It's steeped in historic conservatism.
Its state politics, sometimes nasty, other times wildly compelling, more than once a supreme embarrassment, could carry several novella plotlines.
And its governance, in deeds and documents, has too often shunned the concept of progressive policies.
Love it, loathe it; make your choice. Either way, Alabama's conservative, often-predictable past is cemented into the state's reputation. Eradicating the South of kudzu would be an easier task than changing that portion of the state's character.
Of course, if Alabama had followed the path of its original governing document — the 1819 state Constitution, adopted 190 years ago this week — the Alabama of today might be wholly different than it is.
Admittedly, that's a stretch. Perhaps it gives Alabamians of past generations, of slavery and secession, of Jim Crow and Bull Connor, too much credit. Let's rephrase it this way: Perhaps some of the paths Alabama has taken the last two centuries would have been more enlightened — more humane — if that first Constitution had wielded a stronger, and longer, influence.
For those who fancy the day when the current Constitution, the 1901 disaster, is euthanized, the 1819 document may offer a sliver of hope. Not in the re-adoption of its policies, but in the historical realization that Alabama can be governed by a document not overwhelmed by ineptitude.
A quick refresher: Alabama was a toddler territory in 1819, spun off from its Mississippi neighbor only a short time before. The year the state joined the Union was a stunning window into the nation's early soul: 43 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, less than a decade from the British's torching of the White House, and still four decades away from the Civil War.
In 1819, James Monroe was president. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison were still alive. Abraham Lincoln was 10. Congress' ban of the importation of slaves had been in effect for more than 10 years (though internal trading of slaves was roiling along). And the United States' removal of Native Americans to the western side of the Mississippi was well under way.
Amid that mishmash of history and happenstance, Alabama's Constitutional Convention met in Huntsville in the spring of that year. Of the 44 convention delegates, only a few really mattered — the heralded Committee of Fifteen that actually wrote the state's first governing document.
Those 15 men represented a remarkable group, historians say. Of them, four became governor, three later represented the state in Washington, one became vice president and another went on to become a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. They seemed worthy of such a heady assignment.
Today, the document they produced is still renowned for a few of its progressive policies. Reading it in 2009, it's compelling to think that a Deep South state with more than a century of regrettable Constitution history once gave birth to something so enlightened.
As a mixture of liberal and conservative ideals, the 1819 Alabama Constitution contained several noteworthy elements: Alas, slavery was protected, but slaves were to be treated "with humanity" — a caveat most Southern constitutions didn't dare include; it gave strong power to the state Legislature, not the governor; it "encouraged" education; and it called for the governor to be elected by the people, not by legislative appointment. Historian Leah Rawls Atkins even writes that the convention included discussions, though not approval, about opening the ballot box to free blacks.
Undoubtedly, the 1819 Constitution's most memorable passage was its view on suffrage. All white, male citizens, aged 21 and above, could vote. There was no property-holding requirement, no military requirement, no tax-paying requirement. Only Kentucky, Atkins has written, had a Southern state constitution considered as liberal as Alabama's.
Seen through the lens of that era, such embraces of social equality and political theory were remarkable.
As we know, time pulled Alabama securely into the Southern mainstream, removing some of those progressive, humane ideals. And Goat Hill politics, from the writing of the 1901 Constitution to the final years of Gov. Bob Riley's tenure, keep the state in the vise-grip of a document whose time came and went long ago.
The mindset of the 1819 Constitution isn't coming back. But there also seems to be no modern-day equivalent to the Committee of Fifteen, elected leaders brave enough to push for change and strong enough to make it happen.
Perhaps that's the real problem. No change there, either.