Philip Phillips (lawyer)

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This article is about the U.S. Representative from Alabama; for others with the same name, see Philip Phillips (disambiguation).
Philip Phillips
Philip Phillips.jpg
U.S. Representative from Alabama
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alabama's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1853 – March 3, 1855
Preceded by John Bragg
Succeeded by Percy Walker
Personal details
Born (1807-12-17)December 17, 1807
Charleston, South Carolina
Died January 14, 1884(1884-01-14) (aged 76)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Eugenia Levy

Philip Phillips (December 17, 1807 – January 14, 1884) was an American lawyer and politician from Cheraw, South Carolina, Mobile, Alabama, and Washington, D.C.. He was a member of the Democratic Party who served as the U.S. Representative from Alabama. Subsequently he was a prominent lawyer in Washington, D.C., much involved in the political events surrounding the American Civil War.

Family and early life[edit]

Philip Phillips was born December 17, 1807 in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Aaron Phillips and Caroline Lazarus, prominent members of the Jewish community there. His father had changed his name from Pfeiffer when he immigrated around 1800 from Ansbach, Bavaria. The family were members of the Beth Eliohim Congregation in Charleston, and in 1825 Aaron Phillips was the first president of the Reformed Society of Israelites, early leaders in the Jewish Reform movement. Philip Phillips' mother, Caroline, was the daughter of Marks Lazarus, a veteran of Fort Moultrie, the siege of Savannah, and the siege of Charleston in the American Revolution; later, he was a British prisoner of war.

Educated at the Middletown Military Academy in Middletown, Connecticut, Phillips was a roommate of Thomas H. Seymour, later the "hero of Chapultepec," Governor of Connecticut, Ambassador to Russia, and opponent of military action against the South. Phillips returned to Charleston in 1825 where he studied law under John Gadsden, the U.S. District Attorney, and was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1829. He then began his legal practice at the town of Cheraw, South Carolina, living with his uncle, Joshua Lazarus.

Political career[edit]

From Cheraw, Phillips rode the circuit of the local courthouses, becoming the partner of John Coit. During the controversy in South Carolina regarding the Tariff of 1832, he was among the leaders in rallying what is now known as Chesterfield County to the Union cause, in opposition to nullification. He was a member of the Nullification Convention in the Nullification Crisis of 1832 and continued to represent Chesterfield County in the South Carolina General Assembly in 1834/35.

In 1835, Phillips began the practice of law at Mobile, Alabama, at a time when many South Carolinians were moving to that state. A year later, he returned to Charleston to marry Eugenia Levy, the sister of Phoebe Levy Pember. He was elected to the Alabama Legislature in 1844 and was Chairman of the Committee on Federal Relations. In 1840 and 1846, he published a digest of the decisions of the Supreme Court of Alabama, and in 1849 he was elected Chairman of the State Convention called for the purpose of promoting internal improvements.

A delegate to the 1852 Democratic National Convention at Baltimore, Maryland, Phillips gave a speech in support of Franklin Pierce who received the nomination. In 1852, Phillips was elected as U.S. Representative from Alabama's 1st congressional district to the 33rd U.S. Congress. There he was closely associated with Stephen A. Douglas and largely responsible for the final language of the portion of the notorious Kansas-Nebraska Act that specified that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 be "inoperative and void" for Kansas and Nebraska, but not technically repealed. In his memoirs Phillips recognized that this action probably "hastened the crises of 1861."

Civil War[edit]

Phillips declined reelection to U.S. House, but remained at Washington, and continued his legal practice there. When the Civil War began he, being a Unionist, attempted to remain. However, his wife, Eugenia, was quite obviously a Southern sympathizer, and allegedly a Confederate spy. In August 1861, U.S. soldiers entered his house, confiscated his papers, arrested his wife and older daughters, and imprisoned them at the home of Mrs. Rose Greenhow. Fortunately, he had previously secured the friendship of Edwin M. Stanton, later Secretary of War, who, aided by other prominent Union leaders, arranged for their parole and transportation to the South. After a harrowing trip and a supposed delivery of information to President Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders in Richmond, Virginia, they passed on to Savannah, Georgia and ultimately to the expected safety of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Within a few months, New Orleans was captured by Admiral David Farragut and General Benjamin Butler. Soon his wife, Eugenia, accused of failing to show proper respect to a soldier's passing funeral cortege, was arrested again and sent to a prison on Ship Island for three months. Upon her release in October 1862, again securing permission to leave Union-held territory, the family purchased a small house at La Grange, Georgia where they lived for the remainder of the war.

After the war Phillips resumed his law practice, first in New Orleans and finally in 1867, after the Supreme Court voided the Test Oath of 1862, in Washington, D.C.. There he gradually became one of the leaders of the Bar, drawing most of his clients from the South. He generally practiced as a lawyer's lawyer, almost entirely before the U.S. Supreme Court, and appeared in over 400 cases.

Death and legacy[edit]

Phillips died January 14, 1884 in Washington, D.C. and is buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. He achieved a solid reputation as a thoughtful moderate among the leading national figures of his day. Being a Southern Unionist, he had the opportunity, according to at least one biographer, to have had a career comparable to the career of U.S. President Andrew Johnson. This was complicated by his religion, and it was made impossible by the unrestrained activities of his wife.

Public offices[edit]

Office Type Location Party Elected Took Office Left Office notes
State House Legislature Columbia 1834 1836 South Carolina
State House Legislature Montomery 1845 1847 Alabama
U.S. House Legislature Washington Democratic 1852 March 4, 1853 March 3, 1855


References[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Bragg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alabama's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1853 – March 3, 1855
Succeeded by
Percy Walker