Peter Joseph Hamilton (1913-1921)

Peter Joseph Hamilton  (1913-1921)Peter Joseph Hamilton was a lawyer and prolific historian. He was born in Mobile, Alabama on March 19, 1859, the son of Peter and Anna Martha. He was brought up in a devout household where family prayers and regular church goings were part of family life. He became a lawyer, however, following the footsteps of his distinguished father Peter Hamilton, instead of becoming a minister like his grandfather William T. Hamilton, who had been the first pastor of the Government Street Presbyterian Church of Mobile. He studied at Princeton University; while there, he received the highest honor then offered by Princeton- a graduate fellowship in mental science at the University of Leipzig, Germany.

Judge Hamilton studied law at the universities of Alabama and Virginia, and obtained an advanced law degree from the University of Alabama. He then returned to Mobile. He was admitted to the bar in 1882 and eventually became a prominent lawyer. He was always devoted to the classics and held an everlasting love of history. He enjoyed his grandfather's library and cherished the thousands of books it contained. Peter Joe, as he was known in town, wrote several history books including Colonial Mobile: An Historical Study (1897), Early Southern Institutions (1898), The Colonization of the South (1904), The Reconstruction Period (1910), and Mobile of the Five Flags (1913). He was also involved in codifying the city ordinances of Mobile.

On June 30, 1891 he married Rachel Wheeler Burgett, the only daughter of Dr. James Ralston Burgett, for forty years pastor of the Government Street Presbyterian Church. They had one son, Peter Vernon, who died at eighteen months, and two daughters, Charlotta and Rachel Duke. He was considered a well-dressed and attractive man, socially inclined, who loved parties, good conversation, good music, gaiety, and all the social and civic life of Mobile. Because of his great interest in the history of Mobile, he organized and headed the Iberville Historical Society. Due to his position in this historical society, in 1911 he was asked to organize and chair the ceremonies celebrating Mobile's bicentennial.

Judge Hamilton was nominated and appointed as the federal judge for Puerto Rico in 1913 by President Woodrow Wilson, who was his classmate at Princeton. (Judge Hamilton had been nominated by outgoing Republican President William Howard Taft, but it appears that this was a courtesy nomination on President Wilson's behalf.) Judge Hamilton served two four-year terms as the district judge in Puerto Rico. Throughout his tenure, Judge Hamilton was a strong proponent of increasing the influence of the United States over Puerto Rico, including the increased use of the English language.

Judge Hamilton enhanced the public reputation of this court and improved the court's administration, keeping his docket more current than had his predecessors. Issues addressed during his time on the bench included the political status of Puerto Rico, citizenship, and a variety of commercial and criminal cases. At one point, during his tenure, however, questions were raised concerning Judge Hamilton's personal finances and the effect they might have had on his judicial service. The matter was the subject of an investigation by the Justice Department, but the allegations were not sustained.

Judge Hamilton and the federal court in Puerto Rico were unpopular with some segments of the Bar in Puerto Rico; there were a series of attempts to convince the United States Congress to abolish the federal court, but they were unsuccessful. Judge Hamilton's effort to obtain life tenure for judges of the federal court in Puerto Rico were also unsuccessful. (That step was not ultimately taken until 1966).

In 1921, President Warren G. Harding, a Republican, declined to reappoint Judge Hamilton to a third term. A petition with five thousand signatures was sent to President Harding requesting that Judge Hamilton re-appointed, but it was ignored. He was succeeded by another Republican, Arthur Odlin. Judge Hamilton's published opinions are contained in volumes 6-12 of the Porto Rico Federal Reports published by Lawyer's Co-operative Publishing Company.

After his tenure, Judge Hamilton remained in Puerto Rico for several years, resumed his law practice and took up his writing again. He also served as a professor of law at the University of Puerto Rico. In 1922 he published Origin and Growth of the Common Law in England and America. He also wrote a series of articles for the Harvard Law Review comparing the common law and civil law systems, as well as an article on Puerto Rican folklore.

He contracted pernicious anemia due to his long residence in the tropics; the disease became so serious that he and his wife gave up their home in San Juan and moved to Dallas, Texas, because Judge Hamilton had been named Dean of the Southern Methodist University Law School. One year later, however, the Hamiltons moved to Anniston, Alabama where their daughter Rachel Duke lived with her husband. Judge Hamilton died in Anniston on July 23, 1927 at the age of 68, before the birth of his first grandchild. He is interred at Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile, Alabama.