Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Phelan, John Dennis
PHELAN, John Dennis, jurist, b. in New Brunswick, N. J., 23 March, 1809; d. in Birmingham, Ala., 9 Sept., 1879. He removed with his parents to Huntsville, Ala., in 1818, was 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-'5, 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-'5. In the interval he was clerk to that body, and subsequently in 1865-'8. He became professor of law in the University of the south in 1869, holding the chair till his death. — His brother, James, jurist, b. in Huntsville, Ala., 11 Oct., 1821; d. in Memphis, Tenn., 17 May, 1873, was apprenticed as a printer to the “Democrat” at fourteen years of age, subsequently edited the “Flag of the Union,” a Democratic organ, and became state printer in 1843. He was admitted to the bar in 1846, removed to Mississippi in 1849, and settled in Aberdeen, where he soon established a large practice. He was elected to the state senate in 1860, and on the organization of the Confederate congress was chosen senator, and was an active member of that body. In 1863 he introduced what was called the “Crucial bill of the Confederacy,” which was a proposition to impress all the cotton in the south, paying for it in Confederate bonds, and using it as a basis for a foreign loan. The bill passed the house, but was defeated in the senate, and created so much indignation among the planters that Mr. Phelan was burned in effigy, and defeated in the next canvass. He then served as judge-advocate till the end of the war, when he settled in Memphis, and practised law in that city until his death. — James's son, James, congressman, b. in Aberdeen, Miss., 7 Dec., 1856; d. in Nassau, Bahama Islands, 30 Jan., 1891, in 1874 went abroad, studied in the University of Leipsic, and received the degree of Ph. D. there. He returned to the United States in 1878, began the practice of law in Memphis, and in 1886 was elected to congress and re-elected in 1888. In 1884 he became proprietor of the “Memphis Avalanche.” He was the author of “Philip Massinger and his Plays” (Leipsic, 1878) and “History of Tennessee, the Making of a State” (Boston, 1888).