Estopinal was born in St. Bernard Parish, which is located to the east of New Orleans. He was a son of Joseph Estopinal (1816–1881) and the former Felicia Gonzales (1821–1865). Their ancestors came from the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain. Settlers in Louisiana from the Canaries are known as Islenos. Felicia was Joseph's second wife. Both were natives of St. Bernard Parish, the last of the sixty-four Louisiana parishes to be named. Estopinal attended public and private schools in St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans.
In 1862, at the age of seventeen, Estopinal left school to enlist as a soldier in the St. Bernard Guards of the 28th Louisiana Regiment. He began as an orderly sergeant in Company G. He fought in the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou in December 1862, the opening exchange of what became in July 1863 the decisive Battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi, in which he commanded a squad which transported prisoners from Indianola in Sunflower County in northwestern Mississippi, to Libby on the Gulf Coast.
On three occasions, Estopinal led the movement of prisoners to the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. After Vicksburg, Estopinal was assigned to the quartermaster's department in Meridan in eastern Mississippi and then to the campaign in Mobile, Alabama, during which he was attached to the 22nd Louisiana Regiment Heavy Artillery. He surrendered and was paroled at Meridian. Throughout the war Estopinal was neither wounded nor taken prisoner.
By the time Estopinal went to Congress, his colleagues addressed him as "General," but the biographical sketches do not indicate his rank beyond the beginning duty as orderly sergeant. The use of "General" in this instance may have been honorary.
After the war Estopinal for five years engaged in merchandising at New Orleans. In 1868, he married the former Eliska Legier (1850–1925), the daughter of Francis and Octavia Legier of New Orleans. Educated in France, Francis Legier earned his livelihood as a merchant in New Orleans. He was also a former municipal street commissioner in New Orleans before the establishment of the mayor-council government. Albert and Eliska had ten children, including Albert, Jr., Fernando, Joseph, Benjamin, René, Clement, David, Leonidas, Frederick, and Lelia.Albert Estopinal, Jr., became a St. Bernard Parish politician too, serving as parish judge and as sheriff at the time of his father's death. Estopinal, Jr., was later allied with the political boss Leander Perez, who unsuccessfully fought desegregation in the mid-20th century.
By 1870, Estopinal acquired Kenilworth Plantation, built in 1759 and used originally as a military outpost in St. Bernard Parish. Under Estopinal, Kenilworth consisted of 1,600 acres plus another 400 noncontiguous acres. It was located on the route of the New Orleans & Gulf Railroad. Kenilworth was considered at the time to have been one of the best managed properties in St. Bernard Parish, with acreage devoted to vegetables as well as sugar, the principal cash crop.
Estopinal's public service began after the Civil War, when he served two two-year terms from 1868 to 1872 as the St. Bernard Parish tax assessor. In 1872 and again in 1874, he was elected sheriff of St. Bernard Parish. From 1876 to 1880, he was a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, elected to a single four-year term.
In 1879 and 1898, Estopinal was a member of the two Louisiana state constitutional conventions. A third would be held two years after his death. From 1880 to 1900, he served in the Louisiana State Senate, having been elected to five four-year terms.
From 1900 to 1904, Estopinal was the Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana under Governor William Wright Heard, a native of Union Parish in north Louisiana who spent the bulk of his career in New Orleans. Estopinal succeeded Robert H. Snyder of Tensas Parish as lieutenant governor. Snyder had served under Wright's predecessor, Murphy James Foster, Sr.
In 1908, Estopinal was the chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee; a powerful position in a then one-party state. From 1908 to 1919, he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and served until his death in office.
Few Louisiana politicians served in as many offices as Estopinal and for as long a period of time. He was in office continuously from 1868 to 1919 except for the period from 1904 to 1908.
During his service in the Louisiana House, he was assigned to the Education and Parochial Affairs committees. During his last term in the Louisiana Senate, he was chairman of the committee handling state government audits and oversight functions.
Estopinal was elected to Congress upon the death of Adolph Meyer. In the spring of 1919, he died in office, just a few months into his sixth term. His tenure corresponded with the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson. He served on the Naval Affairs Committee. In 1912, he was an alternate delegate to the Democratic National Convention, which met in Baltimore, Maryland, and nominated the successful Woodrow Wilson-Thomas Marshall ticket, a slate which easily prevailed in heavily Democratic Louisiana and nationwide as well. At the convention, Estopinal was a member on the Committee on Rules and Order of Business.
In Congress, Estopinal missed about one-half of all roll call votes between 1908 and 1919. He cast no votes during March 1919, the month preceding his death.
In addition to the offices previously cited, Estopinal served on the St. Bernard Parish Police Jury, equivalent to the county commission in other states. The dates of police jury service are not included in the sketch of Estopinal in A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography. Another source, however, indicates that he was the police jury president after 1884 and was still in that position in 1892, when Estopinal was also a state senator. At the time, it was possible to serve simultaneously in the state legislature and a part-time parish office. Such double-dipping continued into the 20th century. Another who served simultaneously in two positions was Earl Williamson, a local politician in Caddo Parish in north Louisiana, who was both a police juror and the mayor of Vivian. Estopinal was also a founding member of Lake Borgne Levee District.
Estopinal died at Kenilworth and is interred at St. Louis Cemetery III in New Orleans.The Political Graveyard indicates that Estopinal died in New Orleans, which is eighteen miles to the west of Kenilworth. Perhaps the website used the name "New Orleans" to refer to the general area, instead of the specific city.
While still living in 1892, Estopinal was hailed in a biographical memoir, accordingly: "Honorable Mr. Estopinal is well and favorably known throughout the state of Louisiana, as a wide-awake, thoroughgoing man. He has served his parish in a great many responsible positions, and highly deserves the respect and esteem with which he is regarded."
Estopinal's legislative colleague James Benjamin Aswell of Natchitoches, a former president of Northwestern State University, delivered a moving eulogy on the House floor on behalf of his friend:
General Estopinal's life should be an inspiration to young men everywhere. He was clean of mind and pure in heart. His ideals were lofty and his purpose always noble. As a man, he was a prince among men – suave, gracious, courtly, and dignified. No one ever doubted his sincerity or questioned his integrity. He never quibbled or dodged.
High spirited and courageous, he feared no man; yet considerate and forgiving, he loved his fellow man with a passionate love. Modest to the point of timidity, his personality commanded respect and impelled admiration. To know him was to love him; to work with him was to trust and follow him; to think of him now is to praise and honor him.
A gallant and fearless Confederate soldier of unfaltering bravery during the Civil War, a trusted public officer for forty-seven years, no man ever enjoyed more continuous love and confidence than did Albert Estopinal in Louisiana.
Representative Ladislas Lazaro of Ville Platte in Evangeline Parish, described his colleague as:
well-nigh perfect in proportion and build. His features were of finest line, his bearing was one of gracious dignity and unostentatious knightliness, his gentlemanish came from the heart out. It was inbred; it was the warp and woof of his spirit. Intellectully, I think we must justly say that he was profound. He had a thoroughly disciplined mind. He was broad minded, practical and quick. He was a close student of history. I don't mean simply that he knew history; I mean that he understood it. He caught the significance of events as applied to human life and destiny. He was honest and sincere, and detested hypocrisy. He believed in his country and its Constitution, and his Americanism was 100 percent. Thus, Mr. Speaker, he was prepared to be and was a good lawmaker ...
Other lawmakers offered remarks of sympathy on the passing of Estopinal, including some from outside Louisiana.