Allen Caperton Braxton was born on February 6, 1862, at the home of his grandfather Allen Taylor Caperton in Union in Monroe County, the son of Tomlin Braxton and Mary Caperton Braxton. He grew up at Chericoke, the Braxton family plantation in King William County. Braxton attended nearby Pampatike Academy until he was sixteen, when he left school and went to work, serving as a tutor and holding several jobs on railroads in. He also read law, attended one summer course under John B. Minor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and eventually used funds supplied by friends to begin a practice in Staunton in the autumn of 1883.
A. Caperton Braxton, as he was professionally known, became a leader of the Staunton bar, helped send his younger brothers to law school, and after his father’s death at the end of 1892 welcomed his mother and siblings into his bachelor household. From 1886 until 1890 he served as commonwealth’s attorney of Augusta County and city attorney of Staunton. Braxton shared with many of his contemporaries both a strong belief in the inherent inferiority of African Americans and support for the growing movement in Virginia during the 1890s to devise a means of eliminating black citizens from the political process. He also favored reducing the participation of poor and uneducated white voters. On May 23, 1901, Braxton easily won election as one of two delegates to represent Augusta County and Staunton in a state constitutional convention that met from June 12, 1901, through June 26, 1902.
He was chair of the temporary Committee of Privilege and Election, and on June 21 he was appointed chair of the Committee on Corporations and a member of the Committee on Judiciary. In preparation for the convention Braxton read widely on the legal ramifications of the different methods proposed for eliminating African Americans from public life in Virginia, and in support of the suffrage provisions that the convention adopted. Braxton denounced the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1870)—guaranteeing a citizen’s right to vote regardless of race—and advocated the measures that effectively disfranchised most African Americans and about half the previously qualified white voters in Virginia. He voted for the constitution as approved and for the decision to promulgate it without approval by the electorate.
Braxton opposed the state’s Democratic Party leader,, a United States senator and former railroad lawyer whom he believed to be a corrupting influence in state government and politics. Large corporations in general, and railroads in particular, used their power to keep corporate taxes low, water their stock, and profit from discriminatory freight rates. Before the convention met, Braxton thoroughly researched the legal methods for regulating corporate abuses, and as chair of the corporations committee he drafted what became Article XII of the Constitution of 1902, which created the Virginia State Corporation Commission. With a few like-minded delegates he worked to reassure other members of the convention that their essentially conservative intent was to reduce the political power of big business and regulate corporations in the public interest. Braxton’s objectives actually included cutting the ground out from under radical reformers. Nevertheless, corporate pressures made his task difficult, and he worked and spoke tirelessly and skillfully to obtain adoption of the commission article. The State Corporation Commission, of which he was regarded as the founder, consisted of three members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the General Assembly. The commission possessed legislative, executive, and judicial powers to charter corporations and regulate their activities in Virginia.
Between 1901 and 1904 Braxton published scholarly legal articles defending and explaining the most important work of the convention. His swift rise to prominence in Virginia and the innovative character of the State Corporation Commission brought him a brief national reputation, and his name was mentioned at the 1904 Democratic National Convention as a possible candidate for vice president. The following year Braxton contemplated challenging Martin for the senatorial nomination, but because he shared Martin’s conservatism on most issues he could not rally a following among members of his party’s small progressive faction.
Braxton moved to Richmond in 1904 and there expanded his law practice and became general counsel to the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad. In 1906 he was elected president of the Virginia State Bar Association. In December 1912 Braxton contracted Bright’s disease. He spent most of 1913 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, under the care of Mary Patterson Miller, a longtime friend from Staunton whom he married on November 23, 1913. Allen Caperton Braxton died at his home in Staunton on March 22, 1914, and was buried in the family plot at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.