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THE HON. EDWARD SHIPPEN, ESQ. Late Chief Justice of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
When, in obedience to an irreversible decree of nature, a character of worth and eminence descends to the grave, the duties which devolve on his surviving associates are numerous and important. Of these duties, that is not the least sacred and pressing, which calls for a suitable tribute to the memory of the deceased, with a view to the perpetuation of his virtues and attainments, as honourable to himself and exemplary to others. For, to award the meed of a fair and well-earned posthumous fame, while it is nothing but an act of justice to the dead, operates on the living as one of the strongest incentives to virtue and excellence. It urges on to achievements of usefulness and of honour, from a conviction in the mind of the actor, that such achievements will be publicly passed to his credit, when he shall be slumbering in the silence of the tomb. Impressed by sentiments and actuated by considerations such as these, the writer of the present article has attempted to sketch a biographical memoir of the Honourable Edward Shippen, Esq. late Chief Justice of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania. For, though not among the intimate fr and associates of the venerable deceased, he has long an admirer of his conduct and character.
The subject of this memoir, like most of the distinguished personages of our country, was of British ancestry. He was born in the city of Philadelphia, on the sixteenth of February 1729, the country being then in an infantile and colonial state.
His grandfather, William Shippen, had been a gentleman of fortune and family in the county of York. About the year 1675, his father, Edward Shippen, whose name emigrated to America, and settled first in Boston, in the (then) province of Massachusetts. Nor was it till about the year 1700 that he removed thence, led by the brightening prosperity and growing importance of Pennsylvania, to become an inhabitant of the city of Philadelphia. Of the general character of that gentleman, and of the sphere of respectability in which he was destined to move, we may form no inaccurate estimate, from the various places of honour, trust, and emolument, which it was shortly afterwards his fortune to fill. Among these places may be mentioned in particular, his successive appointments as a member of the proprietary and governor's council, a commissioner of the board of property, a judge of the provincial or general court, and the first mayor of the city of Philadelphia, in all of which he acquitted himself with fidelity and reputation.
A descent from a parentage so highly respectable, had, no doubt, a material and very auspicious influence on the generous and aspiring mind of a favourite son. For to such a mind nothing can be an object of more darling ambition, than to maintain unsullied and undiminished, and even to swell by fresh acquisitions, the fair inheritance of ancestral fame.
Of the events of the early life of Edward Shippen, the worthy and distinguished subject of the present memoir, we know but little. Nor is this an object in any measure calculated to call forth our regret. To mankind at large the history of infancy is rarely either instructive or interesting, because the character of the man is but seldom developed in that of the child. About the usual age we find him at the grammar-school, always conspicuous among his fellows for his attention to his studies, his respectful deference and submission to his preceptors, the engaging politeness and affability of his manners, and the propriety and decorum of his general deportment. With these invaluable attributes and qualities, thus early acquired, he could not fail of being regarded as a youth of ample promise. Nor was it his fortune, either now, or at any future period of his life, to fall short of the most flattering anticipations of his friends. For we shall find, as we proceed in his history, that the scholar, the gentleman, and the man of business, refinement, and taste, were most happily blended in the constitution of his character.
His elementary attainments being finished with reputation to himself and satisfaction to his friends, he commenced the study of the law, under the direction of Tench Francis, Esq. then attorney-general of the province of Pennsylvania. Having spent about two years in this situation, where the excellence of his opportunities of improvement was equalled only by the assiduity of his own attention, he, in the year 1748, repaired to London, with a view to the completion of his legal education in the Temple. Being a real American by attachment, no less than by birth, he felt now that the reputation of his native country was, to a certain extent, identified with his own. This consideration, awakening in his bosom the sentiments of a dignified and laudable pride, operated on him as an additional incentive to the acquisition of whatever was honourable, useful, or refined. He, accordingly, availed himself of every opportunity for the cultivation of his mind, his manners, and his taste. Nor did his efforts, as to these various attainments, prove abortive. For, in a short time, he ranked with the most accomplished of his fellow students and associates, as well in matters of exterior elegance, as in those of greater solidity and weight.
Having passed in London two years of industry and enterprise, in pursuit of the knowledge of letters and of law, he was admitted a barrister of the middle temple. On his return to Philadelphia, which took place shortly afterwards, he entered on the practice of his profession with the same application and zeal, that had manifested themselves in all his other pursuits. Here, as on former occasions, he was embosomed in circumstances peculiarly auspicious. The superior standing of his family and connexions gave him weight in society, and the well known excellence of his elementary and legal education, together with the elegance of his address and the popularity of his manners, conferred on him an equal degree of personal distinction.
With these advantages operating in favour of his persevering industry and attention, his professional progress could be neither slow nor doubtful. His prospects of speedy elevation were, perhaps, superior to those of any other young gentleman of his standing at the bar.
We accordingly find, that, in a short time, business and reputation seemed to vie with each other in their struggle to approach him. We mean that adamantine reputation which results from a correct and extensive knowledge, united to integrity of principle and solidity of judgment, not that brilliancy of fame, which nothing but the highest order of genius, breaking forth in an overwhelming eloquence, can bestow. For, though a perspicuous, pleasing, and even impressive speaker, he had no pretension to the character of a finished orator.
Mr. Shippen had been but a very short time engaged in the practice of the law, when he received the most fattering testimony of the confidence reposed in his talents and integrity by the British cabinet. · He had not yet completed his twenty-fourth year, when he was appointed Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and Judge of the Court of Vice Admiralty for the same province. Besides several other places of honour, trust and emolument, which were conferred on him, he was appointed a member of the proprietary and governor's council, a body of men not for