure and living accom-
modations; and politics-the size, influence, alliances, and agendas of
the various counties' convention delegations. Remarkably, this stew of
* Stephanie D. Moussalli is a writer in Pensacola and formerly an adjunct instructor of history
and political science at Pensacola Junior College and of English at the University of West Florida.
1 These were all of the slave states admitted to the Union in the nineteenth century before
the Civil War except for Missouri, which is omitted from this study as being geographically and
2 The constitutions-Louislana (1812), Mississippi (1817), Alabama (1819), Arkansas
(1836), Florida (1839), and Texas (1845)-appear in Francis Newton Thorpe (ed.), The Federal
and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States, Terrtories, and Colonies
Now or Heretofore Forming the United States of America (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing
Office, 1909), s.vw (cited hereafter by state abbreviation only).
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117155/. Accessed February 14, 2016.