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Brief Biographical / Historical Sketch


The last quarter of the eighteenth century saw the formation of the United States government after the end of the Revolutionary War. Constitutional ratification, following the 1787 Constitutional Convention, was a tremendously contentious issue, as were issues of foreign policy surrounding the 1795 Jay Treaty with Britain, the 1796 Pinckney Treaty with Spain, and the Treaty of Tripoli. Westward expansion created significant legal questions about land ownership, development, and taxation, while Indian wars raged from the 1780s to the 1790s. Unrest over the excise tax on whiskey that swept through the American frontier came to a head in western Pennsylvania in 1794.

The papers of Alexander Addison address most of these major happenings in post-revolutionary America. Born in Scotland, Addison (1758-1807) received his Master of Arts from Aberdeen University at age nineteen. He subsequently trained as a minister, and was admitted by the Presbytery of Aberlowe in 1781. However, upon immigrating to the newly independent America in 1785, the Redstone Presbytery in western Pennsylvania refused to license Addison as a minister. As an alternative, he apprenticed as a lawyer and was later admitted to the Washington County, Pennsylvania, bar in 1787. Addison started his legal career as an itinerant lawyer. When Addison began practicing law, many of the judges and justices of the peace were men without formal education in law who were appointed by the state executive. However, the 1790 State Constitution required each district court to be headed by a President Judge educated in the law. In 1791, Addison was appointed the president judge of the Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania, which included all of western Pennsylvania. For thirteen years Addison presided over the nascent Fifth District when both state and federal laws were being written and little legal precedent existed.

During the Whiskey Rebellion, Addison upheld the authority of state and federal law. In 1802, he was impeached from the bench as a result of ongoing and politically motivated conflict with fellow Justice John B. C. Lucas. Addison published various political tracts many of which are now available in digitized form. His papers trace extended correspondence with three notable men of Pennsylvania, each highlighting a different type of relationship and set of i nterests and issues detailed below. Addison died in 1807.

Charles Nisbet (1736-1803) was born in Scotland and educated at the University of Edinburgh and Divinity Hall. He served as a minister for various Scottish congregations. He was recruited by Dickenson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and became Principal there on July 5, 1785. A respected scholar, Nisbet was deeply committed to traditional Scottish-style university education and the ministry. He was consistently disappointed with what he viewed as an American disrespect for authority and tradition.

William Findley (1741/1742-1821) immigrated to Philadelphia in 1763. He was politically active at the state and federal level. Between 1789 and 1791 he variously served Pennsylvania in the General Assembly, the State Supreme Executive Council, the State House of Representatives, and the State Constitutional Convention. For the duration of 1791 through 1799 he served as an Anti-Administration and later as a Republican candidate in the second through fourth congresses. During this time, Findley worked to quiet the Whiskey Rebellion. Following his time as a federal congressman, Findley served in the Pennsylvania State Senate from 1799 to 1802. He was successfully elected back to the House of Representatives, as a Republican, in the eighth through fourteenth Congresses.

Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1748-1816) was a well-known lawyer, newspaper publisher and political agitator in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Born in York County, Pennsylvania, he attended college and Divinity School at Princeton. Following his service as a chaplain in the Revolutionary War, he moved to Pittsburgh and was admitted to the Allegheny Country Bar with Alexander Addison and John Woods. After his mixed role in the Whiskey Rebellion and a failed U.S. congressional race against Albert Gallatin, he was appointed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Throughout his life, Brackenridge wrote and published the Pittsburgh Gazette, and penned a number of books, most notably his multiple editions of Modern Chivalry. He started his family in Pittsburgh and had four children, Henry Marie who went on to fame in government service, Cornelia, William, and Alexander Brackenridge. He later moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he continued to conduct affairs in Pittsburgh until his death.