William Bradford Reed

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William Bradford Reed
William Bradford Reed.jpg
Harper's Weekly sketch
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
In office
Pennsylvania Attorney General
In office
April 2, 1838 – January 15, 1839
GovernorJoseph Ritner
Preceded byJames Todd
Succeeded byOvid F. Johnson
Member of the Pennsylvania State Senate for the 1st district
In office
Preceded byJacob Gratz
Succeeded byWilliam A. Crabb
2nd District Attorney of Philadelphia
In office
Preceded byHorn R. Kneass
Succeeded byWilliam B. Mann
Envoy to Qing Empire
In office
April 18, 1857 – November 11, 1858
Preceded byPeter Parker
Succeeded byJohn Elliott Ward
Personal details
Born(1806-06-30)June 30, 1806
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
DiedFebruary 18, 1876(1876-02-18) (aged 69)
New York City, New York
  • Louisa Whelan
  • Mary Love Ralston
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania

William Bradford Reed (June 30, 1806 – February 18, 1876) was an American attorney, politician, diplomat, academic and journalist from Pennsylvania. He served as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1834 to 1835. He was elected Pennsylvania State Attorney General in 1838 and served as a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate for the 1st district in 1841. He served as U.S. Minister to China in 1857. His pro-confederacy views put him in conflict with other Pennsylvania politicians. He was a published author of multiple books including the biographies of his grandfather, General Joseph Reed and grandmother Esther de Berdt.

Early life and education[edit]

Reed was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Joseph Reed and Maria Ellis Watmough. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1825 he went to Mexico as a private secretary for Joel R. Poinsett and studied law.

His brother was educator Henry Hope Reed.


Reed began his political career as an Anti-Mason but switched to the Whig Party. He was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and served from 1834 to 1835. He was elected Pennsylvania Attorney General in 1838. He served as vice-president of the Law Academy of Philadelphia from 1840 to 1841. He was elected as a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate for the 1st district in 1841. He worked as a professor of American history at the University of Pennsylvania in 1850.[1]

Between 1851 through 1856 Reed served as the District Attorney of Philadelphia.

Reed served as Minister to China from 1857 to 1858[2] and negotiated the Treaty of June. After his return to the U.S. in 1860 he was active in Democratic Party politics and in New York journalism. For a time he was an American correspondent of The Times.

Reed published many controversial and historical pamphlets and contributed essays chiefly to the American Quarterly and the North American Review. He wrote about his grandfather Joseph Reed in the book Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed in 1847 and his grandmother Esther Reed in the book Life of Esther de Berdt in 1853.[1]

He joined the Demoratic party in 1856 and was ostracized due to his pro-confederacy views during the U.S. Civil War.[3]

He was hired to defend Confederate president Jefferson Davis in court after the U.S. Civil War was over, however Davis never went to trial.[4]

He is interred at the St. James the Less Episcopal Churchyard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[5]


  1. ^ a b "William Bradford Reed". www.legis.state.pa.us. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  2. ^ "William Bradford Reed (1806-1876)". www.history.state.gov. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  3. ^ Cowden, Joanna D. (2001). Heaven Will Frown on Such a Cause as This: Six Democrats Who Opposed Lincoln's War. Lanham - New York - Oxford: University Press of America, Inc. pp. 95–117. ISBN 0-7618-1997-5. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  4. ^ Manber, Jeffrey (2005). Lincoln's Warth: Fierce Mobs, Brilliant Scoundrels and a President's Mission to Destroy the Press. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc. p. 300. ISBN 978-1-4022-0398-5. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  5. ^ "William Bradford Reed". www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Preceded by
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by
James Todd
Attorney General of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
Ovid F. Johnson
Pennsylvania State Senate
Preceded by
Jacob Gratz
Member of the Pennsylvania Senate, 1st district
Succeeded by
William A. Crabb