Notable Phelps Family Members
Edward John Phelps, American Lawyer and Diplomat
PHELPS, EDWARD JOHN (1822-1900), American lawyer and diplomat, was born on the 9th of July 1822 at Middlebury, Vermont. He graduated from Middlebury College in 1840, was a schoolmaster for a year in Virginia, and was admitted to the bar in 1843. He began practice at Middlebury, but in 1845 removed to Burlington, Vermont.
From 1851 to 1853 he was second comptroller of the United States Treasury, and then practised law in New York City until 1857, when he returned to Burlington. Becoming a Democrat after the Whig party had ceased to exist, he was debarred from a political career in his own state, where his party was in the minority, but he served in the state constitutional convention in 1870, and in 1880 was the Democratic candidate for governor of his state.
He was one of the founders of the American Bar Association, and was its president in 1880-1881. From 1881 until his death he was Kent Professor of Law in Yale University. He was minister to Great Britain from 1885 to 1889, and in 1893 served as senior counsel for the United States before the international tribunal at Paris to adjust the Bering Sea controversy. His closing argument, requiring eleven days for its delivery, was an exhaustive review of the case.
Phelps lectured on medical jurisprudence at the University of Vermont in 1881-1883, and on constitutional law at Boston University in 1882-1883, and delivered numerous addresses, among them that on "The United States Supreme Court and the Sovereignty of the People" at the centennial celebration of the Federal Judiciary in 1890 and an oration at the dedication of the Bennington Battle Monument, unveiled in 1891 at the centennial of Vermont's admission to the Union.
In politics Phelps was always Conservative, opposing the anti-slavery movement before 1860, the free-silver movement in 1896, when he supported the Republican presidential ticket, and after 1898 becoming an ardent " anti-expansionist." He died at New Haven, Connecticut, on the 9th of March 1900.
Men of Vermont: Illustrated Biographical History of Vermonters & Sons of Vermont"
Edward John Phelps (1822-1900), of Burlington [Chittenden County, Vermont], was born 11 July 1822 in Middlebury [Addison County, Vermont], son of Hon. Samuel S. Phelps. He received his education at Middlebury college, graduating in 1840, and studied law at the law school of Yale University, and in the office of Hon. Horatio Seymour in Middlebury.
He was admitted to the bar in Addison County in December 1843, and after something more than a year of practice in Middlebury, established himself as a lawyer in Burlington. In 1851 the office of second comptroller in the treasury was unexpectedly offered to Mr. Phelps by President Fillmore. As its duties would not require a cessation of professional practice, he accepted the office, and held it through Mr. Fillmore's administration. He represented Burlington in the Constitutional Convention of 1870, and was made president of the American Bar Association in 1881. Has been for more than twenty years a trustee of the Vermont State Library. Was appointed professor of law in Yale College in the same year, and gave a short course of lectures before the law school of Boston University upon constitutional law.
Mr. Phelps was a Whig while that party continued organized and active; since it ceased to be he has regarded himself as an independent in politics; in the main, however, he has voted for Democratic nominees. In 1880 was a candidate of the Democratic party of Vermont for Governor, and received the largest vote ever cast in Vermont for a Democratic aspirant to that office. He has never cast his fortune or plumed his ambition in the line of politics. In 1885 was appointed by President CLEVELAND United States Minister to the Court of St. James. Was leading counsel for the United States before the Behring Sea Board of Arbitration, which held its sessions in Paris in 1893. Although the public performance of this most high professional engagement was in the second Cleveland administration, his employment and preparatory work in this great international lawsuit was in the time of the Harrison administration.
The faculties and qualities by which he is chiefly known and regarded have been as a lawyer. Yet not only in his arguments to courts and juries, but also in his occasional addresses and his professional lectures, show him extensively conversant, from scholarly study and extensive reading, with a wide range of learning outside of the law, and deeply imbued with the text and spirit of the best classics, and familiar with the current literature of the day; one of the most cultivated and accomplished public speakers; [has given addresses on] Chief Justice Marshall at Saratoga before the American Bar Association in 1880; on American Legislation in 1882; and on Judge Prentiss before the Vermont Historical Society in 1882. Was president of the Bennington Battle Centennial in 1877. In August 1846 Mr. [Edward John] Phelps was married to Mary, daughter of Hon. Stephen Haight, of Burlington [Chittenden County, Vermont]. Of this marriage there are surviving two sons and one daughter: Edward; Mary, Mrs. Horatio Loomis, of Burlington [Vermont]; and Charles Pierpoint.
Obiturary from Harpers Weekly
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 istinguished 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. 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.
(1) From 1911 Encyclopedia.com See the Orations and Essays of Edward John Phelps, edited by J. G. McCullough, with a Memoir by John W. Stewart (New York, 1901); and " Life and Public Services of the Hon. Edward J. Phelps," by Matthew H. Buckham, in Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society (Burlington, Vt., 1901).
(2) Men of Vermont: Illustrated Biographical History of Vermonters & Sons of Vermont. Ullery. Brattleboro: Transcript Publishing Company, 1894, pp 308-310. From the Vermont Biographies Project (October 2003)
(3) From Harper's Weekly March 24, 1900