When Gov. Alexander Gallatin McNutt was inaugurated 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. Those hopes were dashed, however, when the bank failed in 1839. McNutt was then forced to take a stand on the question of honoring or repudiating the state bonds that had been invested in the earlier 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, McNutt believed that Mississippi had no alternative but to repudiate the bonds. His position prevailed, and the legislature declared that they would not be honored. The repudiation of those bonds remained a political issue until the 1890 constitution prohibited the state from redeeming the bonds.
McNutt had migrated to Mississippi from Rockbridge County, Virginia, where he was born on 3 January 1802. After graduating from Washington College (now Washington and Lee University), McNutt moved to Jackson, where he practiced law briefly before moving to Vicksburg. In 1833 he married Elizabeth Cameron, the wealthy widow of his business partner, and acquired a large plantation along Deer Creek in Warren County. Opponents at times derided him as “Alexander the Great McNutt” and ridiculed his lack of personal courage because he had never fought a duel.
McNutt, a large man, was a gifted speaker and an accomplished though little known humorist who published a number of very popular hunting tales in the New York Spirit of the Times, which had forty thousand subscribers and was popular in the Old Southwest. His writings included tales of frontier life, and his characterizations of frontiersmen resembled the better-known Georgia Scenes by Augustus Longstreet. Two of McNutt’s most famous characters were Chunky and Jem. On one occasion, after whipping a black panther, Chunky boasted, “I walks on water, I out-betters the deer, and when I get hot the Msppi hides itself.”
McNutt ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate in 1842. While trying to make a political comeback, he died on the campaign trail at Cockrum’s Crossroads in De Soto County on 22 October 1848. At one time, the Sunflower County seat was McNutt, but when Leflore County was established, the county seat was moved to Greenwood, and the town of McNutt gradually became extinct.
- Bradley G. Bond, Political Culture in the Nineteenth-Century South: Mississippi, 1830–1900 (1995)
- Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912)
- Dunbar Rowland, Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, vol. 2 (1907)