SAMUEL DAVIES WEAKLEY
(1860 – 1921)
Jefferson County, Alabama
BIOGRAPHY and GENEALOGY
SAMUEL DAVIES WEAKLEY, of the Birmingham bar, has gained an eminence in his profession second to no lawyer in Alabama. Several outstanding achievements would serve to justify his high place in the profession, but his prominence is really based on the long, diligent, careful and effective service he has rendered through more than thirty-five years of practice. Although long in Birmingham and a legal practitioner, neither his work nor his reputation is confined to that immediate locality.
His grandfather, General Samuel D. Weakley, was a native of Davidson’ County, Tennessee, and about 1831 moved to Florence, Alabama. The Weakley family have for more than a century been well known in Tennessee, and a county in that state was named for one of the family prominent in public affairs before the Civil War. The only son of General Weakley was John Bedford Weakley, now deceased, a business man of Florence, Alabama. John Bedford Weakley married in 1858, Mary Emily Rice, daughter of Judge Greene; P. Rice, of Morgan County, Alabama, who was president of the Alabama Senate in 1839, and afterward representative in the Lower House of the Legislature.
Samuel Davies Weakley, named for his grandfather, was born at Somerville in Morgan County, Alabama, July 16, 1860. His early boyhood was therefore spent in the period of poverty, through which Alabama and its people passed as an aftermath of the war. The family had a good social position but no wealth, and the advantages outside of home culture bestowed upon Samuel Davies Weakley were meager. His early education was obtained in the primary and normal schools of Florence. He never attended college or any law school. For his real training for life he is indebted chiefly to his personal application. In addition to mastering other branches of knowledge, he learned, after being admitted to the bar to read, write and fluently speak the French and German languages and to read Italian. As a means to a worthy end he also taught a country school near Center Star in Lauderdale County following his graduation. He graduated from the State Normal College at Florence in June, 1879, and studied law in the office of Judge W. J. Wood and later with Judge R. T. Simpson of Florence, from October 1, 1879, to Way 17, 1880, on which latter day he was admitted to the bar, two months before his twentieth birthday, by Chancellor Henry C. Speake, a noted jurist of the Tennessee valley.
Mr.Weakley removed in September, 1879, to Memphis, Tennessee, and through the influence of Colonel Josiah Patterson, an eminent lawyer and relative by marriage, he became an assistant to the Attorney General of Shelby County. He filled that position from 1880 to 1884, and for three following years engaged in general practice at Memphis. He appeared before the Supreme Court of Tennessee in 1882 and won his case.
In February, 1887, he came to the then young and promising City of Birmingham. For success in his profession he had always relied on hard and persistent work and strict attention to business, and his clientele came to him gradually as he became known as a painstaking and thoroughly able lawyer, one who gave his clients his best efforts and as a reliable attorney, competent to solve the intricacies of legal problems presented to him.
For two years after coming to Birmingham Mr. Weakley was associated with M. J . Gregg, and was later a member of the firm Cabaniss & Weakley from 1889 to 1906. He is now senior partner of the firm Weakley & Rice, the junior being the first cousin, who came to Birmingham in 1900 to become stenographer for Cabaniss & Weakley. He served as city attorney of Birmingham during 1889-90. William D. Jelks, as Governor of Alabama appointed Mr. Weakley Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court in 1906 to succeed the late Chief Justice Thomas N. McClellan. He served on the bench from February to November, 1906. From March, 1907, to March, 1914, Judge Weakley was one of the special counsel for the State of Alabama in what was known as the Railroad Rate Litigation, involving a contest over freight and passenger rates with five Alabama railroads, and eventually carried through all the Federal Courts to the Supreme Court. He was still engaged in these railroad rate cases when in the resignation of Judge Tyson, a chief justice, in February, 1909, Governor B. B. Comer tendered him another appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He declined, feeling that his real duty lay with the business at hand, especially since the rate cases were then pending and set for hearing in the Circuit Court of Appeals within a few weeks. Judge Weakley and his associate, Hon. H. C. Setheimer, were successful in the appeal and secured a renewal of Judge Jones’ injunction decree.
Mr. Weakley has the enviable distinction of being author of all the prohibition laws enacted in Alabama since 1907, including the “bone dry” law of 1919. In 1909 he drafted the proposed constitutional prohibitory amendment and made 100 speeches in favor of its adoption, many of these being in joint debate. In 1915 he wrote the prohibitory laws for Alabama and Georgia and in 1916 performed a similar service for the State of Mississippi. His success in prohibition legislature led to his preparing a brief adopted by the attorney general of fifteen states and filed in the case of the James Clark Distilling Company vs. Western Maryland Railroad Company, a West Virginia case involving the constitutionality of the Webb-Kenyon law. Fifteen attorney generals signed this brief and the contention of Judge Weakley and other counsel on that side was sustained in the opinion rendered by Chief Justice White.
In 1889, when the City Democratic Committee was organized, Mr.Weakley became its first chairman and he was the first city attorney in Blair, serving during B. A. Thompson’s administration from 1889 to 1891. Later he was a member of the Democratic State Committee. From 1889 to 1901 he was captain of the Birmingham Rifles, and his company was twice called out for service by the authorities while he commanded it. In 1904 he was a delegate from Alabama to the International Congress of Lawyers and Jurists at St. Louis. For years he has been a member of the State and American Bar Associations, is an elder in the Presbyterian church and a member of the Country Club.
February 27, 1884, Judge Weakley married Miss Ellen Anglin. Four daughters have been born to their marriage but two of them died at an early age and of the two living one is now married and the other is in the Birmingham High School and will graduate in 1919. Judge and Mrs. Weakley resided at 2200 Ridge Park, Birmingham.
A History of Birmingham and Its Environs: A Narrative Account of Their Historical Progress, Their People, and Their Principal Interests, Volume 2 George M. Cruikshank Lewis Publishing Company, 1920 -Birmingham (Ala.)
The biographies of Alabama pioneers included in this book include:
REV. JOHN WESLEY STARR (1806-1870)
ELBERT SOULE STARR (1845-1908)
JOHN WESLEY STARR, JR. (1830-1853)
RICHARD ELLIS (1781 – 1846)
JOHN WHITE, ESQ., (1778 – 1842)
JOSEPH GLOVER BALDWIN (1815 – 1864)
COL. JONATHAN NEWTON SMITH (1814 -1885)
RICHARD HOPKINS PRATT (1827 – 1908)
HOPKINS PRATT (1791-1841)
MARY DICKERSON PRATT (1800-1882)
ABSALOM PRATT (1793-1845)
RICHARD PRATT (1764-1822)
REBECCA BEAVERS PRATT (1770-1847)
EDMOND PIERCE ANDERSON (1800-1827)
DAVID W. HUNTER (b. ca. 1800)
AMBROSE HUNTER (b. ca. 1800)
JOHN ALEXANDER GRUGETT (ca. 1774 – ca. 1826)
ISAAC NEWTON LANGSTON (1775 -1850)
OBEDIAH LANGSTON (1801 – 1888)
DORANTON PATTON NEWTON LANGSTON (1812 – 1873)
ELISHA COTTINGHAM, SR.. (b. ca. 1755 – 1820)
ELISHA COTTINGHAM, JR. (1793 -1870)
JOHN C. D. MAT TROTT (1809 – 1883)
COL. WILLIAM BARRETT TRAVIS (Hero of the Alamo) (1809-1836)
HENLEY GRAHAM SNEAD (1814 – 1906)
WINTHROP SARGEANT (1755 – 1820)
TOD ROBINSON, SR. (1776 – 1838)
TOD ROBINSON, JR. (1812 – 1870)
WILLIAM RAIFORD PICKETT (1777 – 1850)
COLONEL ALBERT J. PICKETT (1810 -1858)
BRIG. GENERAL WILLIAM FLANK PERRY (1823 -1901)
GEORGE FOOTE (1784 – 1825)
PHILLIP A. FOOTE (1793 – 1831)
JONATHAN BURFORD (1793 – 1849) includes many slave names
DANIEL WASHINGTON BURFORD (1782 – 1847)
JOHN GALLAGHER (ca. 1796 – 1839)
DAVID JOHNSON GOODLETT (1804 – 1878)
JUDGE HENRY ANDERSON MCGHEE (1808 – 1901)