of William Lowndes Yancey.
William Lowndes Yancey, an important
figure in antebellum sectional politics, had his law office
in this building from 1846 until his death in 1863. During this
period Yancey gained national political influence as an aggressive
advocate of states' rights, helped to unite Southerners behind
this cause, and exacerbated sectional differences that led to
the secession of the Southern states from the Union.
Yancey began his political career in
1840, having previously been a lawyer, editor and cotton planter.
He served in both the lower and upper houses of the Alabama
legislature. Yancey advocated populist causes such as reform
of the banks and the penal system, establishment of a state
penitentiary, legal rights for married women, a free public
school system, and very significantly, state legislature representation
apportioned on the basis of the white population only. This
latter position sets Yancey apart from the planter class advocates
and places him among the mass of yeoman agrarians. He described
his stance: "I attempt to represent the great mass of the
people versus the aristocracy."
Yancey served in Congress from December
2, 1844 until September 1, 1846. His oratorical talents made
him the center of attention, but he despaired of the rampant
partisan and sectional conflicts of the government. He resigned
by a letter to his party impeaching its integrity and condemning
its weakening defense of southern rights. Settling near Montgomery,
Yancey went into the legal profession with John A. Elmore, a
partnership which was destined to become a distinguished firm.
It was Yancey's intent to shift his
defense of southern rights from the halls of Congress to the
public forum from which, he believed, future political leadership
would spring. The Wilmot Proviso, which would have prohibited
slavery in the territories acquired from Mexico, gave Yancey
his first opportunity to act. He quickly became the leader of
Alabama states' rights forces and adroitly controlled the state
convention in 1847 by unifying the delegates in opposition to
the Wilmot Proviso. The following year the Democratic delegation
to the national convention committed itself against the Proviso,
against squatter sovereignty and against any candidate who would
not repudiate it. The principles of opposition to the Wilmot
Proviso, known as the "Alabama Platform," were a significant
foreshadowing of the radical sectionalism which would pull the
nation apart. The "Alabama Platform" was designed
to curb the will of the majority and preserve to the states
all powers not expressly granted to the federal government,
equal rights of citizens and states in the territories, and
the duty of Congress to protect property rights therein so long
as they remained territories. The platform was endorsed in legislatures
and conventions throughout the South.
building at Washington and Perry Streets where Yancey's law
office was located.
National Historic Landmarks photograph, 1972.
The next twelve years were ones of intense
political organization for Yancey. He launched his campaign
to unify the South into one great sectional party. The first
line in this campaign was the organization of Southern rights
associations, non-partisan groups drawn from the major parties.
In 1858 this drive culminated in the emergence of the League
of United Southerners. The second approach was through the hustings.
Yancey's brilliant oratory reached thousands at banquets, barbecues,
receptions, and parties. The third line of attack was exposed
in his speech in Columbia, South Carolina in 1859. There he
concluded that in the next year if Southern rights were not
protected in the convention, a grand Southern party should be
created and if a Republican were elected then separation should
be accomplished before he took office.
In the state convention of 1860, the
Alabama Platform was again endorsed and the delegates instructed
to walk out if the Democrats at the national convention in Charleston
rejected it. At Charleston, after a brilliant confrontation
between Yancey and George E. Pugh, spokesman for the Northern
delegates, the convention only partly endorsed the Yancey position.
Unsatisfied, Yancey's contingent walked out and in so doing,
destroyed the party. When Yancey's delegation was refused a
seat at the reassembled convention in Baltimore, additional
delegates withdrew and joined Yancey to create the Constitutional
Democratic Party which then nominated Breckinridge for president.
It was Yancey's party and at its helm he traveled from Boston
to New Orleans delivering over one hundred addresses in its
defense. Following Lincoln's election, he dominated the proceedings
of the pivotal Alabama convention and wrote the state's Ordinance
of Secession. Yancey served in the Confederacy as Commissioner
to England and France. Retiring in 1862, he was elected to the
Senate of the Confederacy and served in that body until his
death in 1863.
restoration of the building was carried out in the 1980s.
National Historic Landmarks photograph, 1985.
The William Lowndes Yancey Law Office
was designated a National Historic Landmark on November 7, 1973
for its association with Yancey and his significant role in
sectional politics that led to the secession of the Southern
states. At the time of its designation, the exterior retained
much of its historic integrity. The interior retained elements
of the historic floor plan, interior finish, and features such
as mantels and bookshelves, believed to reflect historic uses.
In the late 1970s, however, structural problems in the building
as well as the owner's desire to develop the property, led to
the removal of much of the building's interior fabric including
features that reflected the building's historic use as office
space. On the exterior, deteriorated masonry was replaced with
Under a new owner, a restoration of the
building was undertaken in the 1980s; this work received certification
that it met the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation.
The work done by the previous owner of the building, however,
led to the conclusion that the building had lost the qualities
which caused it to be designated originally. After restoration,
sections of the original building fabric remained (the foundations,
major portions of exterior walls, the roof structure, and the
interior walls in the eastern section of building) but substantial
losses had occurred since designation of the property in 1973.
In particular, the interior alterations compromised its integrity
as historic office space. Those features associated with its
historic use as an office did not survive. The Landmark designation
of the William Lowndes Yancey Law Office was withdrawn on March
5, 1986. The property was retained on the National Register
of Historic Places, however, as it still met the criteria of