Born 1763 in Hopewell Township, Cumberland County, near Middle Springs Presbyterian Meeting, the Honorable James Brady was the son of legendary “Indian fighter” General Hugh Brady and Hannah Jane Young. He was the first cousin of “father of the U.S. Army” General Hugh Brady (II).[i] James married Rachel Speer in 1785 at the Silver Springs Presbyterian Church (also Robert Whitehill’s church), later migrating with younger brother Joseph from the Cumberland Valley to the Ligonier Valley in Westmoreland County.
The senator eventually settled in Greensburg, serving as town sheriff in 1794. Elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 1799-1802, Brady later captured a state Senate seat in 1803, remained through 1815, and ascended to the Speaker’s chair in December 1805. An 1812 Federalist choice for U.S. Senator, the former old-school Jefferson man and Quid lost to Democratic-Republican and early Western Pennsylvania Republican caucus leader Abner Lacock.
The Honorable James Brady faced many of the same legislative challenges that confronted Whitehill, yet he viewed those tests from a considerably more conservative perspective. In an attempt to initiate a modicum of legislative cooperation, a necessity should Brady anticipate victory, Governor McKean addressed the 1805-1806 General Assembly with an appeasing tone, praying for all to lay aside their party differences and focus on the people’s business. Smitten with Constitutional Republican doctrine, Brady sympathized with the McKean message more than his pro-Snyder predecessors, Maclay and Whitehill.
Wasting no time with non-controversial matters, Brady supported passage of “An Act to alter the judiciary system of this Commonwealth,” legislation crafted by House Constitutionalists. The bill represented a compromise between what McKean thought acceptable and Democratic-Republican reformers deemed tolerable, a measure representing a collection of current judicial issues set forth in one bill. The primary component was the arbitration amendment, debated in previous sessions. The content also included 28 sections creating Western and Eastern districts of the state supreme court and the abolishment of the Pennsylvania High Court of Errors and Appeals in Philadelphia. The bill intended to establish new circuit court districts, protect the integrity of common pleas and quarter session courts from the interference of the state supreme court, and addressed revised functions of certain county courts, including the orphans and register (wills) courts.[ii] The proposed law specified the duties of the position, the constitutional accountability of officers, and the methods of punishment for those who violated their judicial responsibilities.
In the aftermath of the Burr-Hamilton duel, Brady and colleague Presley Lane lent substantial support to the passage of “An Act to restrain the horrid practice of dueling.” Signed by McKean on March 31, 1806, Brady and Lane provided the votes for final passage after an amended provision held provocateurs of duels culpable for murder, including the press. In other areas, the improvement-minded Brady supported passage of the Schuylkill-Susquehanna Canal bill and cast the deciding vote on a measure ordering the construction of the Harrisburg-Pittsburgh Turnpike.
After legislative service, Senator Brady received a Governor Hiester appointment as Secretary of the Land Office, serving from May 11, 1821 to May 11, 1824. After public service, the former senator retired to Greensburg, assuming the position of county land-title counselor. Brady dedicated his remaining years to the Presbyterian Church, in which he served as an elder. A “strictly upright and honest man,” the Honorable James Brady passed away on May 2, 1839 at Greensburg.[iii] John F. McGinnis noted:
“He was one of the most estimable men of his day. He was the first elder of the Presbyterian Church in Greensburg and appeared in the Presbytery as early as 1802. In 1808, he and his pastor were elected delegates to the General Assembly. He frequently represented the church in the meetings of the Presbytery and from the number of committees on which he served in that body he must have been an active and useful member.”[iv]
[i] Old and New Westmoreland, vol. IV, Fenwick Y. Hedley ed. (New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1918), 800; also: “General Hugh Brady,” www.cyberstation.net, January 13, 2005. Although not designated, the photo belongs to the Library Congress, Brady-Handy Collection.
[ii] Laws of Pennsylvania, February 24, 1806, 61-73.
[iii] Greensburgh Gazette, May 10, 1839.