Richard Smith Coxe: Law and Politics in a Maturing Republic


  • Bruce A. Bendler



Richard Smith Coxe was the descendant of a prominent Burlington, New Jersey, family. He followed in the footsteps of his father, William Coxe, by affiliating with the Federalist Party until its demise after the War of 1812. After manifesting an interest in New Jersey politics early in his career, Coxe left his home state, and its political life, relocating to Washington, DC, where he became a prominent attorney. In the nation’s capital, he specialized in matters of maritime and international law. For a time, he worked closely with fellow New Jerseyan and Secretary of the Navy Samuel Southard. Despite his new focus on a legal career, Coxe remained, to a lesser degree, politically active, supporting the Whig Party, especially Henry Clay and William Henry Harrison. Although his political views were based on Federalist, then Whig, principles, Coxe’s legal career led him, at times, to take exception to those principles. For example, while not overtly supporting war with Mexico in 1846, unlike many Whigs, he saw the claims of clients who had suffered losses because of political and social turbulence in Mexico as justification for more forceful action against that nation.