News Alerts:

Enter your email to receive news alerts from us:


  1. Hidden Costs of Stagnant Minimum Wage
    July 28, 2014 | By Jennifer Marsden  
  2. You’ll Never Guess Who Just Bought Half of UAB’s Football Tickets
    July 22, 2014 | By Dave Folk  
  3. For Uber Bad Ideas, Look No Further than Birmingham’s City Council
    July 21, 2014 | By Dave Folk  
  4. Right Women, Right Now (Kay Ivey)
    June 19, 2014 | By Kay Ivey  
  5. Welcome to Shawshank: Prison Reform in Alabama
    June 18, 2014 | By Steven Boydstun  

Recent Blogs:

  1. The Northern Beltline a Boon to Northwest Birmingham
    June 4, 2014 | By Wesley Vaughn  
  2. House of Byrnes
    February 26, 2014 | By West Honeycutt  
  3. Barking up the Wrong Tree in the Alabama House
    February 25, 2014 | By Wesley Vaughn  
  4. The Sermon on the Mount-gomery
    February 20, 2014 | By Wesley Vaughn  
  5. Republicans Still Don’t Get It
    February 11, 2014 | By Michael Hansen  
  6. Not Getting Jobbed by Bentley’s Job Numbers
    February 3, 2014 | By Wesley Vaughn  
  7. The Southern Snowstorm and Sprawl
    January 31, 2014 | By Wesley Vaughn  
  8. Two Good Initiatives in Alabama That Make Me Happy
    January 24, 2014 | By Wesley Vaughn  
  9. The Crimson White Covers Sweet Home Politics Launch
    January 23, 2014 | By West Honeycutt  
  10. House Democrats’ Legislative Agenda
    January 21, 2014 | By Wesley Vaughn  


Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – April 27, 2014

  |   By: Steve Flowers     |   Opinion

A good many of you found last week’s historical column interesting. You seemed fascinated about the vast diversity regarding the folks who settled in South Alabama versus those who homesteaded North Alabama at the state’s origination.

You found it even more interesting how close the secession from the Union vote was in 1861 with the vote falling in line with regional sentiment with South Alabamians for and North Alabamians against secession. However, the most enthralling passage was my brief mention of Winston County and its legendary stand to secede from Alabama when Alabama seceded from the union. This bold anomaly really piqued your interest. Therefore, this week I will expound on the in-depth details of the story of the “Free State of Winston.”

Winston County is a quiet rural county of about 24,000 people. It is about 75 miles northwest of Birmingham. Its closest neighboring cities of any size are Jasper and Florence. It is nestled into the heart of Northwest Alabama. In fact the county newspaper in Haleyville is named the Northwest Alabamian.

Like many rural counties in our state, there are a lot more trees than people. The William Bankhead National Forest encompasses most of Winston County. The county was named for Alabama’s Gov. John Winston. He served two terms as governor from 1853 to 1857.

Winston was not from that neck of the woods. He was a slave-owner from Sumter County but a staunch Jacksonian Democrat who stood up to the railroad interests. With the election of Abraham Lincoln as president, the inevitable secessionist movement began. Lincoln’s platform as the newly minted Republican Party candidate was to abolish slavery.

South Carolina was the first state to secede. They were soon followed by Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Texas. Later Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas left the Union. These southern states became the Confederate States of America.

Many reasons were given for seceding. However, the primary reason was that Lincoln planned to abolish slavery. The men who controlled these states’ political machinations did not want to give up their slaves.

On April 12, 1861 shots were fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. These shots were the beginning of the Civil War. Once the shots were fired, the last four states to join the Confederacy quickly seceded as well.

When Virginia seceded, their western mountainous counties had no intention of leaving the Union so they formed their own state of West Virginia and stayed with the Union. A similar occurrence was festering in Alabama. The folks of North Alabama were similar to the mountain people of West Virginia. They did not have plantation style farming. They were small yeoman farmers who cultivated their own 40 acres with one mule. In short, they did not own nor did they need slaves. Therefore, they felt like they did not have a dog in the fight.

These North Alabama counties did not care much about the slave issue nor secession. These folks in North Alabama had more in common with their neighbors and cousins to the north in Tennessee, which was the last state to leave the Union and join the Confederacy. These North Alabama hill farmers were very religious and extremely independent.

Winston County epitomized this independent virtue. The hill people of Winston County owned no slaves, worked their own fields, went to church and did not want to be bothered. When Alabama held its secession convention in 1861, Winston County voted overwhelmingly for a 22-year-old schoolteacher named Christopher Sheats to be their delegate. Sheats and Winston County refused to sign the secession document. The residents of Winston County were proud of Sheats. They were in approval. The independent people of Winston County were not going to be pushed around. They saw Alabama’s secession from the Union as their rationale to secede from Alabama.

The rest of Alabama and the Confederacy resented Winston County’s insubordination. However, the people of the Free State of Winston stood their ground. In July 1961, a meeting took place in Winston County at a place called Looney’s Tavern. They officially seceded from Alabama. However, the resolution was more of an act of neutrality. Winston County wanted more than anything to just be left alone. It was a call for neutrality where an estimated 3,000 people, almost the entire population of Winston County, attended the meeting.

Today, if you travel through Winston County and drive by the courthouse in the town of Double Springs, you will see a statue of a Civil War soldier, half Union and half Confederate, commemorating the county’s divided loyalties during the war. The legacy of the Free State of Winston lives on.

See you next week.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @SteveFlowersAL

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in more than 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at