Alcorn had taken an active and prominent part in public matters since his early manhood. Before the War of the Rebellion he had served several terms as a member of the Legislature. He represented his county, Coahoma, in the Secession Convention of 1861. He was bitterly opposed to Secession and fought it bravely; but when he found himself in a hopeless minority he gracefully acquiesced in the decision of the majority and signed the ordinance of Secession. He also joined the Confederate Army and took an active part in raising troops for the same. He was made brigadier-general, and had command of the Confederate forces in Mississippi for a good while. But, since the President of the Confederacy did not seem to be particularly partial to him, he was not allowed to see very much field service.
When the war was over he took an active part in the work of rehabilitation and Reconstruction. He strongly supported the Andrew Johnson plan of Reconstruction, and by the Legislature that was elected under that plan he was chosen one of the United States Senators, but was not admitted to the seat to which he had been elected. When the Johnson plan of Reconstruction was repudiated and rejected by the voters of the Northern States, and when what was known as the Congressional Plan of Reconstruction was endorsed and approved, Alcorn decided that further opposition to that plan was useless and unwise, and he publicly advised acceptance of it. His advice having been rejected by the Democrats, nothing remained for him to do but to join the Republican party, which he did in the early part of 1869.
Since he was known to be a strong, able and influential man,—one who possessed the respect and confidence of the white people of the State regardless of party differences,—he was tendered the Republican nomination for the Governorship at the election that was to be held the latter part of that year. He accepted the nomination and was duly elected. He discharged the duties of the office in an able, creditable and satisfactory manner. The only point upon which the administration was at all subject to unfavorable criticism was the high rate of taxation to which the people were subjected for the support of the State Government; but the reader will see that this could hardly have been avoided at that particular time. In his message to the Legislature in January, 1910, Governor E.F. Noel accurately stated the principle by which an administration is necessarily governed in raising revenue to carry on the government. This is the same principle that governed the Alcorn administration when it took charge of the State Government in 1870. In that message Governor Noel said: “The amount of assessment determines the tax burden of each individual, corporation, town, and county. The Legislature or local authorities settle the amount necessary to be provided for their respective treasuries. If all property be assessed at the same rate,—whether for the full value or for ten per cent, of the value of the property,—the payment of each owner would be unaffected; for the higher the assessment, the lower the levy; the lower the assessment, the higher the levy. Our State revenue is mainly derived from a six mill ad valorem tax.”