Philip Doddridge


PHILIP DODDRIDGE, who was perhaps, the most conspicuous and distinguished lawyer of West Virginia, is taken largely from the press accounts published at the time of his death: Philip Doddridge was the second son of John Doddridge, who was a native of Maryland, born there in the year 1745, where on the 22nd of December, 1765, he married Mary, the daughter of Richard Wells of that state. They emigrated from Maryland to Bedford county, Penn., and there Philip was born on the 17th of May, 1772. In the spring of 1773, they removed to Washington county, Penn. At that time this place was within the jurisdiction, and was supposed to be in the territory of Virginia. But afterward when Mason and Dixon's line was established, and the western boundary of Pennsylvania was drawn due north from the western terminus of Mason and Dixon's line, the residence of the Doddridge family was included, by a short distance, within the territory of Pennsylvania. During the minority of young Philip the facilities for acquiring an education were very meager in the vicinity of his residence. There were neither colleges nor academies there, and the common schools were of an inferior character. Indeed, there were few schools of any grade. Nor did the circumstances of his parents enable them to send him to distant seats of learning. Until he was seventeen years of age he was kept at home working upon the farm, receiving, however, from his father, who was a "good English scholar", such instruction as the intervals of their toil permitted the one to give and the other to receive. At the age of seventeen he was placed at school in Charlestown, now Wellsburg, Brooke county, W. W. Va., under the tuition of a gentleman by the name of Johnson. Here he remained a short time devoting himself principally to the study of the Latin language. In 1779, Mr. Doddridge married Miss Juliana P. Musser, of Lancaster, Penn., who survived him twenty-seven years. She died at Liverpool, Fulton county, Ill., in the year 1859. The records show that at the first court held in Brooke county, Tuesday, May 23, 1797, Philip Doddridge was admitted to practice as an attorney in said court. Having thus established himself in life as well as in the profession he had adopted, he pursued it with little intermission until the autumn of 1829. There is little in the routine of the life of a member of the bar to excite the public attention. The investigation of abstruse and naked questions of law before the courts, or the trial of issues of fact before juries, has seldom much attraction beyond the limited circle of those directly interested in the result. Nevertheless, his growing reputation as an able counselor and advocate soon extended beyond the quiet village where he resided, until he became famous in most of the counties of northwestern Virginia, and finally came to be acknowledged as among the first, if not the first lawyer in that section of the state. His practice also extended into the state of Ohio and western Pennsylvania. The first important official position filled by Mr. Doddridge, so far as we have ascertained, was that of a member of the house of delegates of Virginia, for the year 1815-16. He represented the extreme northwest point of the state-Brooke county. The abilities of Mr. Doddridge commanded a respect not usually extended to members from his section. He was placed on the committee on courts of justice; also, on the committee of finances; and during the session was added to the committee on taxes on lands, etc. The journals of the house exhibit ample evidence of his industry, activity and influence during the session. It was at this session he commenced his opposition to the arbitrary and oligarchical principles of the then existing constitution of Virginia, which he never relaxed until the convention of 1829-3, and again in 1828-29. He was a member of the constitutional convention of 1829, and distinguished himself as a statesman, perhaps, the equal of anyone of that, the most distinguished body that ever assembled in Virginia.

In 1823, Mr. Doddridge was a candidate for a seat in the house of representatives of the United States, from what was called the Wheeling district of Virginia. At that time the election was held and continued, on the first day of the county courts of the respective counties composing the district, during the entire month of April. There were, that year, five competitors for the position, all of whom appeared on the hustings at Wheeling on the first Monday of April, and addressed the people, according to the custom prevailing in Virginia. It soon became apparent, however, that the contest was, in fact, between Mr. Doddridge and Joseph Johnson, Esq., of Harrison county, an able competitor, who had served with Mr. Doddridge in the legislature of Virginia, and who was then just fairly entering upon his long career of public life; and on the second Monday, all the candidates retired from the canvass, excepting Mr. Doddridge and Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson was one of the most popular and effective speakers who ever appeared on the hustings in Western Virginia. He also had the advantage of belonging to the dominant party; and when the voting was concluded on the last Monday of the month, it appeared that Mr. Doddridge was defeated, notwithstanding his acknowledge peerless abilities. In 1825, Mr. Doddridge and Mr. John were again opposing candidates for the same position, and with the same result. In 1829, they were a third time competitors, when Mr. Doddridge, after an animated canvass was successful.

His duties as a member of the Virginia convention detained him in that body until its adjournment on the 15th of January, 1830; so he did not take his seat in congress until after that time. He found himself still surrounded by several distinguished men of Virginia, some of whom had served with him in the convention. Among them were, Philip P. Barbour, William F. Gordon and Charles Fenton Mercer; and with them, John S. Barbour, William S. Archer and Andrew Stephenson. His reputation, acquired in the convention, had preceded him; and he at once occupied an intellectual rank equal to that of any of his eminent colleagues, and hardly second to any member of the house. Especially was this so, he uniformly confined his remarks to the distinct question before it, speaking with brevity and perspicuity, as well as pertinacity. As a consequence, he was listened to with a respectful attention, not often accorded to each other by the members of that tumultuous assembly, and commanded the confidence and influence to which his talents entitled him.

A special committee was appointed during this session of congress, to draft a code of laws for the District of Columbia, which leave to sit during the recess, before the next session, but instead of remaining together at the city of Washington, they appointed their labors among themselves and went home. The portion of the code allotted to Mr. Doddridge was the judiciary department. His mode of preparing it was this: He obtained the codes of several states. When he wished to prepare a particular chapter, he would read the corresponding chapters in these codes, and then laying them all aside, would, with wonderful rapidity, write off a bill to suit himself. It was, uniformly, much shorter than that in any of the codes he consulted. His faculty as a draftsman was remarkable. He had a wonderful power of condensation. The appropriate words, like well-drilled battalions, fell harmoniously into their proper places; and there were neither too many, nor too few of them. It is related of Mr. Webster, that he should have said. during a tour he made through the western states in 1833, whilst stopping at Wheeling, that he would be willing to give all he possessed if it would secure to him this extraordinary faculty of Mr. Doddridge in the same degree of perfection. The great Massachusetts statesman often took occasion to express his admiration of the abilities of Mr. Doddridge. During the tour referred to, he stopped at Wellsburg, on his way from Steubenville to Wheeling, for the express purpose of paying his respects personally to Mrs. Doddridge. Hearing that there was a portrait of Mr. Doddridge in the town he called to see it; and whilst he was looking at it, remarked: "He was the only man I ever feared to meet in debate." According to the agreement before stated, Mr. Doddridge having prepared the part of the code entrusted to him, went on to the city of Washington several weeks before the assembling of congress to meet his colleagues on the committee. After a brief illness, he expired to Gadsby's Hotel, on the 19th of November 1832. His manners were simple and unostentatious. He was the charm of the social circle. His conversation flowed as a perennial fountain, sparkling with a genial wit, and redolent of the kindness and good ness of his heart. With a memory stored with the treasures of history, and rich in anecdotes and personal incidents, he had the happiest facility in relating them; and was the center of attraction and delight, in whatsoever society he was placed. Mr. Doddridge possessed the faculty of intuition, in a remarkable degree. In the investigation of cases at the bar, he seemed to comprehend them, oftentimes, long before all the facts were disclosed by the evidence. His great experience, doubtless, qualified him, in a measure, to do this; but aside from this, he had an extraordinary penetration, that anticipated what was to come with almost unerring certainty. He frequently surprised witnesses by telling them what they knew, before they had fully stated it; and such as were disposed to prevaricate, or to falsify, seldom escaped from his examination without being exposed and confounded. He often cut short the prolix stories of his clients, in making known their cases, by giving the particulars of them himself.

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