Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,071

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,071


This is the grave of Ether Shepley.

Born in 1789 in Groton, Massachusetts, Shepley attended Groton Academy and then Dartmouth College, where he graduated in 1814. Shepley moved to what would become Maine as a young man opening a law practice in Saco. A strong Jeffersonian, he became involved in politics there. He supported a bill that would have stripped the franchise from felons during these years as a crime prevention measure. He was one of the people who wrote the Maine state constitution when it was admitted in 1820. He then became the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine. He stayed in this position for a surprisingly long time for this era, from 1821 to 1833.

In 1833, Shepley, now based out of Portland, resigned as U.S. Attorney when the state legislature chose him as a senator to represent them in Washington. He was a minor figure in Washington. A freshman senator didn’t have that much to do in the land of Clay and Webster and Calhoun and Benton. He was named chairman of the Committee on Engrossed Bills, which was….something I guess. He was a strong Jacksonian and defended Jackson on his anti-banking bills, but not very effectively. It’s not that easy to find much information about Shepley’s Senate career because he was such a minor league player, but one thing you can find is people making fun of how weak Shepley’s arguments on the bank really were with even Jacksonian papers being like, yeah, maybe we need better defenders.

Also, Shepley didn’t much care for the Senate. He preferred his legal career. In 1836, he resigned from the Senate when he became a justice on the Maine Supreme Court. It was not uncommon at all for senators to resign in this era. I’d have to count, but it wouldn’t surprise me if close to half of senators left office due to choice in the middle of their term. In 1848, he was elevated to Chief Justice of that court. He stayed on the court for seven years. One of his major contributions here was to show extreme skepticism toward the evangelical arguments that liquor was evil when Maine became the first state to ban it. His position was that while the states did have authority to govern such matters, there were medicinal and other beneficial aspects to liquor so it was not something like an obscenity where the state had a more complete authority to ban it. He was also unquestionably anti-labor, completely accepting the argument of a corporation that rejected a suit by a worker stating she did not understand the terms of work when she was hired. The bigger point here was that Shepley accepted the idea that corporations could do whatever they needed to do to stop strikes, which he and they saw as pure evil incarnate. Most of the elite were extremely anti-labor in this era and would remain so really to the present.

When Shepley left the Supreme Court in 1855, he chair a commission to revise Maine’s laws. Then he just went back to his private practice. He died in 1877, at the age of 87.

I have a standing policy in this series that if I see a senator, I am going to take that picture since that role is important enough that nearly all of them have something useful to offer. Ether Shepley may be an exception to that rule. Not much here. But hey, people like this deserve their day in the grave series sun too.

Ether Shepley is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, Maine.

if you would like this series to visit other senators selected in the 1832-33 election cycle, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Samuel Southard is in Washington, D.C. and Joseph Kent is in Bladensburg, Maryland. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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