Philip Phillips (1807 - 1884)

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Birthplace: Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina, United States
Death: Died in Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Managed by: Stillman Foote Westbrook III
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Philip Phillips

He was a lawyer and politician with a career that touched upon many of the major issues of his time.

Educated at the Middletown Military Academy, he was a roommate of Thomas Hart Seymour, later the "hero of Chapultepec," Governor of Connecticut, Ambassador to Russia, and opponent of military action against the South. He returned to Charleston in 1825 and 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, accepting the hospitality of his uncle, Joshua Lazarus.

From Cheraw, he 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 the Chesterfield District to the Union cause, in opposition to nullification. He was a member of the Nullification Convention in 1832 and continued to represent Chesterfield District in the South Carolina Legislature in 1834-5.

In 1835, he 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. 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.

In 1852, he was a delegate to the Democratic Convention at Baltimore and gave a speech in support of Franklin Pierce who received the nomination. In 1853, he was elected to the 33rd Congress as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. There he was largely responsible for the final drafting of the portion of the notorious Kansas-Nebraska Act that specified the repeal of the Missouri Compromise of 1820. There is an excellent discussion of his role in this event in "The Road to Disunion" by William W. Freehling, p. 550-556

He declined reelection to Congress but remained at Washington and continued his legal practice there. When the Civil War began he, being a Unionist, attempted to remain in Washington. However, his wife and daughters were quite obviously Southern sympathizers, and in August 1861, soldiers entered his house, inspected his papers, arrested his family, and imprisoned them at Mrs. Greenhow's. 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 departure from Washington. After visiting in Richmond briefly, they passed on to the expected safety of New Orleans.

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

Afterwards, the family remained at La Grange while he attempted to begin his practice, first at New Orleans and finally at Washington in 1867. In Washington 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 Supreme Court, and appeared in over 400 cases.

He had a solid reputation as a thoughtful moderate among the leading national figures of his day and being a Southern Unionist had the opportunity, according to at least one biographer, to have had a career more along the lines of that of Andrew Johnson. This was of course complicated by his religion and made impossible by the unrestrained activities of his wife. I was surprised to find that 100 years after his death a librarian at the Library of Congress knew who he was.

They were a thoroughly assimilated Jewish family who practiced their religion, but never made it a prominent part of their lives. There is a considerable amount of published material that makes reference to the career and wartime experiences of Philip and Eugenia Phillips. However, the best sources of information are two collections of unpublished material, one the Phillips-Myers Papers in the Southern Historical Collection of the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina, and the other, the Philip Phillips Papers at the Library of Congress. At the Wilson Library is an autobiography he wrote for his family, along with the diaries she kept during her imprisonments. The Library of Congress has a large collection of his papers more oriented towards his professional activities.

For more information on "Philip Phillips" see the Wikipedia article Philip Phillips (lawyer).

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Philip Phillips, US Congress's Timeline

1807
December 17, 1807
Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina, United States
1836
September 7, 1836
Age 28
Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina, United States
1838
June 1, 1838
Age 30
Mobile, Mobile, Alabama, United States
1840
June 6, 1840
Age 32
Mobile, Mobile, Alabama, United States
1841
November 27, 1841
Age 33
Mobile, Mobile, Alabama, United States
1843
April 6, 1843
Age 35
Mobile, Mobile, Alabama, United States
1850
November 3, 1850
Age 42
Mobile, Mobile, Alabama, United States
1852
January 3, 1852
Age 44
Mobile, Mobile, Alabama, United States