Edward Shippen

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Edward Shippen

Edward Shippen (1728-1806), American jurist, was a Tory during the Revolution but later rose to the post of chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Edward Shippen was the scion of a patrician Pennsylvania family. He was born on Feb. 16, 1728, received his first schooling in Philadelphia, and studied law at the Middle Temple in London. By virtue of his own ability and his family's eminence, he became a successful lawyer in Philadelphia almost from the date of his admission to the bar in 1750.

Shippen's reverence for European education and intellect made it difficult for him to move with the times during the period of estrangement from England prior to the Revolution. That Shippen would remain a Tory was never in doubt. Although appalled at English coercion, he could never bring himself to do more than protest mildly; he remained conservative, aligned with those Pennsylvanians who ultimately opposed any break with England.

Shippen's legal and public careers were stalled only temporarily by the Revolution. Though his son-in-law was Benedict Arnold (married to his daughter Margaret, known as "Peggy the Tory Belle") and his sympathies had been well publicized, he was never expelled from Pennsylvania, nor was his property confiscated. He was merely interned at his country estate, where it was virtually impossible for him to actively aid the English cause. Moreover, like many Tories, he had taken an oath of neutrality that later stood him in good stead.

With the return of peace, Shippen resumed his legal career and within a short time received a series of judicial appointments. In 1784 he was named president of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia; soon afterward he rose to the High Court of Errors and Appeals. In 1791 he was named an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and in 1799 chief justice.

With the changing values after the turn of the century, however, Shippen's conservatism threatened his career once more. As in the days of the Revolution, when loyalism was punishable, so it was that Federalism—and Shippen was a Federalist—became a cause for political retribution in post-1800 Pennsylvania. In 1804 he and two colleagues were impeached on clearly political grounds. Although acquitted in 1805, Shippen resigned from the bench less than a year later because of failing health. He died on April 15, 1806.

Further Reading

Surprisingly little has been written about Shippen. For brief but cogent insights into his life see Carl and Jessica Bridenbaugh, Rebels and Gentlemen: Philadelphia in the Age of Franklin (1942), and Elisha P. Douglass, Rebels and Democrats: The Struggle for Equal Political Rights and Majority Rule during the American Revolution (1955). □

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Edward Shippen

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