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Hartselle Enquirer

A look back at corruption

Rankings of states, counties and cities are common items in the news. So are those of colleges and universities.  

One of the most recent rankings had Auburn University as the institution of higher learning with the happiest students.  

Something that is definitely not conducive to happiness is corruption, in the private sector as well as in governments.  No one is glad to say “We’re No. 1” when it is something that involves the misdeeds of the people we elect to serve us.

A few years ago the top leaders of all three branches of Alabama state government were involved in some type of alleged misbehavior or illegal activity.  Fortunately, at the present time, the executive, legislative and judicial branches as they operate in Montgomery as well as at the local level seem to be free of scandals.

In a recent ranking of the states, Alabama’s neighbor to the west, Mississippi, was ranked as the nation’s most corrupt. Other Southern states make the Top 10 of the most corrupt states across the nation were our neighbor to the north, Tennessee, and to the south, Florida.  

Alabama is ranked as the sixth most corrupt state in the nation.

Perhaps the most brazen example of corruption in Alabama’s 200-year history occurred in 1883. It involved the state treasurer, Isaac Harvey (Ike) Vincent.  

Ike Vincent was born in 1842 in Matagorda County in the briefly independent Republic of Texas. The Vincent family had made their home in Alabama before giving what would become the Lone Star State a try.  

After a few years they decided they liked Alabama better, so they moved back.  Ike’s dad farmed at different times in Autauga and Chambers counties.  

In those days even teenagers could be teachers if they passed a simple state test.  Ike aced this exam and taught school for several years in Lafayette. He also worked for a newly-established newspaper in town, the “Lafayette Sun.”  

Ike was in the thick of conflict during the Civil War and had risen to the rank of captain at the time he was honorably discharged. Ike had been seriously wounded in the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864.

After Appomattox, Ike came back to Lafayette and married the daughter of the “Sun” editor, who also served as the Chambers County probate judge.  

Having a well-connected father-in-law enabled Ike to get good jobs at the courthouse. Like most other Alabamians at the time, Ike was a loyal Democrat and helped his party take back control of state government from the Republicans in 1874.  

For his service to the Democratic Party, Ike Vincent was appointed private secretary to the new governor, George Smith Houston, of Athens. He worked skillfully to help the state liquidate some of the debt it had acquired during Reconstruction.

Based on the resume he had developed, Vincent ran for and was elected as state treasurer in 1878. When he had finished his first term, voters showed they approved of the job he had done and elected him to two additional terms.  

The third term was not the charm, however, for Ike.

In late January 1883, shortly after he had taken office again, he left Montgomery and told his wife and children he was going to New York on state business. While he was away, the customary audits of executive offices for the previous two years were started.  

It was immediately apparent to auditors that a lot of money was missing from the safe in which Ike deposited state funds. Ike Vincent was also missing.  

In fact, Ike was not heard from until four years later, on the ides of March 1887, when he was brought back to Montgomery by a Texan who had seen the wanted posters and wanted to collect the $5,000 reward that was offered for the thieving treasurer.  He had taken more than $230,000 from the taxpayers of Alabama. Like other officers who handled large sums of money, Vincent had made bond. However, he had taken the bond documents, and the state was only able to collect about $50,000 out of the $230,000 Vincent was accused of stealing.

A Montgomery County grand jury indicted Vincent on 39 counts of robbing the state.  He was tried in a Montgomery circuit court in August 1887.  

Vincent must have had a very ingratiating personality because the jury that convicted him asked the presiding judge to show mercy when sentencing him.  

Vincent had excellent defense attorneys. One was former governor T. H. Watts.  The other was, like Vincent, a brave member of the Confederate army during the war of the ’60s.  

Vincent received a 10-year prison sentence; the new governor, however, Thomas Goode Jones, pardoned him after he had served five years.  

Vincent obviously loved Texas better than his parents because, immediately on getting out of jail, he headed West, where he died in 1887 – the year he would have been a free man if the governor had not pardoned him earlier.

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