Samuel Francis Hobbs (1887-1952) was an attorney, circuit court judge, and eight-term Democratic congressman for the Fourth Congressional District of Alabama. A native of Selma, Dallas County, he was influential in the city’s development and with the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and in bringing funds to the state for roads and Fort McClellan.
Samuel Hobbs Hobbs was born in Selma on October 5, 1887, to Samuel Freeman Hobbs and Frances “Fannie” Jeffries John Hobbs. Samuel had one sibling, Edward Henry, actually the son of Samuel’s brother Edward Henry Hobbs and adopted by the family in infancy after his mother’s death. Samuel Freeman Hobbs, a transplant from Maine, served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, but his six brothers fought for the Union. He attended local public schools and Callaway’s Preparatory School before transferring to Marion Military Institute in Marion, Perry County. After graduation, he attended Vanderbilt University and then received a law degree from the University of Alabama in 1908. After passing the Alabama State Bar, Hobbs moved back to Selma and went into private practice. Hobbs married Sarah Ellen Greene in January 1913, and the couple had two boys and a girl who survived to adulthood, each of whom served in World War II.
In 1921, Gov. Thomas E. Kilby appointed Hobbs to the Fourth Judicial Circuit in 1921, and he then was elected to a subsequent term, serving until 1926. In 1930, he managed the successful gubernatorial campaign of Benjamin Meek Miller, whose platform rested upon opposing the Ku Klux Klan, frugality and disapproval of spending by outgoing governor David Bibb Graves (1927-1931), and support for Prohibition. Pres. Herbert Hoover appointed Hobbs in 1931 to chair the Muscle Shoals Commission tasked with decommissioning the nitrate plants and hydroelectric facilities on the Tennessee River constructed by the federal government during World War I. The committee recommended instead that the plant be converted to fertilizer production and agricultural research, leading the way for the creation of the TVA. Two years later, Hobbs, an early supporter of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, was selected by the president to chair Alabama’s National Recovery Administration committee. Both positions earned Hobbs recognition in the state.
In 1934, Hobbs defeated incumbent Lamar Jeffers for Alabama’s Fourth Congressional District seat that included Dallas County and snaked up to the east and north into Calhoun, Clay, St. Clair, and Talladega Counties, among others. He would serve from 1935 until 1951. Early in his term, Hobbs led an informal but large delegation of senators and representatives that convinced Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau to add marble to the list of building materials for public works projects. Morgenthau had thought it too expensive to use during the Great Depression. In Washington, D.C., as a result, Alabama marble adorns the Library of Congress, U.S. Supreme Court Building, Federal Reserve Bank Building, and National Gallery of Art. Hobbs also gained notice early in his congressional tenure when he managed the impeachment of Judge Halsted L. Ritter of the Southern District of Florida, who was removed for a variety of offences.
During his eight terms, Hobbs served on the Post Offices and Post Roads and the House Judiciary Committees. Hobbs did much to improve his hometown of Selma and the Fourth District. He secured appropriations for the expansion of Fort McClellan in 1935 and in 1937, sponsored legislation that brought to Alabama nearly $6 million in federal funds for highway construction that led to the construction of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He secured funding for A.G. Parrish High School (present-day Selma High) and the Colored Community Center (the present-day George Wilson Building).
He also sponsored the Hobbs Act of 1946, which extended federal law to crimes such as robbery, bribery, and extortion as they relate to commerce. It was enacted at the time in response to widespread racketeering among labor unions and today is largely applied to public corruption and commercial law. Hobbs was one of many conservative southern Democrats who objected to the national party’s support of civil rights legislation in 1948, joining the conservative Dixiecrat faction of the Democratic Party that favored a States’ Rights platform. Having opted not to seek reelection in 1950 due to health issues, Hobbs moved back to Selma the following year. His open seat was won by Democrat Kenneth A. Roberts. Hobbs died on May 31, 1952, and was buried in Old Live Oak Cemetery in Selma.
- Fitts, Alston, III. Selma: A Bicentennial History. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2016.
- Jackson, Walter M. The Story of Selma. Birmingham: Birmingham Printing Company, 1954.
- Muscle Shoals Commission. Muscle Shoals: A Plan for the Use of the United States Properties on the Tennessee River by Private Industry for “the Manufacture of Fertilizers and Other Useful Products.” Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931.