Thomas Addis Emmet

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Thomas Addis Emmet
Portrait of Emmet by Samuel F. B. Morse
New York State Attorney General
In office
Preceded byMatthias B. Hildreth
Succeeded byAbraham Van Vechten
ConstituencyNew York County, New York
Personal details
Born( 1764 -04-24)24 April 1764
Cork City, Ireland
Died14 November 1827(1827-11-14) (aged 63)
Political partyDemocratic-Republican Party
(m. after 1791)
RelationsChristopher Emmet (brother)
Robert Emmet (brother)
Mary Anne Holmes (sister)
Alma materTrinity College Dublin
University of Edinburgh
Military service
AllegianceGreen harp flag of Ireland.svg United Irishmen
Years of service1793-1798
Battles/wars1798 Rebellion
1803 Rebellion

Thomas Addis Emmet (24 April 1764 – 14 November 1827) was an Irish and American lawyer and politician. He was a senior member of the revolutionary republican group United Irishmen in the 1790s and New York State Attorney General 1812–1813.

Early life[edit]

Thomas Addis Emmet was born in the Hammond's Marsh area of Cork City on 24 April 1764. He was a son of Dr. Robert Emmet from Tipperary (later to become State Physician of Ireland) and Elizabeth Mason of Kerry, both of whose portraits are today displayed at Cork's Crawford Art Gallery. He was the elder brother of Robert Emmet, who was himself executed for leading the Irish Rebellion of 1803, becoming one of Ireland's most famous Republican martyrs. His sister, Mary Anne Holmes, held similar political beliefs.

Emmet was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and was a member of the committee of the College Historical Society. He later studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and was a pupil of Dugald Stewart in philosophy. After visiting the chief medical schools on the continent, he returned to Ireland in 1788; but the sudden death of his elder brother, Christopher Temple Emmet (1761–1788), a student of great distinction,[1] induced him to follow the advice of Sir James Mackintosh to forsake medicine for the law as a profession.[2]


Emmet was a man of liberal political sympathies and became involved with campaign to extend the democratic franchise for the Irish Parliament and to end discrimination against Catholics. He was called to the Irish bar in 1790 and quickly obtained a practice, principally as counsel for prisoners charged with political offenses. He also became the legal adviser of the Society of the United Irishmen.[2]

When the Dublin Corporation issued a declaration of support of the Protestant Ascendancy in 1792, the response of the United Irishmen was their non-sectarian manifesto which was largely drawn up by Emmet. In 1795 he formally took the oath of the United Irishmen, becoming secretary in the same year and a member of the executive in 1797.[2] As by this time the United Irishmen had been declared illegal and driven underground, any efforts at peaceful reform of government and Catholic emancipation in Ireland were abandoned as futile, and their goal was now the creation of a non-sectarian Irish republic, independent from Britain and to be achieved by armed rebellion. Although Emmet supported this policy, he believed that the rebellion should not commence until French aid had arrived, differing from more radical members such as Lord Edward Fitzgerald.

Arrest and exile[edit]

British intelligence had infiltrated the United Irishmen and managed to arrest most of their leaders on the eve of the rebellion. Though not among those taken at the house of Oliver Bond on 12 March 1798 (see Lord Edward Fitzgerald), he was arrested about the same time, and was one of the leaders imprisoned initially at Kilmainham Jail and later in Scotland at Fort George until 1802. Upon his release he went to Brussels where he was visited by his brother Robert Emmet in October 1802 and was informed of the preparations for a fresh rising in Ireland in conjunction with French aid.[2] However, at that stage France and Britain were briefly at peace, and the Emmets' pleas for help were turned down by Napoleon.

He received news of the failure of Robert Emmet's rising in July 1803 in Paris, where he was in communication with Napoleon Bonaparte. He then emigrated to the United States and joined the New York bar where he obtained a lucrative practice.[2]

New York Attorney General[edit]

After the death of Matthias B. Hildreth, he was appointed New York State Attorney General in August 1812, but was removed from office in February 1813 when the opposing Federalist Party obtained a majority in the Council of Appointment.

Later career[edit]

His abilities and successes became so acclaimed and his services so requested that he became one of the most respected attorneys in the nation, with United States Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story declaring him to be "the favourite counsellor of New York."[3] He argued the case for Ogden in the landmark United States Supreme Court case of Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824) relating to the Commerce and Supremacy clauses of the United States Constitution.

Personal life[edit]

Grave of Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. The cross was sculpted by James and Willie Pearse, father and brother of Patrick Pearse

He married Jane Patten (1771–1846), a daughter of John Patten and Jane (née Colville) Patten, in 1791.[4] Together, they were the parents of:[5]

  • Robert Emmet, who was born in Dublin and became prominent a New York jurist and Irish American activist.[4]
  • Elizabeth Emmet (1794–1878), who married William Henry LeRoy (1795–1888), a brother-in-law of Daniel Webster.[4]
  • Margaret Emmet (1794–1883), who did not marry.[4]
  • John Patten Emmet (1795–1842), who married Mary Byrd Tucker (1805–1860) in 1827; their daughter, Jane Emmet, married merchant John Noble Alsop Griswold.[4]
  • Thomas Addis Emmet (1797–1863), who married Anna Riker Thom (1805–1886), daughter of John Thom and Jane Margaret Riker.[4]
  • Jane Erin Emmet (1802–1890), who married Bache McEvers in 1825.[6] Their daughter Mary Bache McEvers married Sir Edward Cunard, 2nd Baronet (son of Sir Samuel Cunard, 1st Baronet, founder of the Cunard Line).[7]

Samuel F. B. Morse painted a famous portrait of Emmet that Maxwell kept.[8] Upon Maxwell's death in 1873, he left the painting to the New York Law Institute,[8] which was exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery and was auctioned by Sotheby's in 2010.[8]

Emmet died on 14 November 1827 while conducting a case in court regarding the estate of Robert Richard Randall, the founder of Sailors' Snug Harbor, a home for needy seamen in Staten Island, New York.[9] He was initially buried in St Mark's-in-the-Bowery Churchyard in the East Village, New York City.[10][11]

Descendants and legacy[edit]

Through his son Robert, he was a grandfather of another prominent New York jurist and attorney general, Richard Stockton Emmet (himself the father of Richard S. Emmet Jr.),[12] and great-grandfather of the notable American portrait artist sisters Rosina Emmet Sherwood, Lydia Field Emmet and Jane Emmet de Glehn,[13] as well as their first cousin Ellen Emmet Rand. Rosina's twin brother was West Point graduate and Medal of Honor winner Robert Temple Emmet.[14] He is the great-great-grandfather of the playwright Robert Emmet Sherwood. His direct descendant, French human rights lawyer Valentin Ribet, died aged 26 in the terrorist attack on the Bataclan in Paris on Friday 13 November 2015.

His grandson, Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, a prominent doctor and Irish American activist, requested that he be re-buried in Ireland so he could "rest in the land from which my family came." Dr Emmet was then interred in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, the final resting place of many of Ireland's patriots, in 1922.[15] His grave marker was designed by the father and brother of the revolutionary Patrick Pearse.

An obelisk to honor the memory of Emmet, mistaken by many to be a burial site, stands in St. Paul's Chapel's graveyard in Lower Manhattan.[16]


  1. ^ Patrick M. Geoghan, Robert Emmet: a life (Dublin, 2002)
  2. ^ a b c d e Chisholm 1911.
  3. ^ Thomas Addis Emmet
  4. ^ a b c d e f Bergen, Tunis Garret (1915). Genealogies of the State of New York: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Founding of a Nation. Lewis Historical Publishing Company. pp. 913–914. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  5. ^ "The Emmet Family in America". Magazine of American History. A.P. French. 31 (1–3): 140. January–March 1901. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  6. ^ Moffat, R. Burnham (1904). The Barclays of New York: who They are and who They are Not,-and Some Other Barclays. R. G. Cooke. p. 135. Retrieved 13 March 2020.
  7. ^ Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage. Burke's Peerage Limited. 1914. p. 547. Retrieved 13 March 2020.
  8. ^ a b c Sotheby's, Important Americana, Auction Catalogue, 22–23 January 2010, p. 59, lot 424, found at Sotheby's website Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 29 January 2010. An image on this page is a copy of this painting.
  9. ^ Barry, Gerald J. The Sailors' Snug Harbor: A History, 1801-2001. Fordham University Press, 2000, pages 31-32
  10. ^ malicebox
  11. ^ Thomas Addis Emmet (1828–1919), Ireland under English rule, or a Plea for the plaintiff [ With the Diary of Thomas Addis Emmet (1764–1827, grandfather), while acting in Paris as the secret agent of the United Irishmen, from May 30, 1803, to March 10, 1804 ]. New York City, G. P. Putnam, 1903 (first print, see the online catalogues of the Library of Congress or the Bibliothèque nationale de France).
  12. ^ New York Times, Obituary of Richard Stockton Emmet, 24 November 1902
  13. ^ Willard, Francis E.; Livermore, Mary A., eds. (1903). A Woman of the Century. New York: Charles Wells Moulton. pp. 654. Retrieved 18 April 2009. robert temple emmet.
  14. ^ "Medal of Honor Recipients Indian Wars Period". Army Center of Military History. Retrieved 17 April 2009.
  15. ^ The Journal of the American-Irish Historical Society. The Society. 1 January 1922. p. 186 – via Internet Archive. thomas addis emmet and glasnevin.
  16. ^ Retrieved 4 May 2019

External links[edit]

  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Emmet, Thomas Addis". Encyclopædia Britannica. 9 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 343.
  • See references under Robert Emmet
  • Alfred Webb, Compendium of Irish Biography (Dublin, 1878)
  • C. S. Haynes, Memoirs of Thomas Addis Emmet (London, 1829)
  • Theobald Wolfe Tone, Memoirs, edited by W. T. ~V. Tone (2 vols., London, 1827)
  • W. E. H. Lecky, Hist. of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, vol. iv. (Cabinet edition, 5 vols., London, 1892). (R. J. lvi.)
Legal offices
Preceded by
Matthias B. Hildreth
New York State Attorney General
Succeeded by
Abraham Van Vechten