Reconstruction judge and governor Alvin Hawkins was seven years old when his family moved to Carroll County. After attending McLemoresville Academy and Bethel College, he tried his hand as a farmer, blacksmith, and teacher before determining to become a lawyer. Following admission to the bar in 1843, he opened an office at Camden, but soon returned to Huntingdon, the seat of Carroll County. In 1847 he married Julia Ott of Murfreesboro.
After an unsuccessful attempt in 1845, Hawkins won election to the Tennessee House of Representatives as a Whig in 1853. With steadfast loyalty to the Union, he supported John Bell's presidential campaign in 1860 and the Republican Party thereafter. Following the Union occupation of West Tennessee, Hawkins traveled the region on behalf of Military Governor Andrew Johnson to report on “men and matters” to aid in the formulation of plans for the reconstruction of civil governments. In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln appointed Hawkins U.S. district attorney for West Tennessee; Hawkins was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1865.
During Reconstruction, Hawkins served with great distinction on the state supreme court, which demonstrated remarkable independence from the Radical Republican regime headed by Governor William Brownlow. In 1868 he left the court for a brief time to serve as consul-general in Havana, Cuba. He was elected to a full term on the state supreme court in 1869, but the approval of a new state constitution ended Reconstruction government and his term as judge in 1870.
In 1880 Hawkins won election as the first Republican governor since Reconstruction due to division in the Democratic ranks over the state debt question. Although a strong believer in full payment of the debt, he was unable to devise a solution to settle the controversy. However, his honest, efficient government helped to erase the stigma carried by his party as a result of Brownlow's rule. He also earned a reputation as a champion of judicial and educational reform.
The reunited Democratic Party defeated Hawkins in his 1882 reelection bid, but he left office amid bipartisan acclaim for his integrity. He returned to Huntingdon, where he practiced law and was active in Methodist affairs. He died at the age of eighty-four.