William Bradford (Attorney General)

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William Bradford
William Bradford, AG.jpg
2nd United States Attorney General
In office
January 27, 1794 – August 23, 1795
President George Washington
Preceded by Edmund Randolph
Succeeded by Charles Lee
Personal details
Born (1755-09-14)September 14, 1755
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died August 23, 1795(1795-08-23) (aged 39)
Washington D.C., U.S.
Political party Federalist
Alma mater Princeton University

William Bradford (September 14, 1755 – August 23, 1795) was a lawyer and judge from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the second United States Attorney General in 1794–1795.

He was the son of the printer William Bradford and was born in Philadelphia. He began his education at the Academy of Philadelphia, then attended Princeton University where he formed a lifelong friendship with Virginian James Madison, before graduating in 1772. When he returned to Philadelphia he read law with Edward Shippen. His progress was delayed by the American Revolutionary War.

In 1776, when the Pennsylvania militia was called out, William volunteered as a private. Later that year, the militia was organized into a "flying camp" with Daniel Roberdeau as the first brigadier general in the states forces. General Roberdeau chose the young man as an aide, and later promoted him to brigade major on his headquarters staff.

When his militia term expired, he joined the Continental Army as a captain and company commander in the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment commanded by Richard Hampton. By the end of the year, he saw action in the Battle of Trenton. While at Morristown, New Jersey, he was named a deputy to the muster master-general on April 10, 1777, and he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. During the encampment at Valley Forge in late 1777 and early 1778, his headquarters was at the David Harvard House.[1] He resigned after two years due to ill health and returned home in early 1779.

Bradford joined the bar before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in September 1779. He was named as the state's Attorney General in 1780, and served until 1791. In 1784, he married Susan Vergereau Boudinot, the only daughter of Elias Boudinot. On August 2, 1791 Bradford represented General William West and argued the first recorded case before the U.S. Supreme Court, West v. Barnes losing the decision. On August 22, 1791, Bradford was appointed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and served for three years.

In 1793, Governor Thomas Mifflin asked his help to reduce the use of the death penalty. His report to the legislature was in the form of an essay, "An Inquiry how far the Punishment of Death is Necessary in Pennsylvania". In the next reorganization of Pennsylvania's penal code, the use of capital punishment was substantially reduced. Other states followed the Pennsylvania example.

On January 8, 1794, George Washington named him Attorney General for the United States to replace Edmund Randolph.[2] He died while in office in 1795, and is buried with his wife's family in Saint Mary's Episcopal Churchyard in Burlington, New Jersey.[3]

Bradford County, Pennsylvania, was named in his honor.[4]


  1. "National Historic Landmarks & National Register of Historic Places in Pennsylvania" (Searchable database). ARCH: Pennsylvania's Historic Architecture & Archaeology. Retrieved 2012-11-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Note: This includes Pennsylvania Register of Historic Sites and Landmarks (January 1972). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: David Harvard House" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Attorneys General of the United States: William Bradford, United States Department of Justice. Accessed August 21, 2007.
  3. Saint Mary's Episcopal Churchyard, The Political Graveyard. Accessed August 21, 2007.
  4. Bradford County History, Bradford County, Pennsylvania. Accessed August 21, 2007. "Founded in 1810, it was originally called Ontario, but the name was changed to Bradford in honor of U.S. Attorney General William Bradford, a member of George Washington's cabinet."

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Edmund Randolph
United States Attorney General
Succeeded by
Charles Lee
Preceded by
Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant
Pennsylvania Attorney General
Succeeded by
Jared Ingersoll