Thomas Addis Emmet

This article is about a politician. For a Roman Catholic bishop, see Thomas Addis Emmet (bishop).
Thomas Addis Emmet

Portrait of Thomas Addis Emmet by Samuel F. B. Morse
Born ( 1764 -04-24)April 24, 1764
Cork City, Ireland
Died November 14, 1827(1827-11-14) (aged 63)
Allegiance United Irishmen
Years of service 1793-1798
Rank Officer
Battles/wars 1798 Rebellion
1803 Rebellion
Relations Robert Emmet
New York State Attorney General
In office
Preceded by Matthias B. Hildreth
Succeeded by Abraham Van Vechten
Constituency New York County, New York
Personal details
Political party Democratic-Republican Party
Spouse(s) Jane Patten
Alma mater Trinity College Dublin

Thomas Addis Emmet (April 24, 1764 – November 14, 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.


Thomas Addis Emmet was born in the Hammond's Marsh area of Cork City in 1764 to 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. Thomas Addis 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. He married Jane Patten in 1791.

United Irishman

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.

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. 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

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 the 12th of 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. 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.

New York Attorney General

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

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."[2] 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.

Death and legacy

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

Emmet died while conducting a case in court on the 14th of November 1827. He was buried in St Mark's-in-the-Bowery Churchyard in the East Village, New York City.[3][3]

Samuel F. B. Morse painted a famous portrait of Emmet that was exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery and was auctioned by Sotheby's in 2010.[4] Maxwell kept the oil on canvas painting.[4] When Maxwell died in 1873, he left the painting to the New York Law Institute.[4]

Thomas Addis Emmet is the father of prominent New York jurist and Irish American activist Robert Emmet (born in Dublin), grandfather of another prominent New York jurist and attorney general, Richard Stockton Emmet,[5] and great-grandfather of the notable American portrait artist sisters Rosina Emmet Sherwood, Lydia Field Emmet and Jane Emmet de Glehn,[6] 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.[7] 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 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 is interred in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, the final resting place of many of Ireland's patriots.[8] His grave marker was designed by the father and brother of the revolutionary Patrick Pearse.



  1. Patrick M. Geoghan, Robert Emmet: a life (Dublin, 2002)
  2. Thomas Addis Emmet
  3. 1 2 malicebox
  4. 1 2 3 Sotheby's, Important Americana, Auction Catalogue, January 22–23, 2010, p. 59, lot 424, found at Sotheby's website. Accessed January 29, 2010. An image on this page is a copy of this painting.
  5. New York Times, Obituary of Richard Stockton Emmet, November 24, 1902
  6. Willard, Francis E.; Livermore, Mary A., eds. (1903). A Woman of the Century. New York: Charles Wells Moulton. p. 654. Retrieved 2009-04-18.
  7. "Medal of Honor Recipients Indian Wars Period". Army Center of Military History. Retrieved 2009-04-17.
Legal offices
Preceded by
Matthias B. Hildreth
New York State Attorney General
1812 - 1813
Succeeded by
Abraham Van Vechten

Template:United Irishmen

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