Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

William Russell Smith


The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography 294
(New York: James T. White & Co., 1904)(vol.12)

"Smith, William Russell, fourth president of the University of Alabama (1870-71), was born at Russellville, Logan Co., Ky., Mar. 27, 1815, son of Ezekiel and Elizabeth (Hampton) Smith, and a descendant of Col. Arthur Smith, who emigrated from England to Isle of Wright county, Va., in 1622, and in 1653 was the founder of Smithfield. Though his mother he was descended from the Hamptons, Russells, and Lowrys. After the death of his father his mother removed to Alabama and settled in Tuscaloosa, where the son, who was a remarkably talented lad, was educated. In 1831 he entered the University of Alabama, which had just been established, and remained there until 1834, when he took up the study of law. In 1835 he was admitted to the bar and immediately began to practice at Greensboro. In 1836, during the Creek war, he was captain of Alabama troops, and his company being disbanded at Mobile, remained there and was engaged in journalism for some time. In 1838 he resumed the practice of law in Alabama. During 1841-43 he was a member of the legislature; in 1845 became brigadier-general of the state militia, and in 1850-51 was judge of the seventh judicial circuit court of Alabama. In the latter year he was elected as a representative to congress. He served until 1857 and became distinguished for his brilliant speeches . . . . He became a leader in the American party, but subsequently deprecated the extreme position taken by its members and retracted his violent anti-Catholic speeches. In 1861, as a delegate to the Alabama convention, he strongly opposed disunion, but although he refused to sign the secession ordinance he remained with his state. He was commissioned colonel of the 26th Alabama regiment, which position he was induced by his friends to resign in order to serve in the Confederate congress. He was a member of that body from 1861 until 1865, when he retired to private life. In July, 1870, he was elected president of the University of Alabama, which was passing through a period of adversity, and upon the resignation of the professor of mathematics he assumed the duties of that spot also. The affairs of the institution had been in a deplorable condition for several years, and finding the outlook discouraging Judge Smith terminated his connection with the university in July, 1871. He removed to Washington, D.C., in 1879, and there spent the remainder of his life. . . . Much of his time was devoted to the study of classical literature, and he made several excellent translations from the Greek. . . . Judge Smith died in Washington, D.C., Feb. 26, 1896."

[12 The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography 294 (New York: James T. White & Co., 1904)] [Smith was the father of thirteen children.]

William Russell Smith
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

William Russell Smith

William Russell Smith: The "Father" of Alabama Literature
A Literary History of Alabama: The Nineteenth Century


William R. Smith, College Musings, or, Twigs from Parnassus (Tuscaloosa: D. Woodruff, 1833)

_____________, The Uses of Solitude ([Tuscaloosa, Alabama], Printed for the Alabama Alpha of the Phi Beta Kappa Society of the University of Tuscaloosa, 1860) [online text]

_____________, The Royal Ape: a dramatic poem (Richmond: West & Johnston, 1863)

_____________, Was it a Pistol? A Nut for Lawyers (Washington, D.C.: R.H. Darby, 1890)


Poetry Translations

William R. Smith, Diomede: From the Iliad of Homer (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1869)

_____________, Key to the Iliad of Homer for the use of schools, academies and colleges (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen and Haffelfinger, 1871)


William Russell Smith, Reminiscences of a Long Life: Historical, Political, Personal and Literary (Washington, D.C.: William R. Smith, 1889) [vol.1 :: online text]



William R. Smith, The justice of the peace; containing a brief treatise upon all the duties and powers of that officer; with plain and easy directions, how to proceed in civil and criminal cases; arranged under the laws of Alabama, as now in force: to which is added, the complete constable; with numerous forms, and directions to county officers generally (New York: Published under the supervision of J. E. Handley, 1841)

_____________, The Jurisdiction of Justices of the Peace, in civil and criminal cases; and the office and duties of judges of probate: with explanations and forms for the use of executors, administrators and guardians, and the commissioners of roads and revenue. To which is added the duties of every subordinate civil officer in commission in the state of Alabama, all arranged under the laws as now in force (Montgomery: White, Pfister & Co., 1859)(Montgomery: White, Pfister, 3rd ed., 1860)

_____________, As It Is (Albany: Munsell & Rowland, 1860)

_____________, The History and Debates of the Convention of the People of Alabama, begun and held in the city of Montgomery, on the seventh day of January, 1861; in which is preserved the speeches of the secret sessions and many valuable state papers. By William R. Smith, one of the delegates from Tuscaloosa (Montgomery: White, Pfister & co.; Atlanta, Wood, Hanleiter, Rice Co.; [etc., etc.], 1861)(Spartanburg, South Carolina: Reprint Co., 1975) [online text]

_____________, Polyxena, a Tragedy ([United States: author?], 1879)

_____________, Assassination and Insanity; Guiteau's Case, examined and compared with analogous cases from the earlier to the present time (Washington, D.C.: W.R. Smith, 1881)


Alabama. Supreme Court, Condensed Reports, Supreme Court, with notes and a digest [1820-46] (10 vols.)


Anne Easby-Smith, William Russell Smith of Alabama, His Life and Works; including the entire text of "The Uses of Solitude" (Philadelphia: Dolphin Press, 1931)

Bibliography: Articles

Robert H. McKenzie, Law and Literature in Antebellum Alabama: Two Case Studies in Applying the Humanities to Public Policy, 22 (3) Southern Studies 302-313 (1983)(focusing on two lawyer poets, William Russell Smith and Alexander Beaufort Meek)

The Corolla of Ninety-Five. Published by the Students
of the University of Alabama . . . June, 1895
(vol. 3)(p. 75)

Research Resources

William Russell Smith Papers
Southern Historical Collection
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

A Creek Indian Bibliography: Creek Indians: Sources for History, Biography and Genealogy; Print and Internet Links