Shelby County sits in the geographic center of Alabama. It has been the fastest growing county in the state for the past four decades. Shelby County has become a Mecca for suburbanites in the Hoover/Birmingham metropolitan area.
Shelby County has not always been a suburban enclave of Jefferson County. While Governor Robert Bentley was growing up it was a rural county much like most of the counties in the state. Shelby County was part of a four county center that was known as the home of the original Republicans in the state.
Shelby, St. Clair, Chilton and Bibb were all white counties made up of yeoman farmers who lived off their own land and labors. They did not own slaves nor did they want to. They simply wanted to be left alone to raise their crops and their children and go to church. These folks epitomized the Alabamians that were not inclined to leave the Union at the onset of the Civil War. In fact their delegates voted against seceding from the Union when the state Secession Convention met in Montgomery in 1861.
The people in these counties were known as progressive republicans. These Alabamians more closely resembled New England Republicans in their political philosophy.
They believed that education was the path to a better future for their children. Even though they lived off the land and were proud of their 40 acres and a mule, they aspired for their children to move past this life. They felt that with a good education their child might grow up to be a doctor in Tuscaloosa.
This is precisely what happened with Governor Robert Bentley. He grew up in rural Shelby County, the son of hardworking, Shelby County, yeoman people. His father had little formal education and owned a sawmill. Bentley went to school in Columbiana and was a good student and a leader and became governor.
Bentley’s progressive republican roots first came out during the 1950’s presidential contest. At that time, all elected officials in Alabama were Democrats and the state voted for the democratic candidate for president. The future doctor and governor was the campaign manager for republican presidential candidate, Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower. Thus, nobody can ever claim that they are more republican or have been a republican longer than Robert Bentley. He was born a progressive republican in Shelby County.
Today, the state is dominated by republicans; but you could not call Alabama’s republicans today progressive by any stretch of the imagination.