James Speed was born in Jefferson County, Kentucky, on March 11, 1812. He graduated from St. Joseph's College in Kentucky, studied law at Transylvania University and was admitted to the bar at Louisville in 1833. In 1847 Speed was elected to the State legislature, and in 1861 elected to the State senate. On December 2, 1864, President Lincoln appointed him Attorney General of the United States. He resigned in July 1866 and resumed the practice of his profession. Speed was a delegate to the Philadelphia "Loyalists' Convention" in 1866 and served as president of the Convention. He died in Jefferson County, Kentucky, on June 25, 1887.