With his parents, he moved to Huntsville, Alabama, in 1818. He graduated at the University of Nashville in 1828, studied law in Virginia, and was admitted to the bar of that state, but returned to Alabama in 1830. He became editor of the Huntsville Democrat, was in the legislature in 1833-35, attorney general of the state in 1836, speaker of the house in 1839, and a judge of the circuit court in 1841-51. He was then elevated to the supreme bench, held office for two years, and again in 1863-65. In the interval when he was not a judge in the Alabama Supreme Court, he was clerk to that body, and also later in 1865-68. He became professor of law in the University of the South in 1869, holding the chair till his death.