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Brady, James Topham (1815-1869)

Essayist, Lawyer

James Topham Brady was the son of Irish immigrants who first settled in Newark, NJ and then in New York City. Brady received a privileged education and, in 1831 while still a student, he aided his father, a lawyer, in various trials. Brady gained admittance to the New York bar in 1836. His first case dealt with the controversial topic of slavery, and "though he was unsuccessful his handling of the matter was masterly . . . He was endowed by nature with a facility of speech, which, assiduously cultivated and molded by long study, and embellished with felicitous classical quotations, became well-nigh irresistible with a jury, whilst his arguments, clear, logical, never verbose, were put with a force and sincerity which always impressed the court" (Knott).

Over the next two decades Brady came to be known as a leader of the New York bar. He was connected to almost every important case of the time, either as the defense attorney or the prosecutor (Knott). He became New York District Attorney in 1843, and he was later asked to be the United States Attorney-General, an honor that he chose not to accept. Brady was fascinated by issues of insanity, but he was beyond proficient in all areas of the law. In one memorable civil case, he won an unbelievable $300,000 in damages for his client. He also represented Mrs. Edwin Forrest in her divorce from her husband (Wilson & Fiske 355). As a criminal defense attorney he won fifty-one out of fifty-two murder trials; four of those acquittals were won during the same week. Brady's prowess in the courtroom was unmatched: "It has been said that he never lost a case in which he was before a jury for more than a week; in that time they saw everything through his eyes" (355).

In addition to his gift for practicing law, Brady was imbued with a great appreciation of literature; he "contributed many fugitive pieces" to various periodicals, under his own name and under the pseudonym, "Query" (Haynes 72). Along with these submissions, Brady also seems to have one fictional work attributed to his name, a quirky Christmas story, A Christmas Dream (1861). We also know that Brady was a contributor to the Knickerbocker (Wilson and Fiske 355). Brady's association with Pfaff's is uncertain; he has been linked with the Bohemian Club that met at "Pfaaf's [sic]" but not with any specific Pfaffians (Stylus 64). Though not linking him directly to Pfaff’s, Brady was known to frequenter of another Bohemian hangout, Delmonico’s (Thomas).

Brady never ventured into the world of politics despite nominations and suggestions that he run for seats in the state legislature and Congress, and for the positions of Mayor of New York City and Governor of New York. In fact, "every important position in the control of the Democratic party of New York was in turn proffered to him in vain" (Knott). James T. Brady died from paralysis at his home on West Twenty-Third Street. Brady was never married and was "seemingly unwilling, by forming a matrimonial alliance, even to loosen the tie of affection that bound him to his fraternal relations” ("Death of James T.").