Henry W. Collier

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Henry Watkins Collier
14th Governor of Alabama
In office
December 17, 1849 – December 20, 1853
Preceded byReuben Chapman
Succeeded byJohn A. Winston
Personal details
Born(1801-01-17)January 17, 1801
Lunenburg County, Virginia
DiedAugust 28, 1855(1855-08-28) (aged 54)
Bailey Springs, Alabama
Political partyDemocratic

Henry Watkins Collier (January 17, 1801 – August 28, 1855 in Bailey Springs, Alabama) was the 14th Governor of the U.S. state of Alabama from 1849 to 1853. He was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia, son of James Collier and Elizabeth Bouldin. Collier arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, from South Carolina in 1823. He sat on the Alabama Supreme Court for 18 years, of which 12 were as chief justice. He married Mary Ann Williams Battle. His only son, a doctor, died of cholera as a young man. He was a staunch believer in slavery and states' rights who was intolerant of abolition discussions. He was a friend of Dorothea Dix and promoted education, care of the mentally ill, and prison reform in Alabama.[1] The family was closely allied with those of Rufus King (one daughter marrying his nephew, the other marrying Prof. Geo. Benagh of Tuscaloosa) and Gov. Clay. Following his term as governor, Collier was offered a seat in the United States Senate but declined and retired.[2] He died in Bailey Springs, Alabama, of gastroenteritis.

While governor of Alabama, Collier had managed to offend a group of visiting chargés d'affaires from France, representing business interests in the port of Mobile. Collier rebuffed numerous invitations they made to him, leading them to criticize him publicly. Their criticisms were reported in the newspapers of the Alabama Reporter and the Advertiser and State Gazette based in Montgomery. In response, Collier invited the French chargés d'affaires to the governor's mansion in Montgomery. However, the meeting proved a disaster.

The French chargés d'affaires all left feeling "greatly offended". Collier later said, "the French are unmanly and frivolous, their morals are universally profligate", and he did not care if he offended them. The French diplomats responded by cultivating a relationship with Alabama politician James Shields, who they believed would better serve their interests. Shields proved friendlier to the French diplomats, frequently having them to his "parlor" as guests and "showing them off". In the 1851 Alabama gubernatorial election, Shields had the public backing of France's diplomatic representatives and the French expatriate business community in Mobile.

In a move later cited as his reason for having to depart the United States, the French ambassador in Washington DC, Guillaume Tell Poussin, took the unprecedented step of endorsing Shields in the election and of "encouraging the men of Alabama to make him governor." Shortly before the election, a visiting French businessman, Yves de la Tour d'Auvergne, whose operations were primarily based in Martinique and French Guiana, spoke to Congressman David Hubbard in a way that Hubbard characterized as condescending, explaining basic facts about Alabama to Hubbard as if Hubbard did not already know them (including deliberately obvious things such as which city was the capital, and that Alabama had not been a state for a hundred years) and also referring to Hubbard in the third person, in English, while Hubbard was present and speaking of him "as though he were a fool." During this exchange, Hubbard had been a guest of d'Auvergne and was "shocked" by the treatment. Hubbard was known as a major public supporter of Collier, and Monsieur de la Tour d'Auvergne gave a very public toast to Shields at the event. Shields was considered the invité d'honneur or "guest of honor" at the event, and Hubbard later concluded he had only been invited as an insult.[3]

After the election, it became clear to both d'Auvergne and Ambassador Poussin that they had greatly misjudged public opinion among "the leading men of Alabama"; following this d'Auvergne departed Mobile.[4][5][6] Following his term as governor, Collier was offered a seat in the United States Senate but declined and retired.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Henry W. Collier (1849-53)".
  2. ^ a b Floyd, Warner (May 21, 1971). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form: Collier-Overby House". National Park Service. Retrieved November 23, 2015.
  3. ^ Governor Collier of Alabama by James Edmonds Saunders, pg. 119–120
  4. ^ Croisïres de l'Alabama et du Sumter: livre de bord et journal particulier du Commandant R. Semmes by Raphael Semmes - 1864
  5. ^ High Points in Alabama History by Thomas McAdory Owen and Marie Bankhead Owen, 1928
  6. ^ Governor Collier of Alabama by James Edmonds Saunders, pg. 122
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Alabama
1849, 1851
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Alabama
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama
Succeeded by