WILLIAM CALVIN OATES, Alabama’s 29th governor, was born on November 30, 1835, in present-day Bullock County, Alabama. He was educated in old-field schools and attended high school at Lawrenceville, Alabama. Oates taught school, was a house painter, and worked as a carpenter. In 1858, he studied law in Eufaula, was admitted to the Alabama Bar, and in 1859 started his own law practice in Abbeville. Oates enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861, as captain of the 15th Alabama Infantry Regiment. He was promoted to colonel, and in 1864 lost his right arm in battle. After the war, Oates returned to Abbeville and resumed his legal career. He entered politics as a delegate to the 1868 Democratic National Convention. Oates served in the Alabama House of Representatives from 1870 to 1872, and was an unsuccessful candidate for governor in 1872. He chaired the judiciary committee of the 1875 Alabama Constitution Convention, and was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1881 to 1894. In a bitter contest for the governor’s office, Oates defeated Populist Reuben Kolb on August 6, 1894. Kolb held his own inauguration ceremony in front of the capitol and challenged Oates’ inauguration on December 1, 1894, unsuccessfully. During Governor Oates’s term, the state’s iron industry began exporting overseas, a Free-Silver Convention was held in 1895 to urge the free and unlimited coinage of silver, hydroelectric power was generated on the Tallapoosa River, and prison reform and state finances were addressed. Oates did not seek reelection, but ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. After leaving office on December 1, 1896, Oates served stateside in the Spanish-American War. During the 1901 Alabama Constitutional Convention, Oates chaired the legislature department, and was a member of the committee on suffrage and elections. Oates died on September 9, 1910, in Montgomery, and is buried at the Oakwood Cemetery, Montgomery, Alabama.
Alabama Department of Archives and History
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 1, Westport, Conn.; Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.