Palmer's parents, Solomon and Elizabeth Henderson Palmer had settled in Village Springs in 1819. The youngest sibling, he was educated in local schools and graduated from the University of Alabama in 1861. He was elected lieutenant of Company K of the 19th Alabama Infantry Regiment, organized at Huntsville, and fought in the Civil War under Joe Wheeler in the Battles of Shiloh and Chickamauga, where Palmer was promoted to Major.
After the war, Palmer taught in Blount County and was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1870. In 1874 he opened a law practice in Guntersville, where he also edited and published the Guntersville Democrat. In 1884 Palmer was elected State Superintendent of Education. In 1890 he founded the East Lake Atheneum in Birmingham, and served as its director until his death in 1896.
Palmer married the former Virginia Law in 1867 in Cherokee County and had seven daughters and one son.
- Owen, Thomas McAdory and Marie Bankhead Owen (1921) History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography. 4 volumes. Chicago, Illinois: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.