Charles Henderson was born in Pike County, Alabama, on April 26, 1860, to Jeremiah Augustus and Mildred (Hill) Henderson, both natives of that county. Henderson, the fourth son in a family of five boys and two girls, received his academic education in the schools of Troy. In 1875, he entered Howard College at Marion, but left upon the death of his father and failed to complete his course work.
While only seventeen years of age, he was relieved (by the Legislature) of the disabilities of non-age and began a successful business career. In the ensuing years, Henderson served in many civic, business, and/or political capacities, some of which included mayor of Troy, inspector general on Governor Samford's staff, aide-de-camp on the staff of Governor Jelks, director in the Standard Chemical and Oil Company, director in the Troy Compress Company, and director in the Farmers and Merchants National Bank of Troy. Additionally, he was one of the founders of Troy State Normal College, established the present system of grade schools in Troy, and served as an associate commissioner and later, president of the Alabama Railroad Commission.
In the Democratic primary held on April 6, 1914, Henderson was one of the two candidates in the race for the gubernatorial nomination that received the highest number of votes and in the second primary, on May 11, 1914, he was chosen as the standard bearer of the party. In the general election held on November 3, 1914, he was elected governor over John B. Shield, Republican; E.H. Cross, Progressive; and W.C. Swain, Socialist. Henderson amassed 61,307 votes.
Prohibition was a major issue in Alabama. The prohibition forces controlled the legislature which passed a bill to reinstate prohibition, submitting it to then Governor Emmet O'Neal on his last day in office. O'Neal ignored it and after the inauguration, Henderson promptly vetoed it. The legislature, however, succeeded in passing the bill over his veto; killing his amendment for a popular referendum and established prohibition was in Alabama under what became known as the "bone dry" law of 1915. Consequently, Alabama was a dry state before the federal prohibition amendment was ratified under the Kilby administration. The state remained dry from 1915 to 1933 when the twenty-first amendment to the Constitution, repealing prohibition, was ratified.
During the Henderson administration many progressive laws were enacted. He advocated an equalization of the burdens of taxation so that a larger revenue might be raised for state uses without increasing the established tax rate. The legislature of 1915 made radical changes in the assessment system of the state; state and county boards were created to study the workings of the system and to apply the new method of equalization. Furthermore, the Health Department, under Henderson's leadership, undertook to add new health laws to the statute books to aid in the eradication of preventable diseases.
Additionally, the state prison system improved considerably during Henderson's tenure. Prison camps were reduced to ten and were better supervised. He advocated the concentration of all state convicts at Speigner Prison. Henderson recommended reforms to the laws of county government and sustained the work of the Highway Commission, Alabama being among the first of the states to qualify for participation in the distribution of funds provided by Congress in the Bankhead Good Roads Bill, carrying a two hundred million dollar appropriation for national use.
Also during Henderson's term, a State Board of Purchases was established. The Insurance Department, formerly a bureau in the office of the Secretary of State, was made a department in 1916 and became one of the best revenue producing agencies of state government.
Despite the phenomenal economic disadvantages thrust upon the Henderson administration by WWI, the state's overall economic climate was maintained at a reasonably stable level as compared to the pre-WWI era.
Governor Henderson died on January 7, 1937.
Alabama Official and Statistical Register, 1915.
Owen, Thomas McAdory. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, 1921.
Stewart, John Craig. The Governors of Alabama, 1975.