Benjamin Harvey Hill, 1907-1913
Chief Judge: 1907-1913
No name stands higher ill the annals of Georgia than that of Benjamin Harvey Hill. Few men in the nation have ranked so high in statesmanship as the senior of that name. The junior -the subject of this memorial- was born in LaGrange, Georgia, on July 1, 1849. His early impressions were moulded amidst the clash of arms and all the sorrows and privations incident to the great fratricidal struggle, and he grew to young manhood during the dark days of reconstruction. Sitting at the feet of his distinguished father and listening to burning words of eloquence, which electrified the Southland, he naturally inherited his father's political views and proved himself worthy in every respect of the illustrious name he bore. Indeed, his admiration for his father caused him, of his own volition, to change his name after he went to college, he having been baptized as 'Cicero Holt Hill. Benjamin H. Hill, the second, was the elder of two brothers, the younger, Charles D. Hill, having died a few years ago. Both sons achieved distinction in their chosen profession of the law.
In 1866, when seventeen years of age, young Hill matriculated at the University of Georgia, entering the freshman class. Among his classmates were a number of distinguished Georgians, most of whom have gone on before. Among them may be mentioned Emory Speer, William H. Fish, Howard Van Epps, H. H. Cabaniss, John I. Rambo, Jesse W. Walters, John E. Donalson, A. Pratt Adams, Buford Davis, Seaborn Reese, and William R. Hammond, all of whom afterwards achieved great success in their chosen, vocations. During his college career he and Henry W. Grady became intimate friends and this relationship continued until the latter's death. Indeed, Judge Hill stated to a member of this committee that Henry W. Grady was the most intimate friend of a lifetime, except the members of his own family. His career at college foreshadowed future success, for he graduated from the academic department of the university, in 1869, having completed the four-year course in three years. In 1871 he graduated from the law department of the University and received from that institution the degree of Bachelor of Arts and bachelor of laws. He delivered the graduating address of his class in the academic department. At college he was a charter member of the Chi Phi Fraternity. After graduating, at the suggestion of his father he spent several months in Europe, in order to broaden his outlook upon life and better fit him for the duties of manhood which he was about to assume.
In 1872 the partnership of B. H. Hill & Son was formed for the practice of law in Atlanta, and Mr. Hill was an active member of this firm for four years and until 1876, when he was appointed solicitor general of the Atlanta circuit by Governor Colquitt. He was twice elected to this office by the General Assembly, but declined a third term, to accept the office of United States district attorney for the northern district of Georgia, to which he was appointed by President Cleveland. One of the daily newspapers in Atlanta, after referring to his record as solicitor-general, paid him this high tribute: "This record is unparalleled in efficiency, brilliancy, and the amount of work done. There is no better prosecuting officer than Mr. Hill, none that has made so fine a record. Modest, quiet, devoted to his duty, Mr. Hill has won the admiration and approval of everyone who has taken notice of his work. A better officer never served the State."
In 1889 he formed a law partnership with his brother, Charles D. Hill, who for many years was the able and brilliant solicitor-general of the Atlanta circuit, having succeeded his brother in that office. This partnership continued in existence until January 1, 1907.
In 1906 the Court of Appeals was created, and Mr. Hill was prevailed upon to make the race for one of the judgeships. He was elected over a large number of contestants, among whom were some of the ablest members of the Georgia bar. When the court was organized he was by common consent -on account of his age, experience, and ability recognized as the logical selection for the first head of the court. He was Chief Judge of this court from January 1, 1907, to November 1, 1913, and, as such, had a large part in establishing the court in the confidence of the bar and the public. On "the date last mentioned Judge Hill resigned from the Court of Appeals, to accept the office of judge of the superior court of the Atlanta circuit, tendered him by Governor Slaton. Unfortunately Judge Hill had never been a provident man, and his generosity to his family and friends kept him well up with his income. He therefore felt it his duty to his family to accept the position of nisi prius judge, because the emoluments were larger. Strange that this should have been true, but happily this unfair discrimination against the appellate judges no longer exists. His record as a trial judge is one of which his posterity may well "be proud. He was courteous, considerate, and absolutely fearless in upholding the dignity and majesty of the Jaw. Here Judge Hill encountered his first defeat, and it is but fair to history and just to Judge Hill's memory to say that he was a martyr to the fearless performance of official duty. The main contributing cause of his defeat was that he vigorously used the power of his office to bring to justice men who had violated the penal laws of the State, and thereby he incurred the enmity of a large class of voters, who, joining with a few other dissatisfied elements, encompassed his defeat. This defeat hurt, but it did not embitter him; and although he had given the best years of his life to the public service, and had reached an age where it was difficult to begin again and build up a new practice, he returned to the bar undaunted, without malice, and bravely set about to re-establish himself in the practice. For two years he practiced in association with his nephew, Harvey Hill, Esq., in the City of Atlanta, and younger members of the bar drew from his ripe experience and called him to their assistance in important cases.
Soon the time came for the election of a judge of this court; and Judge Hill sought election to this office, both because he loved the work and because he wanted to vindicate his judicial record before the people of the whole State. He was elected by a substantial majority, and he and his friends accepted it as a complete vindication of his previous judicial record, He was sworn in again as a judge of this court on November 15, 1920, and served as such until the day of his death, July 19, 1922.
Mr. Hill was married twice, the first time to Miss Mary Carter, of Athens, daughter of Samuel Carter, of Murray county, and niece of Governor Alfred H. Colquitt. She died in 1891. In 1892 Mr. Hill married Miss Janie May Hill, daughter of James DuBose Hill, of Wilkes County. She and two children survive the deceased, the children being Mrs. Edward M. Leath, of Birmingham, Ala., and Benjamin Harvey Hill, a promising young man preparing to enter the legal profession.
In 1891 Mr. Hill published a volume of the life and speeches of his illustrious father; and in his treatment of the subject manifested a modest and delicate sense of the proprieties; The compilation is not only a valuable contribution to the history of Georgia during the dark and stormy days through which she passed, but is a work of great literary excellence.
Judge Hill's health began to fail a few months before his death; but he was entirely incapacitated for the performance of his duties for only a few weeks. The messenger of death is rarely a welcome one. Judge Hill loved to live and loved to serve, but death had no terrors for him; he peacefully and painlessly "fell on sleep" in the early morning of July 19, 1922.
Judge Hill was a writer and an orator of marked ability. His composition and style were eloquent and graceful. While solicitor-general and United States district attorney some of his speeches were models of forensic eloquence. By reason of his clear, luminous, and instructive articles appearing in the newspapers in his earlier years, his illustrious father counseled him to pursue the vocation of journalism. In not following this advice, the State of Georgia lost a great journalist, but gained one of the most brilliant stars in her legal firmament.
29 Georgia Appeals Reports, pages 801-803