When Alexander G. McNutt was inaugurated governor in January 1838, Mississippi was entering a period of severe economic depression that lasted through both of his two terms.
Although as a member of the state senate McNutt had opposed the bill creating the Union Bank, as governor he signed the bill into law in the hope that the new financial institution could ease Mississippi’s depressed economy. His hopes were dashed, however, when the bank failed in 1839. Governor McNutt was then forced to take a stand on the question of honoring or not paying the state bonds that had been invested earlier in the Planters Bank as well as those invested in the Union Bank. That question became one of the most volatile political issues in antebellum Mississippi.
Because the state treasury was depleted, Governor McNutt believed that Mississippi had no alternative but to repudiate the bonds. His position prevailed, and the legislature declared that the Mississippi bonds that had been invested in the Planters and Union banks would not be honored. The repudiation of those bonds remained a political issue until the 1890 Constitution prohibited the state from ever redeeming the bonds.
McNutt had migrated to Mississippi from Rockbridge, Virginia, where he was born in 1801. After graduating from Washington College, which is now Washington and Lee, McNutt moved to Jackson where he practiced law briefly before moving to Vicksburg. In 1833 he married Elizabeth Camerion, the wealthy widow of a business partner, and acquired a large plantation along Deer Creek in Warren County.
Governor McNutt was an accomplished though little-known humorist and published a number of very popular hunting tales in the New York publication The Spirit of the Times, which had 40,000 subscribers and was very popular in the Old Southwest. His writings included tales of frontier life and his characterizations of frontiersmen were similar to the better known Georgia Scenes by Augustus Longstreet.
In 1842 McNutt was defeated in his bid for the U. S. Senate and, while trying to make a political comeback, he died on the campaign trail at Cockrum’s Crossroads in DeSoto County on October 22, 1848. The old county seat of Sunflower County was named in honor of Mississippi’s twelfth governor. But when Leflore County was established, the county seat was moved from McNutt to Greenwood, and McNutt gradually became extinct.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 58.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form II, 192-201.