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A Look Back at prominent Morgan County man

There was a prominent man who was born in Morgan County a very long time ago, in the 1820s: Joseph H. Sloss, who should not be totally forgotten. 

Mr. Sloss was born in 1826. 

Sloss’ father was a Presbyterian minister. Joe Sloss did not feel he was called to preach; instead, he wanted to be a lawyer. In those days, law schools were few and far between. Individuals desiring to become lawyers generally “read law” in the offices of those who were already very experienced in this field. Joe Sloss read law in the office of his uncle, T. J. Campbell, his mother’s brother. 

Mr. Campbell was a very good man to learn from. Before Joe was born, his uncle had served as clerk of the Tennessee House of Representatives – 1817-1819, when the state to the south, Alabama, entered the Union, 1821, and 1825-1831. 

When Joe was 7 his uncle was elected to the Tennessee House, where he served four years, 1833-1837. In 1840 T.J. Campbell was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives. 

Joe began reading law with his uncle when he was in his teens. In those days, the sessions of Congress weren’t long, and Mr. Campbell could mentor his nephew when he was home from the U.S. House. Rep. Campbell just served one two-year term, and then he went back to his home in Athens, Tenn.

In 1849, when Joe Sloss was 23, he began to practice law in the big city of St. Louis, Mo. The next year he moved across the state line to Edwardsville, Ill. This move put the Morgan County man in position to play an important role in American history.

Recently we have seen televised debates between men and women who are seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. The most famous debate ever was that between Abraham Lincoln and Steven A. Douglas in 1858. By that time, Joe Sloss was Rep. Joseph Sloss, a member of the Illinois Legislature. 

Like many others who were born after him in Morgan County, Sloss was a Democrat. Thus, he worked successfully for the election to the U.S. Senate of Democrat Steven Douglas over Abraham Lincoln, who would be elected as the nation’s first Republican president just two years after the famous debate. 

During Sloss’ lifetime, U.S. senators were chosen by the state legislatures.

During the Civil War, Sloss made Colbert County his home. The year after the Civil War ended, 1866, Sloss was elected and then re-elected as mayor of Tuscumbia. 

However, he had higher ambitions and sought to follow his uncle’s example and serve in Congress. 

Despite the fact that Republicans were generally the dominant party in Alabama during Reconstruction, Joseph Sloss was successful in being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1872 and 1874. 

Ironically, Sloss’ opponent in his first race was a man whose family for many years had strong Hartselle ties, the Mastersons. Sloss defeated Dr. B. O. Masterson of Courtland in Lawrence County in his first congressional race. This was an upset because, during Reconstruction, Dr. Masterson was a very influential member of the Alabama Legislature. 

After Reconstruction, when the Republican Party was very weak, the Masterson family contributed immeasurably to keeping it alive and was able to take advantage of opportunities that would come many years later. 

As it was in the days of Dr. Masterson, the Republican Party is once again the dominant party, even though now and then a Democrat is able to be elected, as was Joseph Sloss.

This writer can remember many years ago when Dr. Masterson’s son, A. H. Masterson, would come to downtown Hartselle and stroll near the Roberts stores on East Main Street. The elderly gentleman was always impeccably dressed.

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