Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Edward John Phelps Lawyer, Politician, Educator Vermont

A Share for my Phelps Group on FB Compiled from several sources. 

Edward John Phelps was born in Middlebury, Vermont June 18, 1822, the eldest in a family of nine sons and two daughters. Son of Samuel Shether Phelps (1793 - 1855) and Frances Shurtleff Phelps (1792 - 1825)  Children with 2nd wife  Electa Saterlee Oct 23 1825. d. of Judge James Saterlee. Samuel Shether b. April 6 1828, m. Charlotte Stone. He d. 6 Sept  6 1856. Daniel Webster b. Feb 12 1830, m. Gertrude Johnson. Settled Chicago, Ill. Theodore Willis b Dec 31 1831, d. Aug 24 1832. Frank b. May 2 1834. Egbert b. Dec 8 1835. Helen Marra b. May. 1 1840. Harriet Eliza b Feb 6 1845

Edward married Mary Haight (1827 - 1909) August 1846, daughter of Hon. Stephen Haight of Burlington. Of this marriage are surviving two children: Mary Phelps m. Horatio Loomis, of Burlington and Charles Pierpont Phelps married January 1893 25 Lillian Graves d. of Rev. Gemont Graves of Burlington, Vt., but was divorced from her in 1906. January 11, 1908, he married in Philadelphia, Minnie Woodbury Braithwaite, daughter of George Moe Braithwaite

Samuel S. Phelps
Photo from Jen Shoots Find A Grave Francis daughter of Benoni Shurtleff and Nancy Farrar Shurtleff

From  Genealogical and Family History of the State of Vermont: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Founding of a Nation, Volume 1 

Edward Phelps, great-grandfather of Edward J. Phelps, was an extensive landowner and was a representative in the general court of Connecticut. His son, John Phelps, was a Revolutionary war soldier, and became a wealthy and influential citizen of Litchfield, Connecticut.
Samuel Shethar Phelps, father of Edward John Phelps, was a man of great ability, and was in his day one of the most distinguished jurists and men of affairs in the state. As was remarked by the Rev. Dr. Mathew H. Buckham. "the list of important public offices held by him would seem to justify the scriptural name he bore, probably a family name in the Puritan times, Shethar, 'one of the wise men who knew law and judgment.'"* A graduate of Yale in 1811, he settled in Middlebury, Vermont, in 1812; was a member of the general assembly from 1821 to 1832, of the council of censors in 1827, and of the governor's council in 1831. He was judge of the state supreme court, 1831-38, United States senator, 1839-51, and was appointed to fill a vacancy in that body in 1853-54. On the bench he was held in the highest esteem for his ability, legal learning and integrity. In the halls of Congress, and before the people, in the bitterest days of the slavery agitation, he earnestly deprecated the measures adopted by the Freejoil party, and advocated a conservative and constitutional policy of non-interference with slavery. His wife was the widow of Francis Shurtliff, of Middlebury, and a woman of unusual beauty of person and character.

Simeon E. Baldwin, Edward J. Phelps The Green Bag 213-214 (1900)
He graduated from Middlebury College at age 18, and went on to study law at Yale University. He was admitted to the bar in 1843, and began the practice of law at Middlebury, but moved to Burlington in 1845.
Phelps served as the second comptroller of the United States Treasury from 1851 to 1853, and then practiced law in New York City until 1857, when he returned to Burlington.
In 1880, Phelps was the Democratic candidate for governor of Vermont. Phelps was a founder of the American Bar Association (ABA) and served as its president in 1880-1881. After his tenure as president of the ABA, Phelps taught law at Yale University as the Kent Professor of Law until his death. Phelps also lectured on medical jurisprudence at the University of Vermont, 1881-1883, and on Constitutional Law at Boston University, 1882-1883.
He served as minister to Great Britain from 1885 to 1889, and in 1893 as Senior Counsel for the United States before a Paris tribunal to adjudicate the Bering Sea controversy. Phelps died at New Haven, Connecticut. Source: Phelps
Grave photo by Barb Destromp Greenmount Cemetery Burlington Vermont, USA

From Harper's Weekly March 24, 1900
The Late E. J. Phelps EDWARD JOHN PHELPS, who died on March 9, at New Haven, came of exceptionally vigorous and effective American stock. The founder of the family in this country was William Phelps , colonist, Puritan, and justice of the first
court held in Connecticut, who came from England in 1630, and founded the town of Windsor in Connecticut. The list of his descendants who turned out to
be men of distinction is long and notable. One of them, Edward, was a member of the General Court of Connecticut in 1744-5, and a large landholder. His son John, a Revolutionary soldier, was the father of Samuel S. Phelps, jurist, member of Congress, and United States Senator from Vermont. He in turn was the father of Mr. Phelps who has just died.

Edward J. Phelps , born in Middlebury, Vermont, in 1822, was graduated at Middlebury College in 1840, spent a year at the Yale Law School, continued his law studies with Horatio Seymour, and was admitted to the bar in 1843. In 1845 he moved to Burlington, where he practised his profession. For about three years, until 1854, during President Fillmore's administration, he was the second Comptroller of the Currency. From that time until 1885, though active in public life as an orator and a lawyer, he held no public office, but devoted himself to law, and to services more or less closely allied to that profession. In 1880 he lectured on medical jurisprudence in the University of Vermont. In that year, too, he was president of the American Bar Association, and the unsuccessful candidate of the Vermont Democrats for Governor. In 1881 he became Kent Professor of Law at Yale.
Though a man of proved capacity and scholarship, and of wide and distinguished reputation as a lawyer, when President Cleveland, in 1885, appointed him minister to Great Britain he was not widely known outside of his profession, so that the appointment occasioned surprise. Its wisdom was amply justified. He proved an exceedingly competent, acceptable, and successful representative of the United States, and as a minister was very popular abroad, and sincerely respected by the more discriminating of his own countrymen. He, and his wife as well, during their stay in London, contributed in a very important degree to the work in which Mr. Lowell had preceded him, and which Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Bayard continued, of bringing the British and the American peoples into more cordial and sympathetic relations. It is on the marked success of his career in London that Mr. Phelps 's reputation as a public man chiefly rests. That success was attained by very solid qualities, of learning and character, joined to attractive personal traits, sound judgment as to men and the merits of disputed questions, and social gifts of unusual charm. When he came back from London, Mr. Phelps resumed work at Yale, where, in 1887, a professorship of law was established for him by Mr. J. S. Morgan. 

Leonard M. Daggett, The Yale Law School

He continued to perform its duties up to the time of the illness which ended his life, finding leisure also for various important writings on constitutional and governmental subjects, and for the expression of his views from time to time on pressing matters of public policy. In 1893 he was appointed senior counsel of the United States in the Bering Sea controversy, and made the closing argument for the American side before the Court of Arbitration in Paris. Later, as a distinguished American, his good offices were engaged to assist the settlement of the dispute which arose with Lord Dunraven over his attempt to capture the America's cup.

Mr. Phelps lived part of the year at New Haven, but never gave up his residence in Vermont. He strongly disliked wars, condemned Mr. Cleveland's Venezuela message, and opposed the war with Spain and the expansion policy which followed it. To the free-silver mania and the candidacy of Bryan he was also unalterably opposed from the start, so that the closing years of his life found him one of the considerable number of Democrats who were strongly disaffected to all existing political conditions. 

Edward John Phelps
[Between 1844 and 1860]
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D. C.

Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, in a 1953 talk to law students at the University of Virginia (which appears in a 1953 issue of the Virginia Law Review) recounts how Edward J. Phelps was expected to be named as a Justice of the Supreme Court:
When Chief Justice Waite died, if a poll had been taken among lawyers and judges to determine the choice of a successor, I don't suppose a single vote would have been cast for Melville W. Fuller, certainly outside Chicago. Indeed, he was not Grover Cleveland's first choice. It was widely believed that a man named Edward J. Phelps of Vermont would become Chief Justice. He was a leader of the bar. He was an eminent man. He'd been Minister to Great Britain. But 1888 was a time when the so-called Irish vote mattered more than it has mattered in more recent years. Edward J. Phelps, as has been true of other ministers and ambassadors to Great Britain, made some speeches in England in which he said some nice things, believe it or not, about the British people. Patrick Collins, a Democratic leader, the then mayor of Boston, felt that that wouldn't do. A man who says nice things about the British can't possibly make a good Chief Justice of the United States. And since Patrick Collins was a powerful influence in the Democratic party, he advised President Cleveland that if he sent Phelp's name to the Senate, the chances of confirmation might (not be very bright. Phelps's name was not sent to the Senate.

Felix Frankfurter, From Fuller to Stone—Chief Justices I Have Known, Supreme Court Historical Society Yearbook, 1980 Supreme Court
Harper's Weekly
April 4, 1885 (p. 222)

The successor of Mr. James Russell Lowell at the court of St. James is Mr. Edward J. Phelps, of Burlington, Vermont, a lawyer in the front rank, and a son of a Senator. Though several times the Democratic candidate for the Governorship of his State, Mr. Phelps never held public office until his confirmation as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States to Great Britain. His friends speak of his appointment as eminently fit; one of them, ex-Governor Holbrook , of Vermont, a stanch Republican, said to a reporter: "I think it is as good a Democratic appointment as could have been made in this country. He is a courteous gentleman of unquestioned ability and integrity, and a pleasing orator." Mr. Phelps bears a striking personal resemblance to Mr. William H. Vanderbilt. His manner is dignified and urbane,
his conversation abounds in wit, and his aptitude for social duties at the court of St. James is perfect. His lectures for the last two years before the law students of Yale College have been received with unusual attention, and no instructor connected with the institution is more popular or respected. He will do much toward preserving the fine traditions associated with the scholarly and cultivated Lowell. 

  From the Vermonter Volume 4-5
The death of Hon. Edward J. Phelps removes from active life an illustrious American whose fame was world wide. His loss is mourned in two continents and universal regret is expressed in foreign courts as well as throughout our own country. Vermont is proud of her departed lawyer, statesman and diplomatist who won such marked distinction in professional circles and public life and whose career and services reflected so great credit on the Green Mountain State. Mr. Phelps was a man of courtly manner, of cultivated taste, of wide reading, of keen and independent judgment, a brilliant and accomplished speaker and an able writer.

Edward John Phelps, was born in Middlebury, Addison county, Vermont, June 11, 1S22. He was the son of Hon.. Samuel Sheathar Phelps, who graduated at Vale College in 1811; settled in Middlebury in 1S12; represented the town in the General Assembly, 1S21-32; was a member of the council of censors of Vermont, 1827; a member of the governor's council, 1831; Judge of the Supreme Court of Vermont, 1S31-3S; and was United States senator, 1S39-51 and 1853-4. The family traces its lineage in the direct line from William Phelps, who emigrated from England to America in 1630; founded the town of Windsor, Connecticut; and was a magistrate, and an important member of the Connecticut Colony. Edward Phelps, the great grandfather of Edward J., was a large land-holder and a representative in the General Court of Connecticut. The grandfather of Edward J., John Phelps, was a wealthy citizen of Litchfield, Connecticut, and a soldier in the Revolutionary war. The subject of this sketch entered Middlebury College at the age of fourteen years and graduated in 1840. Selecting the law as his profession he pursued legal studies at the Yale Law School, 1S42-43, and with Hon. Horatio Seymour of Middlebury. He was admitted to the Bar at the December term of the Addison county Court in 1S43, and commenced practice in Middlebury, removing thence in 1845 to Burlington, Vermont, which has since been his home. In 1S51 he accepted the office of second comptroller of the United States Treasury, unexpectedly tendered to him by President Fillmore, and held it throughout the remainder of Mr. Fillmore's administration, at the close of which he resigned it, though urged by President Pierce to retain it. Returning to Burlington he resumed practice and speedily attained a leading position, both as advocate and counsellor. lie was prominent as a counsel in the litigations of the Vermont railroads, which for over a quarter of a century largely occupied the attention of the State and Federal courts. He represented the city of Burlington in the constitutional convention of 1S70, which inaugurated the biennial system of elections, and made other important changes in the constitution of Vermont. In 1877 he presided with admirable grace and dignity at the centennial celebration of the Battle of Bennington, which was graced by the attendance of the President of the United States and many men of national distinction. In 1SS0 he received the unsolicited nomination of the Democratic party of Vermont for governor, and received a larger vote than has been cast for a Democratic candidate for that office in the last generation. In 1SS1 he accepted the Kent professorship of Law at Yale College, and in 1SS2 he was lecturer on constitutional law in the Boston University. He was president of the American Bar Association in 18S1. In 1SS5 the most important position in the diplomatic service, that of minister to the Court of St. James, was tendered by President Cleveland to Mr. Phelps, and was filled by him for four years with an ability and success that will be long remembered on both sides of the Atlantic. At the close of his term as minister to England Mr. Phelps resumed his chair at Yale University, devoting attention at times to a few important cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. Mr. Phelps was selected at one time by President Cleveland for a place on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States; but the opposition of some leading Irish politicians to the appointment, and fear of losing the Irish vote in the approaching election, induced Mr. Cleveland to abandon his choice and give the place to another man. In 1893 he was by the appointment of President Harrison, one of the counsel for the United States before the Behring Sea Tribunal of Arbitration, at Paris, and made the leading argument for the United States government before that important tribunal. The letter of Mr. Phelps defining the issue between sound currency and free silver coinage, in the presidential campaign of 1896, was one of the chief factors in determining the result of the succeeding national election. Many of Mr. Phelps' addresses, legal arguments and important papers have been published, among which may be mentioned an address on "Chief Justice Marshall, and the Constitutional Law of his time," before the American Bar Association, 1S79; address on "Changes in Statute Law," before the same, 1881; "The Law of the Land," an address before the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution, 1886; "Rights of American Fishermen and Construction of the Treaty with Great Britain," 1887; "Relation of Law to Justice," address before the South Carolina Bar Association, 1890; Oration at the Dedication of the Bennington Battle Monument, 1891; and "The Monroe Doctrine," address before the Brooklyn Institute of Aits and Sciences, 1896. He was the author of various magazine articles on constitutional and public questions and on literary topics.

He was honored with the degree of Doctor of Laws by Middlebury College in 1S87. Yale conferred on him the degree of Master of Arts in 1SS1. In 1887 the Edward J. Phelps professorship of law at Yale was endowed in his honor by J. S. Morgan.
Professor Phelps resided in New Haven only during the winter and spring terms of the college year, and claimed Vermont as his residence.
In August, 1S45, Mr. Phelps was married to Mary, daughter of Judge Stephen Haight of Burlington. Four children were born to them: Edward Haight, an eminent civil engineer, deceased; Francis Shurtleff, who died young; Mary Haight, wife of Horatio Loomis; and Charles Pierpoint Phelps, banker of Boston.
Mr. Phelps died in New Haven, Conn., March 9, of pneumonia. Funeral services were held in Battell Chapel,
March 11, President Dwight of Yale College officiating. The remains were subsequently taken to Burlington, where, on March 13, the last sad rites were observed at St. Paul's Church. Bishop A. C. A. Hall of the diocese of Vermont officiated, assisted by Rev. George Y. Bliss and Rev. Gemont Graves.

The honorary bearers were: Governor E. C. Smith. Gen. J. G. McCullough, of Bennington; Hon. B. F. Fifield, of Montpelier; President M. H. Buckham, Col. LeGrand B. Cannon, Prof. H. A. P. Torrey, Mayor Robert Roberts, Col. B. B. Smalley and John A. Arthur, of Burlington. Charles E. Allen, Esq., had charge of the arrangements. Judge Francis Wayland, dean of the Law School, and Prof. A. M. Wheeler represented Yale University.
The remains of the distinguished lawyer and diplomat were laid to rest in the Green Mount Cemetery, overlooking the beautiful Winooski valley and almost within the shadow of the monument erected in honor of Ethan Allen.

Edward J. Phelps, "The Ballad of Essex Junction," in Paul S. Gillies, The Law and Vermont Literature: A Drive-By, 22 Vt. B.J. & L. Dig. 11, 12 (August, 1996)
J.G. McCullough (ed.), Orations & Essays of Edward John Phelps, Diplomat & Statesman (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1901)
E. J. Phelps, The Law of the Land: Address Delivered Before the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution at the Opening of Its Session November 1886 (London: Harris & Sons, 1887)
_________, A Sketch of the Life and Character of Charles Lindsay: Read Before the Vermont Historical Society (Albany, New York: J. Munsell, 1866)
_________, Address on the Life and Public Serrvices of the Hon. Samuel Prentiss: Delivered Before the Vermont Historical Society, at Montpelier, Oct. 26, 1882 (Montpelier: Watchman & Journal Press, 1883)
_________, International Relations: Address Before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard University June 29, 1889 (Burlington: Free Press Association, 1889) 
Matthew H. Buckham, The Life and Public Services of Edward John Phelps; an address delivered before the Vermont Historical Society, Proceedings (Burlington, Vermont, 1901)
Francis Parsons, Six Men of Yale (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1939)


  1. Again, a great article, Melissa! He's a descendant of William Phelps of Windsor, CT the immigrant. ;)

    1. Thanks Dorothy I hope this info I found will help group learn more about their Phelps line! You are so full of great info and very much appreciate your help these past few months on my quest! There is a book in the works!

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