February 22, 1849 (Thursday)

Snow has been falling, rather briskly, to-day, and continues falling, but don’t accumulate much.

This day, Washington’s birth-day, has been celebrated with enthusiasm.

In the musical Fund an oration was delivered by Wm. B. Reed Esq. and in the Chesnut St. Theatre, by D.P. Brown some military out[fit].

At the Musical Fund Hall, Nathan, if he went, attended the Taylor and Fillmore Festival, a Whig party political rally celebrating, in addition to Washington’s Birthday, General Zachary Taylor’s successful presidential bid the previous fall.  The Whigs took advantage of the fortunate coincidence of the 117th anniversary of George Washington’s birth and the second anniversary of General Taylor’s success at the Battle of Buena Vista.  There was a great deal of speechifying and patriotic music before a large crowd.

Taylor and Fillmore

from the Philadelphia Inquirer, February 23, 1849, page 1.

The celebration of an anniversary like this is one of those bright clasps that bind the present with the past. The triumph recently achieved [the Mexican War] is one of principle, and our highest recompense is the restoration of the better days of the republic.” – William B. Reed, as reported by the North American, February 23, 1849.

William Bradford Reed (1806–1876) was a good choice as keynote speaker for the Washington’s Birthday celebration. The orator’s grandfather, Joseph Reed (1741–1785), had been Washington’s military secretary during the Revolutionary War before going on to a very successful political career in Pennsylvania.  Joseph Reed’s wife was Esther (de Berdt) Reed (1746–1780), though born in England, a staunch American patriot. She raised money for the war effort and recruited women to make clothing for the soldiers.  For her efforts she was signified as a Daughter of Liberty.

William Reed had a successful career as a lawyer, college professor, author, politician and diplomat.  He was at various times Pennsylvania’s attorney general, state senator, Philadelphia’s crime stopping district attorney, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, and President James Buchanan’s “minister plenipotentiary” to the empire of China.  In this last post, Reed successfully negotiated trade rights for the United States, codified in the Treaty of Tientsin (1858).  Reed’s strong opposition to the Civil War, however, affected his law career, as well as his social and political standing.  It was a blow from which he never recovered.  An accomplished writer, he published Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed in 1847, and then honored his grandmother in 1853 with a biography entitled The Life of Esther De Berdt, Afterwards Esther Reed of Pennsylvania. For a list of Reed’s works, both historical and political, held by the American Antiquarian Society, click here.

At the Chesnut St. Theatre, there was another “Whig Festival” featuring speeches by generals and politicians; music by the American Brass Band and a lengthy encomium by noted lawyer and orator David Paul Brown (1795–1872). In Philadelphia, Brown was as famous for oratory as he was for his cross examination prowess. He was often asked to speak at public occasions and seems to have made a specialty of delivering eulogies for famous Philadelphians.  At the Chesnut St. Theatre, Brown did not disappoint. According to Philadelphia’s Public Ledger (February 23), Brown “riveted the attention of the audience for nearly two hours by his graceful delivery of an address replete with burning eloquence and noble sentiments.” Apart from defending high profile clients in criminal cases and orating engagements, Brown wrote poetry and plays, several of which were produced at Philadelphia theaters.  The AAS has many examples of Brown’s writings, including a speech he gave in 1810 as a precocious 14-year-old.  For a complete list, click here.

David Paul Brown

from John Thomas Scharf and Thompson Wescott, History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, vol. 2, page 1549.


“David Paul Brown.” Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 20 Feb. 2011.

“William Bradford Reed.” Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 20 Feb. 2011.

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