E. T. Taliaferro
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E. T. Taliaferro. Prominent among the noted lawyers of this State stands the subject of this sketch, who is a descendant of some of the oldest families of Virginia. His ancestors are traced in the history of that colony as far back as 1774. They were patriots, and participated in the struggle for independence, and subsequently some of them were engaged in the war of 1812.
His parents, Dr. Edwin T., born in King William County, Virginia, and Jane B. (Pope) Taliaferro, born in Henry County, Tennessee, resided at the time of his birth at Paris, Tennessee, where, for over twenty-five years, his father practiced his profession. In 1866 he removed with his family to Madison County, Alabama, where he continued his profession. He is an esteemed physician and citizen, and represented that county in the State legislature during the session of 1884-85. The mother of our subject died in 1873. She was the mother of five children, three of whom are now living, and all residents of Alabama.
Colonel Taliaferro was born in Paris, Henry County, Tennessee, in 1849, and received a common school education, supplemented by a course of study for two years at Manchester College, Tennessee. He began the study of law in 1868 in the office of John C. Brown, of Pulaski, Tennessee, who was twice Governor of the State, remaining under his tutelage for two years, teaching school in the meantime, which occupation he followed for over one year after leaving the office of his preceptor. He was admitted to the bar at Pulaski in January, 1871, and immediately began practice there, continuing until January, 1883, during which period he was associated with Major B. F. Matthews, and again with John T. Allen, both natives of Tennessee.
Colonel Taliaferro rose rapidly in his profession, and was a prominent factor in the political affairs of the State. He was elected to the State legislature in 1876 by the largest Democratic majority ever cast in his county, and was elected speaker of the house, being one of the youngest members of that body. He made great character as a presiding officer, as will be readily attested by all Tennesseans. During his term of office there was a regular and three extra sessions of the legislature, and excitement ran high on the question of the State’s indebtedness ; and, although he was with the minority in the house, yet, in all four of the sessions, never for a single time were his rulings overruled, and seldom appealed from, by the house.
In 1878 he was elected permanent president of the judicial convention called to nominate five supreme court judges. General William A. Quarles, of Clarksville, being temporary chairman. This was the largest and perhaps the ablest convention ever assembled in that State, being composed almost entirely of attorneys. During his term in the legislature the State debt of Tennessee was first agitated. Colonel Taliaferro took strong grounds for State credit, which he warmly maintained, with the approval of his constituents.
In 1880 he was an elector on the Hancock and English Presidential ticket, and, at the close of that campaign, abandoned political life, to devote his entire attention to his profession. In 1881 he was employed, as one of twelve of the leading lawyers from different sections of the State, to file a bill in the chancery court of Nashville to have declared unconstitutional a bill passed by the legislature to settle the debt of the State with 3 per cent, bonds, the debt amounting to ,500,000 at that time. Upon appeal to the supreme court Colonel Taliaferro was chosen as one of the counsel to argue the case, orally and by printed brief, and they carried the appeal to victory.
In January, 1883, he sought a larger field for the practice of law, and removed to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he was in practice two years, all of that period in connection with B. H. Tabor. In Arkansas, as well as elsewhere, he took foremost rank among lawyers, and was engaged in nearly every important case at Fort Smith, while living there.
In 1884 Birmingham commenced to attract and command the attention of the entire United States as a mining, manufacturing, railroad, and corporate center. Colonel Taliaferro foresaw the great future of the city, and the advantages it offered in the practice of law. Having a strong desire to practice more specially that branch of his profession relating to corporations, he came to Birmingham in September, 1883, prospecting, and at once saw the immense resources of Birmingham and vicinity, and its extraordinary inducements in his profession, and determined at once to make it his home.
Colonel Taliaferro became a citizen of Birmingham in January, 1885, and has from that date been a power in what is now termed the most able and brilliant bar in Alabama. In December, 1885, he was employed to return to his old home in Tennessee as leading counsel in one of the most important and exciting cases ever tried in that section, the celebrated "Jones case." Of his efforts in that case we copy a single extract from the Pulaski Citizen, of date December 3, 1885:
"Hon. E. T. Taliaferro’s speech yesterday in the Jones case was a great and brilliant eft’ort of an able man. The court room was crowded to suffocation. The interest with which it was awaited and listened to, and the high opinions expressed of it since its delivery, must be peculiarly gratifying to him. His first appearance for several years before his old clients, constituents, and friends, was an ovation, and an expression of regard and trust that should urge him to even nobler efforts and purposes in his profession."
Colonel Taliaferro in person presents a striking figure. Over six feet tall, erect as an Indian, and with a high, intellectual cast of features, he commands attention at a glance. His legal attainments are of an excellent order. Added to them are great oratorical powers, and superior mental attributes. He is ever dignified, but, withal, one of the most gentlemanly and genial of men ; is ever generous to assist the needy, and ever ready to do what is in his power to advance progressive civilization. He is the attorney for the Alabama National Bank, the Sloss Furnace Company, the Birmingham Iron Works, and other large corporations, and has large real estate interests.
Colonel Taliaferro has been connected, aa counsel, with some of the most important cases in Jefferson County. His first legal experience in the State was in 1877-78, in the federal court at Huntsville, when he defended some prominent citizens of Tennessee upon a charge of counterfeiting, and after two trials of five weeks each, succeeded in securing an acquittal. Associated with him was John B. Walker, ex-Governor David P. Lewis, ex-Governor John C. Brown, General Joseph Wheeler, William M. Lowe, ex-United States Senator Luke Prior, Hon. David E. Shelby, Governor E. O. Neal, and others. Four of them were allowed to argue the defense, and Colonel Taliaferro was one of tlie number.
Colonel Taliaferro is a Knight Templar.
He was united in marriage October 13, 1874, with Miss Eva, daughter of Colonel J. W. Sloss, of Birmingham. Four children have been born to them, two of whom are living — Edwin T. and Mary.
– from Jefferson County and Birmingham Alabama: History and Biographical, edited by John Witherspoon Dubose and published in 1887 by Teeple & Smith / Caldwell Printing Works, Birmingham, Alabama