Lebbeus R. Wilfley

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Lebbeus R. Wilfley
Lebbeus Wilfley.jpg
Lebbeus Wilfley, Judge of the United States Court for China
Attorney General of the Philippines
In office
Judge of the United States Court for China
In office
Preceded by New position
Succeeded by Rufus Thayer
Personal details
Born (1866-03-30)March 30, 1866
Mexico, Missouri, U.S.
Died May 26, 1926(1926-05-26) (aged 60)
Greenwich, Connecticut, U.S.
Alma mater Central Methodist University and Yale Law School

Lebbeus Redman Wilfley (March 30, 1866 – May 26, 1926) was an American attorney who served as Attorney General of the Philippines and as a judge of the United States Court for China.

Early life and career[edit]

Wilfley was born in Mexico, Audrain County, Missouri, the son of James Franklin Wilfley.[1]. He received an A.M. from Central Methodist University in Fayette, Missouri in 1889 and a LL.B. from Yale Law School in 1892. He entered private practice in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was joined in 1899 by his brother, Xenophon P. Wilfley.[2] In 1901, William Howard Taft, then Governor-General of the Philippines, appointed Wilfley Attorney General of the Philippines. Wilfley served in that position from 1901 to 1906.

Federal judicial service[edit]

In 1906, the U.S. congress established a special court for the "District of China" the United States Court for China, based in the Shanghai International Settlement which had extraterritorial power to try United States Citizens in China. Wilfley was appointed the first judge of this court by President Theodore Roosevelt in July 1906. With no obligation to follow the strictures of the constitution or local law, there were many complaints by American expatriates, especially one by Lorrin Andrews, former Attorney General of the Territory of Hawaii, who charged that Wilfley had voided a will by a person leaving some of his money to the Catholic Church because of his prejudice against it.[3]

On February 20, 1908, United States Representative George E. Waldo introduced articles of impeachment against Wilfley and the resolution was referred to the Judiciary Committee.[4] Leaving the court in chaos, Wilfley traveled halfway around the world to attend the hearings in Washington, D.C.

On May 8, 1908, the United States House Committee on the Judiciary submitted a report, H.R. Rep. No. 60-1626, to the House recommending against impeachment.[5]

In November 1908, HD O'Shea, the editor of the China Gazette in Shanghai was prosecuted in the British Supreme Court for China and Corea for criminal libel against Wilfley relating to an article published in the China Gazette in August 1908 concerning the charges against Wilfley and Wilfley's testimony to Congress. O'Shea was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 2 months imprisonment.[6]

Despite O'Shea's conviction, the situation was so poisoned, Wilfley resigned at the end of 1908 and returned to the U.S. for good.[7] He was succeeded as judge by Rufus Thayer.

Later life[edit]

Wilfley thereafter practiced in Missouri and New York. In 1909, Clark University conferred an LL.D on him. In 1911, the Chinese government hired him to investigate the Torreón massacre, in which over 300 Chinese were killed.

On January 27, 1917, Wilfley married Belle L. Zabriskie (née Loader), widow of entrepreneur Alanzo M. Zabriskie. Wilfley was practicing in New York at the time.[8]


He died in Greenwich, Connecticut at the age of 60.


His brother Xenophon Wilfley served briefly as a United States Senator.

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ 1920 passport application made by Wilfley
  2. ^ John W. Leonard, The Book of St. Louisans (1906), p. 611.
  3. ^ "SEEKS TO IMPEACH OUR JUDGE IN CHINA; Lawyer from Shanghai Brings a Petition Charging Judge Wilfley with Improper Conduct. A MOVEMENT BY CATHOLICS Petitioners Allege Head of American Court Has Slandered Their Church -- Resent Taft's Refusal to Act.". Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  4. ^ 42 Cong. Rec. 2269 (1908).
  5. ^ Id. at 5965
  6. ^ North China Herald, November 1908, p431
  7. ^ "NEW YORK WILFLEY'S HOME.; Ex-Judge at Shanghai Says Rogues Will Still Be Punished.". Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  8. ^ "Mrs. Zabriskie Wed To Ex-Judge Wilfley", New York Times, January 28, 1917.