Hiram Runnels lost the office of governor and won the office of governor by the narrowest margins in Mississippi’s history. In 1831 he lost by 247 votes and in 1833 he won by 558 votes, but then lost again in 1835 by 426 votes.
Runnels was an excitable and volatile person. His narrow defeat in 1835 has been attributed, in part at least, to his emotional outburst against one of his opponents during which he used some very harsh and unparliamentary language.
Runnels, who was born December 15, 1796, in Hancock County, Georgia, migrated to Mississippi and settled near Monticello. In 1822, when the Mississippi Legislature appointed him state auditor, Runnels moved to Jackson. He served as state auditor until his election to the state senate from Hinds County in 1830. As a state senator, Runnels sided with President Andrew Jackson during the tariff controversy of 1832. His close identification with President Jackson brought him substantial support in his successful governor’s campaign during a special election in May 1833.
Although Runnels was duly elected in May 1833, and the Mississippi Legislature had authorized the new governor to assume the office immediately, there was some confusion about when his term should actually begin. Because of that confusion, Runnels did not take office until November 20, 1833, the time specified in the new 1832 constitution. Until then, the president of the state senate, Charles Lynch, served as governor.
During Governor Runnels’s administration the state militia was reorganized and enlarged, and sixteen new counties were created from the native lands in north Mississippi that had been ceded by the Choctaws and Chickasaws in 1830 and 1832.
In November 1835, Governor Runnels, who had served in office since November 1833, considered his two-year term to have expired. He therefore vacated the office. But the legislature had moved the inauguration of the incoming governor and the opening of the next legislative session from November 1835 to January 1836. Consequently, when Governor Runnels left office on November 20, 1835, the legislature was not in session and there was no president of the senate to succeed him.
For a period of thirteen days, Mississippi was without a governor. The secretary of state therefore called a special session of the senate to elect a president who could assume the office of governor. The senate convened December 3, 1835, and elected John A. Quitman president, who under these unusual circumstances became Mississippi’s chief executive for about a month until governor-elect Charles Lynch was inaugurated January 7, 1836.
In 1838 Runnels was named president of the newly chartered Union Bank. After the collapse of the Union Bank, and a duel with one of its directors, Runnels moved to Texas. Runnels continued to be active in politics and served for several years in the Texas Legislature. While a member of the Texas Senate, Runnels died December 17, 1857.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1908), 32, 111; (1912), 55.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form II, 580-585.