There are few men whose lives are crowned with the honor and respect which is universally accorded to William Alexander Anderson, but through more than half a century’s connection with central California’s history his has been an unblemished character. With him success in life has been reached by sterling qualities of mind and a heart true to every manly principle. He has never deviated from what his judgment indicated to be right and honorable between his fellow-men and himself. He has never swerved from the path of duty, and he has every reason to enjoy the consciousness of having gained for himself by his honorable, straightforward career the confidence and respect of the entire community in which he lives. He has attained a foremost position at the bar, and as a writer and dramatic critic is also well know. the public career of few other men of Sacramento has extended over a longer period, and none have been more faultless in honor, fearless in conduct and stainless in reputation.
Judge Anderson is a native of Wisconsin, his birth having occurred at Mineral Point, that state, on the 25th of February, 1846. He was a son of Hartford and Susan Anderson, who became pioneer residents of California, settling in this state at the period of its early mining development. His paternal grandfather was a resident of Edinburg, Scotland, in early life, and his wife was born in the north of Ireland. Having emigrated to America he established his home in Pennsylvania, where occurred the birth of his son, Hartford. The mother of our subject, Mrs. Susan (Atkins) Anderson, was a native of Kentucky. For some time the parents of the Judge resided in Wisconsin, where the father worked at the trade of wagon and carriage making. The business opportunities of the west, however, attracted him, and, hoping that he might readily obtain a fortune in the mining districts of California, he made his way across the plains accompanied by his family. They traveled over the stretches of hot sand, through the mountain passes until the days had lengthened into weeks and the weeks into months. At length they safely reached their destination. Mrs. Anderson, however, did not long survive her arrival on the Pacific coast, her death occurring during the cholera epidemic of 1852. Mr. Hartford Anderson, well known as one of the pioneer residents of Sacramento, continued to make his home in the capital city until his demise, which occurred in October, 1896. He took an active and interested part in the early development of this portion of the state, and his sympathy and support were always given to the measures and movements which contributed to the latter-day progress and improvement.
Judge Anderson was a lad of only four years at the time of his parents’ removal to the west. He began his education in the public schools and supplemented his early mental training by study in Santa Clara College, thus completing his literary course. His professional training was received in the Benicia Law College. His earlier studies, however, were directed in such a manner as to prepare him for the profession of civil engineering, but at a later date he determined to pursue the study of law, and entered the institution mentioned, completing there a thorough law course, after which he was graduated with the class of 1865.
Throughout his entire business career Judge Anderson has devoted his attention to the law, having been admitted to the bar of California by the supreme court of the state, in 1866, and to the United States circuit court in 1880. Admitted to the bar he at once entered upon the practice, and from the beginning has been unusually prosperous in every respect. The success which he has attained is due to his own efforts and merits. The possession of advantages is no guarantee whatever of professional advancement, which comes not of itself, nor can it be secured without integrity, ability and industry. These qualities he possesses to an eminent degree, and he is faithful to every interest committed to his charge. throughout his whole life whatsoever his hand has found to do, whether in his profession or in his official duties or in any other sphere, he does with all his might and with a deep sense of conscientious obligation. As a lawyer he is sound, clear-minded and well trained. He is at home in all departments of the law from the minutiae in practice to the greater topics involving the consideration of the ethics and the philosophy of jurisprudene and the higher concerns of public policy. His success, however, affords the best evidence of his capabilities in this line. He is a strong advocate with the jury, and concise in his appeals before the court. Much of the success which has attended him in his professional career is undoubtedly due to the fact that in no instance will he permit himself to go into court with a case unless he has absolute confidence in the justice of his client’s cause. Basing his efforts on this principle, from which there are far too many lapses in professional ranks, it naturally follows that he seldom loses a case in whose support he is enlisted.
Judge Anderson was first chosen to public office before he had attained his majority, being elected county auditor in 1866. His next public service was that of assistant adjutant general in the Fourth Brigade of the California National Guard from 1868 until 1879. In the meantime he was elected city attorney in 1875, and was continued in that office until 1886. In 1890 he was supervisor of the census, being one of three supervisors for the state. In 1893 legislative honors were conferred upon him, he being chosen to represent the eighteenth district of California in the general assembly, where he gave careful consideration to every question that came up for settlement and espoused with ardor or opposed with equal earnestness the course which he believed would prove of benefit to the commonwealth or check its best interests. His service in the house won him the commendation of his constituents and the respect of his political opponents. In 1898 he was chosen police judge of Sacramento, and his decisions have been characterized by the strictest impartiality and equity.
Judge Anderson has always given his political allegiance to the Republican party, and having made a close and earnest study of the issues and questions of the day he has become more strongly confirmed in his opinions that the party platform contains the best elements of good government. His campaign work has been effective and far-reaching, for he has visited various portions of California, advocating the doctrines of Republicanism and expounding the basic elements upon which the political organization rests. He was one of the first champions of Major McKinley in California and became a member of the executive committee during that campaign. He has been a delegate to nearly every Republican county and state convention for nearly thirty years, and his opinions carry weight in the councils of his party. In 1898 he was a delegate to the National Republican League Convention held in Omaha, Nebraska.
Judge Anderson has been twice married, and by the first union had one son, Osmer W. Anderson, who was born August 23, 1871, and who was for two years a volunteer soldier in the Philippines. On the 8th of September, 1880, Judge Anderson married Miss Mary C. Cadwell. Theirs is an attractive home, the center of many an entertaining social function, and hospitality which is both gracious and generous is the pervading atmosphere of the household. In his fraternal relations Judge Anderson is a Mason and an Odd Fellow. He was reared in the Episcopal faith, but is a man of broad and liberal views in religious matters and is a communicant of no church organization at the present time.
A man of scholarly attainments and literary tastes, possession broad general as well as classical information, he finds considerable enjoyment in giving to the daily papers. He was one of the founders of a literary journal called “themis,” which was noted for its historical merit and for its clear-cut and literary editorials. He is the author of some dramatic works and is well known as a dramatic critic and lover of the drama. He has studied from the art standpoint many of the most celebrated dramas of the world, and has had a personal acquaintance with most of the great dramatists of a generation ago, including Edwin Booth, John McCullough, Lawrence Barrett and other eminent actors and actresses. His writings are fluent and entertaining, eloquent and versatile, and for a third of a century he has been known to the public as a lecturer whose addresses have created widespread interest. His influence upon literary and aesthetic culture of the state has been most potent, and at the same time he has given a practical support to the measures intended to advance the material interests of Sacramento. As a man and citizen he is honored and respected in every class of society. While undoubtedly he is not without that honorable ambition which is so powerful and useful as an incentive to activity in public affairs, he regards the pursuits of private life as being in themselves abundantly worthy of his best efforts. His is a character that subordinates personal ambition to public good and seeks rather the benefit of others than the aggrandizement of self. His is a conspicuously successful career. Endowed by nature with high intellectual qualities, to which are added the discipline and embellishments of culture, his is a most attractive personality. Well versed in the learning of his profession, and with a deep knowledge of human nature and of the springs of human conduct, with great shrewdness and sagacity and extraordinary tact, he is in the courts an advocate of great power and influence. Both judges and juries always hear him with attention and deep interest.
Source: Leigh H. Irvine; A History of the New California Its Resources and People, 2 Volumes; New York and Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1903.