William P. Van Ness

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William P. Van Ness
William P. Van Ness.jpg
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New York
In office
May 25, 1812 – April 9, 1814
Appointed by James Madison
Preceded by New seat
Succeeded by Seat abolished
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
April 9, 1814 – September 6, 1826
Appointed by James Madison
Preceded by New seat
Succeeded by Samuel Rossiter Betts
Personal details
Born (1778-02-13)February 13, 1778
Ghent, New York
Died September 6, 1826(1826-09-06) (aged 48)
New York City, New York
Political party Democratic-Republican
Spouse(s) Anne McEvers
(m. 1800; his death 1826)
Children 5
Relatives John Peter Van Ness (brother)
Cornelius Van Ness (brother)
James Van Ness (nephew)
Alma mater Washington Seminary
Columbia College
Profession Attorney

William Peter Van Ness (February 13, 1778 – September 6, 1826) was a United States federal judge[1] who is best known today for serving as Aaron Burr's second in Burr's duel with Alexander Hamilton.[2]

Early life

William P. Van Ness was born in Ghent, New York to Judge Peter Van Ness (1734-1804), a wealthy lawyer and farmer who owned the property in Kinderhook on which William Van Ness constructed a mansion in 1797.[3] Martin Van Buren later purchased the home and land and renamed the estate Lindenwald. Peter Van Ness is buried on the Lindenwald estate.[4] Van Ness's brothers included U.S. Representative and Washington, D.C. mayor John Peter Van Ness[5] and Vermont governor Cornelius P. Van Ness.[6]

Van Ness attended Washington Seminary[7] and graduated from Columbia College in 1797.[8] After graduating, Van Ness read law in the office of Edward Livingston, attaining admission to the bar in 1800.[9][10]

Early career

William Peter Van Ness, 1807 engraving by Charles Saint-Mémin

Van Ness practiced law in New York City, Albany, and Hudson from 1800 to 1812.[11] Martin Van Buren completed his legal studies in Van Ness's office in 1802 and became an attorney in Columbia County, New York.[12] Van Ness, a close friend of Aaron Burr, was an active participant in the 1800 presidential campaign as a vocal supporter of the Democratic-Republican candidates, Burr for Vice President and Thomas Jefferson for President.[13] As a leading Republican, Van Ness secretly supported the Federalist plan to elect Burr as president. Burr and Jefferson had tied in the electoral college, and the Constitution move the election to the House. Federalists there wanted to defeat their great enemy Jefferson by electing Burr, and Van Ness was helping them out. The plan failed--Hamilton helped foil it. Jefferson was elected president, and Burr vice president.[14]


In 1801, Van Ness served as a delegate to the New York Constitutional Convention, which was called to amend the state constitution of 1777.[15]

In July 1804, Van Ness served as Aaron Burr's second in Burr's duel with Alexander Hamilton. He and Hamilton's second, Nathaniel Pendleton loaded the pistols, and were present when Burr fatally shot Hamilton.[16]

Judicial career

On May 25, 1812, President James Madison nominated Van Ness to a new seat on the United States District Court for the District of New York. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 26, 1812, and received his commission on May 27, 1812. On April 9, 1814, he was reassigned by operation of law to the newly subdivided United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.[17]

In 1818 Congress appointed a special committee to look into the official conduct of Van Ness and his judicial colleague, Matthias B. Tallmadge, who apparently did not work well together. The committee investigated and recommended that no action be taken against Van Ness or Tallmadge.

Career as an author

Van Ness was the author of several political and judicial works, including: Examination of Charges against Aaron Burr (1803); The Laws of New York, with Notes, (with John Woodworth), (2 vols. 1813); Reports of Two Cases in the Prize Court for New York District (1814); and Concise Narrative of Gen. Jackson's First Invasion of Florida (1826).[18]

Personal life

In 1800, Van Ness married Anne McEvers (1767-1829) in Red Hook. They were members of the Dutch Reformed Church, and the parents of five children:[19]

  • Edward Van Ness (1801–1879), who married Catherine Holcomb (d. 1866)[19]
  • Harriet Mary Van Ness (1803–1825), who married William Morris Maury (1799–1849) of England.[19]
  • Eugene Van Ness (1804–1862), who married Julia A. Brush (1813–1891), daughter of Dr. Nehemiah Brush, in 1835.[19]
  • Martha Eliza Van Ness (1806–1869), who never married.[19]
  • Charles William Van Ness (1807–1883), who never married.[19]

Death and burial

Van Ness served on the bench until his death in New York City. He was buried in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery.[20]

In popular culture

Van Ness' role in the Burr-Hamilton duel is referenced in the musical Hamilton as part of the song "The World Was Wide Enough".[21]

References

  1. ^ William Peter Van Ness. Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved 2011-05-21. Born February 13, 1778, in Claverack, NY. Died September 6, 1826, in New York City, NY. Federal Judicial Service: Judge, U. S. District Court, District of New York. Nominated by James Madison on May 25, 1812, to a new seat created by 2 Stat. 719; Confirmed by the Senate on May 26, 1812, and received commission on May 27, 1812. Service terminated on April 9, 1814, due to assignment to another court. Judge, U. S. District Court, Southern District of New York. Reassigned April 9, 1814; Service terminated on September 6, 1826, due to death. 
  2. ^ Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic, by Joanne B. Freeman, 2002, page 180
  3. ^ Brooke, John L. (2013). Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson. UNC Press Books. p. 477. ISBN 9780807838877. Retrieved 18 September 2017. 
  4. ^ New York, a Guide to the Empire State, sponsored by New York State Historical Association, published by Oxford University Press, New York, 1940, pages 564 to 565
  5. ^ The Life and Times of Martin Van Buren: The Correspondence of his Friends, Family and Pupils, by William Lyon Mackenzie, 1846, page 23
  6. ^ Early History of Vermont, LaFayette Wilbur, Volume 4, 1903, page 124
  7. ^ The Parsonage Between Two Manors: Annals of Clover-Reach, by Elizabeth Louise Gebhard, 1910, page 45
  8. ^ Officers and Graduates of Columbia University, published by Columbia University, 1916, page 88
  9. ^ Biographical sketches of the distinguished men of Columbia County, by William Raymond, 1851, page 33
  10. ^ A Group of Great Lawyers of Columbia County, New York, by Peyton Farrell Miller, 1904, pages 133 to 135
  11. ^ American Biographical Notes, edited by Franklin Benjamin Hough, 1974, page 404
  12. ^ US Presidents and Foreign Policy, by Carl Cavanagh Hodge and Cathal J. Nolan, 2007, page 73
  13. ^ History of the United States of America during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson, by Henry Adams, 1986 edition, page 417
  14. ^ Thomas N. Baker, "'An Attack Well Directed': Aaron Burr Intrigues for the Presidency." Journal of the Early Republic 31#4 (2011): 553-598.
  15. ^ The Democratic Party of the State of New York, by Martin Wilie Littleton, Volume 1, 1905, page 47
  16. ^ Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic, by Joanne B. Freeman, 2002, page 180
  17. ^ History of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, by H. Paul Burak, 1962, pages 3 to 4
  18. ^ Lamb's Biographical Dictionary of the United States, edited by John Howard Brown, Volume 7, 1903, page 430
  19. ^ a b c d e f Hall, Clayton Colman (1912). Baltimore: Biography. Lewis Historical Publishing Company. pp. 533–534. Retrieved 18 September 2017. 
  20. ^ Baltimore: Its History and Its People, by Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Volume III, 1912, page 533
  21. ^ "The World Was Wide Enough Lyrics - Hamilton". AllMusicals.com. Retrieved November 11, 2017. 

External resources

Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New York
1812–1814
Succeeded by
seat abolished
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
1814–1826
Succeeded by
Samuel Rossiter Betts
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