The Cartersville American
April 8, 1884, page 1
Warren Akin was born in Elbert county, Georgia, October 9th, 1811, and died in Cartersville, Georgia, December 17th, 1877. His parents, Thomas and Katherine Akin, were originally Virginians, but removed to Elbert county in early married life, where they reared a large family, Warren being the youngest son. Thomas Akin was a well-to-do farmer, a laborious, steady man, who lived freely, never denying to his family any of the comforts afforded by the time and country in which he lived. He believed in work. His children were trained to labor and inured to toil. Under the influence of such teaching, Warren Aiken lived with his father on the old homestead until the latter died, when the former was eighteen years old. In early youth, and until his father’s death, Warren was a toiler upon the farm. His business was to work, to plow, to hoe, to pick cotton, to help about all the farm work. The first pair of boots he ever had were bought with money earned from the sale of cotton grown on a little patch which he had for his own. This he tended with his own hands, working by torchlight, after dark, the daylight having been spent in labor for his father on the farm. The writer has heard him relate with what pride he wore those well-earned boots to church on Sunday, taking them in his hands as he walked barefooted the miles that lay between the old homestead and the country church, and stopping near the church to bathe his feet in a wet weather branch and pull on the boots that they might be fresh and clean when he walked into the house of God.
Often, when the plowing was to be done at some distance from the house, he took his breakfast in his hands and ate it in the field, sitting on the plowstock, waiting for enough daylight to see the corn rows. And in work times, the first light of the rising sun always found this sturdy youth working away with the same energy that made his life honorable and great.
When about ten years old, his father took him to Elberton one day while court was in session. Entering the court house, he heard the lawyers speaking, saw the witness on the stand and the judge on the bench, and all at once he formed a determination to be a lawyer. The family were much provoked with mirth when, at super that night, this unlettered plowboy announced that he was going to be a lawyer and make speeches in the court house. His mother died when he was four years of age; but if she had been there, this speech would have been greeted only with love and pride by that mother’s heart. Her big brown eyes would have seen, instead of a boastful child, only a little hero in this untutored youngster. The long struggle which preceded his elevation to the first ranks of his profession proves how much of laborious toil it cost him to keep his youthful vow – to be a lawyer.
At the death of his father, the estate, after paying debts, was divided among nine heirs. His part was necessarily small – a few hundred dollars. He spent it all in sending himself to school in Walton county. The rudiments of a common school education thus acquired, he continued through life a student, teaching himself. When this pittance was exhausted, he clerked in a store in Monroe for seven months. But measuring ribbon to the women, and weighing up sugar and coffee to the men, did not suit him. He had no ambition to become a knight of the yardstick. The state about this time was in a fever of excitement over the Dahlonega gold mines. The adventurous from all counties were hastening thither in search of wealth in this new Eldorado. Wonderful stories of fortunes made in a day were floating about in the county of Walton, and every repetition gilded them anew. What wonder is it that the village store grew wonderfully dull, when people said the old fields around Dahlonega teemed with treasure waiting only to have the dirt shoveled off the gleaming gold. But this village clerk had not forgotten the vow of his childhood, and he knew that money was necessary to a friendless young lawyer, who had not even a Blackstone. His wages in the store were only eight dollars a month. His scant patrimony was exhausted in his seven months schooling. Something must be done, or else the cherished dream of his youth must remain only a dream. So he turned his footsteps toward Dahlonega, as the Mecca of his ambitious hopes. There were no railroads in those days. No stage coaches plied between quiet Monroe and excited Dahlonega. The young clerk had neither a conveyance nor money enough to buy one. With a knapsack in his hands and a roll of bed clothes on his shoulder, given him by an elder sister, he walked all the way, except such snatches of rides as here and there a passing wagon might give him. Arriving at Dahlonega, he bought a week’s provisions, and with his last quarter he hired a negro to build a rough bed against the walls of a log cabin. Here upon a straw mattress he rested after the day’s toils were ended. With his own hands he cooked the coarse food which, he always said, was sweeter to him, weary with work, than the bounteous fare which in the years of prosperity crowned his hospitable board.
At Dahlonega, he worked with the pick as a common miner, receiving a certain proportion of the gold he “panned out” from the dirt. His family have now some of the gold he thus dug from the earth. The fortune of the mines gave him, not riches, but enough money to move to Cassville and prepare himself for the bar. While immersed in the lore of Blackstone and Greenleaf, he rented a field where, by his labor, he raised a corn crop. This helped him to pay some expenses attendant upon his studies and to buy a new suit of clothes in which to be admitted to the bar.
But his struggles did not end with admission to the bar. The Cherokee bar were then among the foremost lawyers of the state and the Cassville bar was the first in numbers, ability and reputation in the circuit. Without friends, unknown, poor, with only seven month’s schooling, with but three or four law books, Warren Akin commenced his professional career in competition with lawyers whose reputation for learning and advocacy was coextensive with the limits of Georgia. By manual labor he earned money to buy a lot in Cassville, on which he built an office. The lumber with which it was built came from saw logs cut by himself, and hauled to the saw mill by a yoke of oxen loaned him by a kind neighbor. With the help of a hired carpenter, the labor of his own hands reared the structure in which the after years found him a noted lawyer with a lucrative practice.
Shortly after his admission to the bar a certain prominent lawyer sent him word to come to his office with his books. The lawyer looked at Akin’s few well-worn books, and remarked that he was a young man without money, books or practice; but that he seemed to like work, and he (the lawyer) needed a partner who was not afraid of work. He then proposed a partnership. To this the friendless young attorney gladly assented and asked the lawyer to propose the terms. “Well,” said the lawyer “I will allow you a liberal percentage of the fees, but you will be a silent partner; you name will not be known in the firm.” Akin arose, trembling with indignation, gathered up his few books, and replied, “Sir, my father and his people were always honorable. My name is not dishonored by my poverty and my toil. If you think its connection with your own will make you less honored, I reject your offer and beg to decline the honor of any further communication with you on the subject.” It was years before the coolness between them passed away.
The first few years of Warren Akin’s practice were very unprofitable in the way of fees. Five dollars was the total income for the first year. But they were rich in the days and nights of study. He reviewed all the books which he had studied at school. Finding many law terms taken from the Latin language, he bought a Latin grammar. In nine days he completed its study. These nine days study stood him in good stead through forty years of practice.
He was twenty five when he came to the bar. After the first five years of his practice his rise was rapid. In 1845, at the age of thirty four, he had saved and laid by about seven thousand dollars. He then married Miss Eliza Hooper, daughter of Judge J. W. Hooper, at that time presiding on the Cherokee circuit. As the fruit of this union, one daughter grew to womanhood, and, after a few years of married life, died.
During Gov. Crawford’s administration, the Georgia militia had regular organization and frequent musters. Many old citizens of Cass will remember the old muster ground near Cass Station. At this time, Warren Akin was appointed colonel, by which title he was generally known through life. Col. Akin’s first wife died very young, and in 1848 he married Miss Mary F. Verdery, whom a recent writer in the Sunny South describes as “a beautiful and accomplished woman of rare and natural intelligence,” daughter of A. N. Verdery, esq., then of Floyd county, but a Frenchman. Col. Akin himself was of Irish and Welsh extraction. Thirteen children were born to them, six of whom died in infancy and early youth, and the oldest being killed by a fall from a horse at the age of fifteen. The remaining six, with his widow, still survive.
In this same year, 1848, he was made elector for the state at large on the Whig ticket. This was his first appearance in politics, and his speeches in this campaign created wide-spread comment. Those were stirring times in Georgia. The day before he was to speak at one appointment, he received an anonymous letter from some democrats, notifying him that he would be killed if he attempted to speak the next day. At the commencement of his speech, he related the incident and remarked that if the authors of the letter were present, it was a good time to carry their threat into execution. No sooner had he uttered the words than three men with heavy bludgeons advanced toward the platform. Col. Akin quietly drew his pistol, presented it, and said: “I’ll blow the brains out of the first man who puts his foot on this platform.” The valiant democrats at once retreated amid the jeers and laughter of exultant Whigs.
Hon. A. R. Wright and Col. Akin once formed a partnership and practiced law together until the elevation of Judge Wright to the bench. Their ledgers show a large and lucrative practice. Indeed, Col. Akin’s professional success from 1859 to 1860 was phenomenal for a lawyer in as small a village as Cassville. He practiced in all the counties of the Cherokee Circuit, then much larger than it is now. His income from fees alone sometimes reached in the ten thousands yearly. He also practiced regularly in the Supreme Court of Georgia. The records and reports of that court show that he was the first lawyer who ever made a speech in that court. Its first five decisions were rendered in his cases. The first point on Supreme court practice was made by him. The decision was adverse to his position, but the court subsequently adopted the doctrine then enunciated by him. In every volume of the Georgia Reports his name appears as counsel. No other one lawyer’s name, it is believed, appears so often in the records of that court.
In 1859, against his wishes and in his absence, he was nominated by the opposition party as their candidate for governor. His disinclination to enter politics was so great, that when first urged to make the race he positively declined. His party friends insisted that it was a duty he owed to them. He knew not what it was to disobey a call to duty. He, therefore, finally accepted the nomination and made a thorough canvass of the state. It is remarkable that, in so heated a campaign, his opponents made not a single charge against his personal, professional or political purity. The democratic party was then very strong in Georgia, and their candidate had then, as he has now, a strong hold on the masses. Governor Brown was elected. He had, at the previous election, defeated Ben Hill; and in 1861 and 1863 he defeated his opponents by large majorities, serving four terms as governor.
It was a political doctrine of Warren Akin that “the office should seek the man.” Accordingly, when importuned to become a candidate for the legislature, in 1861, he declined to ?? his name announced. But the ?? people of Cass felt the need of their best men in that critical period, when the union was dissevered, a new federation formed from the remnants of the old, and the clouds of war were gathering over their homes and firesides. Without candidacy, they sent Col. Akin to the House of Representatives. On the first ballot, he was elected speaker. It was his first term. The writer has never heard of another instance in which a representative was chosen speaker at his first term. In this race, Col. Akin never announced his candidacy nor asked a single man for his influence or his vote. This was Georgia’s first secession legislature. Col. Akin had strongly opposed secession. But so great was the public confidence in his character and ability, that this house chose a union man for its chief officer. So conspicuous were his services in this body that at its dissolution, he was, in 1863, without candidacy, elected to the Confederate congress from this district. His opponent was a popular lawyer of Whitfield county, then a Colonel in the Confederate army. The soldiers were allowed to vote, and Col. Akin beat his opponent in the latter’s own regiment.
The sessions of the Confederate congress were mostly secret. The necessities of war demanded secrecy in the national councils. The public, therefore, knew little of the services of their representatives. His colleagues, who knew his labors, pronounced Col. Akin’s congressional career honorable and able. He was a warm friend of President Davis, and in all the conflicts between the administration and its enemies, he was like the lamented Hill, an earnest supporter of the government. Some Confederate soldiers who read this sketch will remember services he was able to render them by his influence at Richmond. They will also remember his regular visits to the hospitals, where he prayed with the sick and dying, and spent much of his salary in alleviating their wants.
When Sherman’s army first reached Cassville, he at once inquired for Col. Akin’s house, and had it immediately burned. This was sometime before he issued orders for the destruction of the town. The family had refugeed to Oxford. Here, the Federal officers tried by threats and bribes to induce his faithful servant, Bob, to betray his master’s whereabouts, but to no avail. Col. Akin happened to be on a visit to his family, when a raiding party of federal troops came unexpectedly to Oxford about daylight one morning. He escaped in his shirt sleeves through the front gate as the soldiers, with shouts and curses, came in the back gate. They had declared that they would hang him to a tree in his own front yard. Bob alone knew of his hiding place, and under cover of night he carried him food. At one time, lying hid under a brush pile, in a swamp on Yellow river, a squad of blue-coats passed within a few feet searching for him, but they never found him.
He then refugeed to Elberton. His family had been half starved at Oxford, the Federal soldiers destroying everything they could find, in mere wantonness, even killing little chickens and leaving them dead in the yard, emptying the sorghum upon the ground, and burning the “potato coffee” (the people who lived in war times know what that is). The day after his arrival at Elberton, wagon loads of provisions rolled up to his gate, generously donated by the friends of his early youth. THEY had escaped Sherman. Thenceforward, hunger was a stranger to his hearthstone.
In October, 1865, he returned to this county. Like nearly all of us, the war had swept away all he had, except twenty eight acres of poor land. He had not money enough to pay freight on the remnants of household goods saved from the war. The railroad authorities kindly credited him for that. Renting a farm, he worked in the field at all times he could spare from his practice, which he had resumed in a rented office in Cartersville. Everybody was poor. Fees came in slowly. Those were hard times. When the wheat crop of 1866 was threshed and ground, his family had CAKE FOR DINNER, for the first time in many weary days.
The gloom that overcast the south in the terrible days that succeeded the war is comparable to nothing in history except the despair which stupefied the Carthagenians when the victorious Scipio sowed their city in salt and burned the last temple of their gods. Men who knew no fear in battle stood aghast at a spectacle of ruin greater than the havoc inflicted by the Duke of Alva in the Low grounds. By the fortuity of circumstance, this gloom fell heavily upon Warren Akin. Such was his despondency that if he had had the philosophy of Seneca, without the religion of Christ, he would have followed Seneca’s example and ended the buffetings of adversity.
Toil heals trouble. Work is an antidote to grief. And so, in the labor of his profession, Warren Akin found solace to the misfortunes which had crowded upon him. With the energy of his youth, he devoted his advancing years to recuperating his shattered fortunes. With a large family, hospitable habits, expressive surroundings and unstinted liberality to his family and the church, he yet saved enough money after the war to die out of debt and leave his family in comfortable circumstances. He was an earnest advocate of education, and believed it was the best capital a young man could have for the business of life. As a member of the Board of Trustees of Emory College, he inaugurated a reform in discipline which did, as he predicted it would, “remove temptation from the students and increase their devotion to duty.”
In 1870, Col. Akin moved from the country to Cartersville, where he lived until his death. He devoted himself, during this period, entirely to his profession. In 1874, upon the retirement of Col. L. N. Trammell, he was urged by many to allow his name to be put before the convention which nominated Col. Dabney in Trammell’s place as the democratic nominee for congress from the seventh district. This he positively declined.
When the question of calling the constitutional convention of 1877 was agitated before the people, a number of citizens wrote him a letter, asking his views for publication. In response thereto, Col. Akin wrote a carefully prepared letter advocating the call and giving his views on the proposed constitution. In a recent sketch of Col. Akin’s life in the “Sunny South,” the following is said of this letter: It “attracted a marked degree of attention. The newspapers all over the state copied it. Hon. Robert Toombs was also urging the call with great force and ability, and the names of Toombs and Akin became the watchword of the advocates of the convention. The call was sustained and the convention held. The result was that many of the ideas in the Akin letter were incorporated in the new constitution. Some of them made great encroachments on the old law. * * * Those ideas of Mr. Akin which were incorporated in the constitution can easily be discerned after reading his letter. They have saved and will save to the people countless sums, and if he had lived to no other purpose, his services in this would have entitled his memory to reverence.”
Twelve days after this constitution was adopted, Warren Aiken died the death of the righteous. When in the feebleness of long illness and approaching death, the news was told him of the constitution’s adoption, “Thank God,” he replied, “the people have at last made their constitution.”
He was buried at Cassville, where he always loved so well to worship and whose people were so dear to his heart. He had been, since early manhood, a member of the Methodist church, and since 1852 a local preacher in that communion. His piety was deep and fervent. Nothing but sickness ever prevented the morning and evening prayers at his family hearthstone. And he lived his religion. In his every deed the Spirit of God directed him. A diary kept by him in 1857 shows the unusual religiousness of his nature and his close communion with God. None but those who saw his inner life, as it was revealed in his daily walk to those most intimate with him, know how thoroughly he was “rooted and grounded in the love of Christ.”
As a lawyer, he was laborious, studious, strictly conscientious and thoroughly honest. He was absolutely fearless in the discharge of his duty, and had a contempt for mere popularity. In Avery’s History of Georgia, he is thus described: “He was a self made man, possessing decided ability and very effective speaking power, and as much purity of private character as any public man we have ever had in Georgia. He was a local Methodist preacher. Col. Akin was rather a small man in physique, but had a voice of remarkable compass, both shrill and deep, with peculiar ringing quality in its high notes. He had unusual fervor and sincerity of conviction and earnestness of character. He could not be called a popular gentleman, on account of a certain unyielding vigor and a forcible impatience at what he condemned. As a laborious student, in a clear comprehension of the law, and in strong argument, Col. Akin had no superior and few equals in his circuit. No man in his section enjoyed a larger share of individual and public esteem than he.”
“He was a strong speaker and * * * made much reputation in the state for eloquence and ability.” At his death, the newspapers all over the state had extended notices of his life and character. In a leading editorial, the Atlanta Constitution said: “It is difficult to write truthfully of Col. Akin’s private character without seeming exaggeration. The purity of it was unquestioned. All who knew him will testify that no living man was more truthful, no man more sensitively honorable, and none of more incorruptible integrity. His name was the synonym of honesty, and his charity life-long and beneficient. * * * The state has lost one of the best and greatest of her citizens. * * * Religion was the corner-stone of his character and upon it was built the splendid pyramid of Christian virtues which he leaves for the imitation of his children and his countrymen.”
This was the tenor of the press upon his life and character.
In the memorial by the Cartersville bar, his professional brethren say: “The brightest ornament of the profession at this place and its acknowledged leader in the circuit is no more * * * It will be no discourtesy to any, we apprehend, if we venture the assertion that, by the bar and the county at large, he was regarded, and justly, too, as the first man in his profession in North Georgia. * * * To the great and acknowledged talents which marked his career, was added the brighter and sweeter luster of the sincere, humble devoted Christian. As a friend, no man was more faithful and true. * * * A great lawyer and a good man has left us.”
This sketch is intended to give only the salient points of Warren Aiken’s life. That life illustrates the all conquering power of labor. The toil and struggles of his youth bore their natural fruition in the splendid achievements of his maturer years. No honest boy, though poor and friendless, need despair of success, in the light of the lessons of Warren Akin’s life. There seems a great gap and a long distance between the illiterate plow boy, sitting on his plow stock waiting for daylight to show him the corn rows, and the able lawyer with a lucrative practice, respected, admired, loved, dying at a ripe age, crowned with the years and honors of an upright successful life. But the one is merely the logical sequence of the other. Such youth is prophetic of such age.
The writer of this sketch pauses at its conclusion to find one sentence which describes its subject; and as he ponders there comes drifting back from the memories of classic studies, that inimitable epitaph which the poet Laureate of the eternal city wrote of his life-long friend; and it is more beautifully true of Warren Akin than it was of Macaenas: “Integer vitae scelerisque purus.”
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