James Whitfield: Eighteenth Governor of Mississippi: November 1851-January 1852
After Governor John Isaac Guion vacated the office of governor November
4, 1851, Mississippi was without a chief executive for twenty days. The
state supreme court had ruled that “all officers of this state are
elected for limited terms, which shall expire at the time of the general
election.” According to that ruling the term of the secretary of
state, Joseph Bell, had also expired, and the attorney general and others
advised him that he could no longer legally act as secretary of state.
But there was no governor to commission the newly elected secretary of
state, and no secretary of state to convene the state senate to elect
a president to assume the office of governor. In addition no one was authorized
to receive and validate the election returns to ascertain who was elected
in the general election.
James Whitfield was born in Elbert County, Georgia, on December 15, 1791. As a young man he moved to Columbus in Lowndes County after the American Indian lands were opened for white settlement. He combined his mercantile interests with planting and became very prosperous. In 1852 he opened an insurance company and banking house which remained solvent throughout the Civil War. In 1870, Whitfield retired from all active business and political affairs. On June 25, 1875, Governor Whitfield died at Snowden, his home in Columbus, at age eighty-four.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Posted December 2003
McLemore, Richard Aubrey. A History of Mississippi, Vol. I. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1973. p. 307.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 64.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form I, 960.
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