Strangers to Us All
Lawyers and Poetry

David Paul Brown


--orator, lawyer, playwright

The Dictionary of National Biography notes that Brown was a poet, and that his "causual poetry" sometimes appeared in the Sunday Despatch. Some of his dramatic works were composed in verse.

The following "legal obituary" for David Paul Brown appeared in The Albany Law Journal, vol. 6, 1872, pg. 49-50:

This gentleman, known to three generations of Philadelphians as a distingushed member of the bar, died at his residence in Girard street, on the morning of July 11th, in the seventy-seventy year of his age. He was in active practice fifty-five years ago, and for the great portion of the half century was one of the most fully employed and successful of the many eminent "criminal lawyers" the Philadelphia bar has produced. Mr. Brown was of English "Quaker" ancestry, his family having been among those who settled a part of New Jersey under the auspices of Lord Berkley. His father, Paul Brown, came to Philadelphia from Gloucester county, New Jersey, in 1790, and David Paul was born in this city, September 28, 1795. His early education was received mainly from the tuition of his mother (nee Rhoda thacara, of Salem, N.J.) . . . . By means of her instruction, aided by private teachers, he became quite accomplished at a very youthful age.

After the death of his mother, he being then about fifteen, he was sent to a clergyman in Massachusetts for instruction in the classics. On his return he slected medicine for his future profession, and began a course of study under Dr. Benjamin Rush, but upon the decease of his distinguished preceptor, he abandoned the purpose of becoming a doctor, and became a student in the office of William Rawle, Esq., as distinguished in law as Dr. Rush was in medicine. During his student days, the roll of the active membership of the Philadelphia bar embraced the names of Horace Binney, the Ingersolls, Alexander James Dallas, John Sergeant, William Rawle, and others, whose eminent ability made our bar famous throughout the United States.

He was admitted to practice immediately on reaching his majority, in September, 1816, and, after a tedious year of waiting, without a client, he was by chance encounter placed in charge of a case which gave him an opportunity for delivering one of those peculiarly effective appeals to a jury for which he subsequently became so famous. From that time forward his professional life was very active. He was engaged in numerous important cases—some of them very famous in their day—but which are now unknown except to the profession and to elderly people. Among them was Governor snyder's case against Zelin, the impeachment trial of Judge Robert Porter, the "Journeymen Tailor's Conspiracy" case, the Chapman-Mina murder case at Andalusia, Bucks country, the "Holmes" case, wherein the prisoner (a sailor) was tried for murder, he having thrown overboard a number of ship-wrecked passengers from a leaky boat, in order, as was claimed, to save lives of the rest, and the celebrated "Morgan-Hinchman" lunacy case.

From the early times of "anti-slavery" and "abolition" in Philadelphia, Mr. Brown was the steadfast friend, counselor, spokesman and orator for the anti-slavery party. He was their chivalrous champion upon nearly all occasions, important and unimportant, in court, on the rostrum and in the newspapers. It may be said with safety that he never failed to answer their call. Neither the unpopularity of their cause nor the violence of mobs ever deterred him. He styled himself, however, "an abolitionist of the Benjamin Franklin type." He was an orator of remarkable power, an accomplished elocutionist, and both a critical and enthusiastic student of Shakespeare.

Having refined literary taste, he indulged in authorship as a diversion. Omitting special mention of "reviews" and other contributions to periodical literature, he was the author of "Sertorius," a tragedy in which the elder Booth enacted the principal part; "Trial," a tragedy; "The Prophet of St. Paul's," a drama; "Love and Honor," a farce; and "The Forum; or, Forthy Years' Full Practice at the Philadelphia Bar;" the last named being in two volumes, octavo. The first of these volumes contains his celebrated "Golden Rules for Examination of Witnesses," and "Capital Hints for Capital Cases."

Until within a few weeks, the well-know figure of Mr. Brown has been seen upon the street, showing no sign of failing health or strength, except what is inevitable in persons of his advanced age. He scarcely ever had an ailment. But within the last two weeks, during the severely hot weather, he was gradually enfeebled, and at last became so physically prostrated that death ensued, without the supervention of any other noticeable disease. . . . Philadelphia Ledger.


Robert Eden Brown (ed.), The Forensic Speeches of David Paul Brown Selected from Important Trials and Embracing a Period of Forty Years (Philadelphia: King & Baird, 1873) [online text] [Robert Eden Brown was David Paul Brown's son]

Address of Hon. David Paul Brown, on intemperance: delivered at the third anniversary meeting of the Temperance Blessing, held in the First Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, December 12, 1871 (Philadelphia: Charles Heritage, 1871)

Eulogium on the Life and Character of the Late Joseph Reed Ingersoll, President of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Collins, Printer 1869)

Robert B. Kirkpatrick against Edwin Kirkpatrick, action upon the case in the nature of a writ of conspiracy, Supreme Court: argument of David Paul Brown for plaintiff: upon a motion to remove a non-suit / reported by William H. Fisher (Philadelphia: Ringwalt & Brown, Printers, 1864)

Speech of David Paul Brown: Before the court of sessions in New York, upon the trial of Dr. Frost for manslaughter, December 13, 1837 (Philadelphia: Robb, Pile & M'Elroy, printers, 1859)

Speech of David Paul Brown: Delivered in the Court of Oyer and Terminer for Philadelphia County, in the case of the Commonwealth against Thomas Washington Smith, on the 18th of January, 1858 (Philadelphia: Robb, Pile & M'Elroy, Printers, 1858)

First speech of David Paul Brown, delivered in 1818, in the case of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania against John Binns: for assault and battery: for the prosecution, G.M. Dallas, David Paul Brown: for the defense, Jos. R. Ingersoll, Josiah Randall (Philadelphia: Robb, Pile & M'Elroy, printers, 1858)

Speech of David Paul Brown: upon motion for a new trial, in the case of the Commonwealth against John Kilpatrick, for murder, on the 3rd of April, 1858 (Philadelphia: Robb, Pile & McElroy, 1858)

Speech of David Paul Brown, delivered May 19, 1858, in the case of the state of Delaware against Isaac N. Weaver,: a student of Newark College, charged with the murder of J. Edward Roach (Philadelphia: Robb, Pile & M'Elroy, printers, Lodge Street, near the Exchange., 1858)

Speech ... in defence of Alexander William Holmes, indicted for manslaughter ... (Philadelphia: Robb, Pile & M'Elroy, 1858)

Speech of David Paul Brown, in the case of Hinchman vs. Richie, et. al. :
delivered on the sixth of April (Good Friday), 1849
(Philadelphia: King & Baird, printers, 1849)

Discourse delivered before the Societies of St. Mary's College, Baltimore, at the annual commencement, July, 1848 (Baltimore: John Murphy, 1848)

Trial of Dr. Frost, before the Court of sessions for the city & county of New York, for manslaughter, alleged to have been committed on Tiberius G. French, by the administration of certain Thomasonian remedies; to which are added, the speeches of John A. Morrill & David Paul Brown, esqrs. for the defence; with an appendix . . . (Philadelphia: Published by a committee of Thomsonians, 1838)

Oration on the centennial anniversary of the organization of the Fire Department of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: J. Van Court, printer, 1838)

Eulogium upon William Rawle, L.L.D. [sic] delivered on the 31st of December, 1836 (Philadelphia: E.L. Carey & A. Hart, 1837)

An Address to the Philoclean and Peithessophian Societies of Rutgers' College (Philadelphia: Seyfert & Phillips, 1835)

Eulogium upon Wilberforce; with a brief incidental review of the subject of colonization. Delivered, at the request of the Abolition Society, March 10, 1834 (Philadelphia, Printed by T.K. Collins, 1834)

An oration delivered by request, before the Anti-slavery Society of New York, on the fourth of July, 1834 (Philadelphia: Printed by T.K. Collins & Co., 1834)

Speech delivered at the Court of Oyer and Terminer of Bucks County upon the trial of Mrs. Lucretia Chapman for the murder of her husband, February 25th 1832 ([Pennsylvania?]: s.n., 1832)

Oration commemorative of the birth of Washington, delivered on the twenty-third day of February, 1829, before the First Troop of City Cavalry ... (Philadelphia" Ptd for the use of the Troop, 1829)

Speech of David Paul Brown, before the Mayor's Court of Philadelphia, September 17, 1825: on the subject of a riot and assault and battery (Philadelphia: William Brown, printer, 1825)(Philadelphia: Robb, Pile & M'Elroy, printers, 1858)


David Paul Brown, The Forum; or, Forty Years Full Practice at the Philadelphia Bar (Philadelphia: R.H. Small, 1856)(2 vols.) [vol. 1: online text] [vol. 2: online text]


David Paul Brown, The Philadelphia Bar, a Complete Catalogue of Members from 1776 to 1868 (Philadelphia: Review Print. House, 1868)(with E. Cooper Shapley)

______________, Sketches of the Life and Genius of Shakspeare ... (Philadelphia: Rackliff & King, 1838)

______________, The Prophet of St. Paul's a play in five acts (Philadelphia: Carey & Hart, 1836) [online text]

______________, Sertorius: The Roman Patriot: A Tragedy (Philadelphia: E. L. Carey & A. Hart, 1830) [online text]

______________, Review of the Speech of Henry Brougham, Esquire, upon the State of the Law (Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1828)