An AHGP Transcription Project

Alexander H. Handy

The subject of this sketch was born in Somerset County, Maryland, on the 25th of December, 1809. He was well educated, and, having obtained his license as a lawyer, removed to Mississippi in the year 1836. In January, 1837, he was admitted to the bar of the High Court of Errors and Appeals, and entered at once upon a most successful professional career.

In 1853 he was elected to a seat upon the bench of the High Court over Judge William Yerger, who was then upon the bench, but who had rendered himself unpopular with the dominant party in consequence of his opinion in the case of Johnston vs. The State, in which he maintained the liability of the State for the payment of the bonds of the Union Bank. Judge Handy held this office until October, 1860, and was then re-elected without opposition.

In 1865 he was again elected a judge of the High Court over George L. Potter, and in January, 1866, was appointed Chief Justice of Mississippi. In November, 1866, he was re-elected without opposition, but resigned the position on the 1st day of October, 1867, by letter to the Governor, in consequence of the court's being placed by the Federal Government in subordination to the military power of the United States.

He then removed to the city of Baltimore and resumed the practice of his profession, but was soon after appointed Professor of Law in the University of Maryland, which position he held until 1871, when he returned to Mississippi and resumed the practice of law at Jackson, and in October, 1877, was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Judge Handy has always been a firm believer in the doctrine of States rights, is immovably Southern in his views, and favored secession both as a right and a necessity. He was appointed by the Governor of Mississippi, in December 1860, as a commissioner to the State of Maryland in relation to the political crisis then existing; and failing in his efforts to communicate with the Legislature of that State, in consequence of the refusal of its Governor to convoke that body, Judge Handy addressed himself directly to the people, and in his speech delivered at Princess Anne, on the first day of January, 1861, presented the subject of secession-its right and its reason- in a lucid and elaborate manner. He depicted, with the ken of inspiration, the policy and purposes of the party about to take possession of the Federal Government, and showed that the principles announced by the President-elect and the leaders of his party were subversive of all equality in the Union, destructive of the rights of the Southern people, and virtually a revolution of the Government. But, although the people of Maryland were aroused by his presentment of the situation, they could do nothing in view of the action of the State Government.

In 1862 Judge Handy wrote and published a pamphlet entitled "Secession considered as a Right in the States composing the late American Union of States, and as to the Grounds of Justification of the Southern States in exercising the Right." In this treatise he thoroughly and ably discussed the fundamental principles of the American Government, the conditions upon which it was created, and its interpretation by the authors of the Federalist. The work is a profound and instructive constitutional argument, which every lawyer should read who seeks a thorough knowledge of the history, character, and interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.

Judge Handy is a fluent speaker, a polished writer, and an interesting companion. The qualities which so eminently fitted him for a judge designated him for other marks of distinction, and in 1861 the title of LL.D. was tendered him by the faculty and trustees of the University of Mississippi, but his modesty impelled him to decline the honor; and in 1867, on his resignation as a judge of the High Court, he was offered the position of Professor of Law in the same institution, but that was also declined.

As a lawyer Judge Handy is learned and profound, and his legal learning is united to a character of unspotted integrity, and is blended with a purity which eminently fitted him for the bench. As a judge, his uniform urbanity, together with his able and dignified manner of administering justice, excited the admiration of the bar. His decisions are searching and comprehensive, clear and logical in enunciation, and exhaustive in their elucidation of the rights of the parties. His opinions are numerous, and enter largely into the composition of sixteen volumes of the Mississippi Reports, from vol. 26 to vol. 41, inclusive.

They are characterized by an independence of thought and a self-reliance which bespeak the possession of resources rarely acquired, and a fertility of legal genius which only a clear and well-defined sense of right and wrong could inspire, and which only talents of the highest order could develop.

These decisions constitute for his fame a far more splendid and enduring monument than all the pillars and shafts that mechanism could rear, and are records more glorious than all the volumes of praise and adulation that history could produce. Through them his name is inscribed luminously and indelibly upon every title-deed, every tenure, and every relation of the society of Mississippi.

Judge Handy now resides in Canton, Madison County, and is still engaged in the practice of his profession.

Source: The Bench and Bar of Mississippi by James D. Lynch, New York: E. J. Hale and Son, Publishers,
17 Murray Street, 1881


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