Emmet, Thomas Addis (1764–1827), United Irishman and lawyer, was born 24 April 1764 in Cork, second son among three surviving sons and one daughter of Robert Emmet (qv), state physician of Ireland, and Elizabeth Emmet (née Mason; d. 1803). He entered TCD 7 July 1778, won a scholarship (1781) and graduated BA (1783). In 1783 he went to Edinburgh to study medicine and graduated MD (1784); he was a popular student and president of five student societies. He went to Guy's Hospital, London, in spring 1785 and worked there for about two years before touring the main continental schools of medicine. In 1787 he jointly held the patent for state physician with his father. While in Paris in spring 1788, Emmet heard of the death of his brother Temple and returned to Ireland. (Christopher) Temple Emmet (1761–88) was born in Cork and baptised 28 October 1761. He entered TCD (1775) and was an outstanding student, winning numerous academic awards. A leading member of the College Historical Society, he was much admired for his eloquent and erudite speeches. Politically liberal, he wrote the poem ‘The decree’ (c.1778), addressed to the lord lieutenant, the earl of Buckinghamshire (qv), which called for greater political and commercial freedom for Ireland. He graduated BA in 1780 and was called to the bar in 1781. He married (1781) his second cousin, Anne Western Temple (d. November 1788); they had one daughter. Recognised as perhaps the most talented young barrister of his day, he was appointed KC (1787), but his promising career was cut short by his death after a short illness in February 1788.
The Emmets were devastated by the loss of such a talented eldest son and, with his father's encouragement, Thomas changed his profession from medicine to law. He graduated LLB from TCD (1788), attended Lincoln's Inn (1788–90), and was called to the Irish bar in 1790. His family connections and oratorical and legal skill soon made him a leading figure at the bar, with a very profitable practice. On 11 June 1791 he married Jane (d. 1846), daughter of the Rev. John Patten, a presbyterian minister at Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, and the young couple shared Dr Emmet's large house on St Stephen's Green. Her uncle was the naval surgeon James Patten (qv).
Exposed to liberal politics at home and at university, on 14 December 1792 he joined the Dublin Society of the United Irishmen, and became one of its most prominent and active members. He took a leading role on their parliamentary reform committee during 1793, and successfully argued for it to advocate universal male suffrage. He wrote an ‘Address to the poorer classes’, describing the benefits of parliamentary reform to the poor, which accompanied the plan of reform when it was published in February 1794. At meetings of the United Irishmen Emmet regularly denounced the government's repressive measures and warned that these could provoke rebellion. He defended well known radicals in court, including James Napper Tandy (qv) in 1792 and Denis Driscol (qv) in September 1793, and advised William Drennan (qv) before his trial in June 1794. Emmet, a protestant, was strongly opposed to religious discrimination, and in October 1792 his friend Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv) introduced him to the Catholic Committee, for which he wrote some addresses, including the committee's reply to an anti-catholic resolution of Dublin corporation. Tone considered him ‘the best of all the friends to catholic emancipation . . . worth two of Stokes, and ten of Burrowes and an hundred of Drennan’ (Tone, i, 313), and trusted him completely. Prior to his exile in America in 1795 Tone informed Emmet of his intention to seek a French invasion of Ireland, a step with which Emmet agreed.
Although Emmet later claimed that he did not join the secret United Irish organisation until 1796, he was closely involved in the society's reorganisation in autumn 1794 into a cellular conspiracy after its suppression some months earlier. In 1796, when defending prisoners accused of taking the United Irish oath, he himself took the oath in open court to prove its legality. He became a member of the society's executive directory in January 1797. With William James MacNeven (qv) he led the moderates who favoured French invasion over popular insurrection, claiming that it was more likely to succeed and would result in less bloodshed and destruction of property; others such as Arthur O'Connor (qv) and Lord Edward Fitzgerald (qv) pressed for a rising without the French. An effective propagandist, he wrote the ‘Montanus letters’, which appeared at irregular intervals in the Press from 3 October 1797 to 17 February 1798, and denounced the pernicious effects of British rule such as religious bigotry and widespread poverty. He was also active in a citizen's committee that gathered evidence of military atrocities, which was presented to Sir Lawrence Parsons (qv) in March 1798. When the government moved against the Leinster United Irish directory, he was arrested at his home (12 March 1798) and imprisoned in Newgate and later in Kilmainham.
After the 1798 rebellion he, O'Connor, and MacNeven were chosen to negotiate the ‘Kilmainham treaty’ with the government, which ended executions of United Irishmen in return for general information and the prisoners’ agreement to emigrate. As part of this agreement he co-authored the Memoir of the Irish union, effectively a justification of the United Irishmen's actions, and appeared before the parliamentary secret committees that enquired into the origins of the rebellion on 10 and 14 August 1798. He portrayed the United Irishmen as reformers forced into revolution by government repression and defiantly stated his continued commitment to United Irish principles and his belief that ‘if Ireland were separated from England she would be the happiest spot on the face of the globe’ (Memoir, ii, 458). He complained bitterly of the government's bad faith throughout these negotiations, particularly their refusal to allow the prisoners to emigrate once they had given information.
Because of his United Irish activities, his name was erased from the bar (27 November 1798) and on 18 March 1799 he was exiled to Fort George near Inverness with his fellow United Irish leaders. The regime at Fort George was relatively benign and after a year he was joined by his wife and some of his children. While in Kilmainham he had written ‘Observations on the conquest of Ireland 1171 to 1789’ (published in his grandson Thomas Addis Emmet's Memoir of Thomas Addis and Robert Emmet (1915)); in Fort George he added ‘Part of an essay towards the history of Ireland’, which gave a detailed account of the United Irishmen until 1795 and was published in MacNeven's Pieces of Irish history (1807). At Fort George, there were serious strains among the prisoners, particularly between Emmet and O'Connor, who were only dissuaded from fighting a duel on their release by their colleagues. Released on 30 June 1802, some months after the peace of Amiens, Emmet landed on 4 July at Cuxhaven, Germany, and travelled on to Amsterdam, where he was joined in August by his brother Robert (qv), who intended to mount an insurrection in Ireland.
Thomas considered going to America, but stayed in Brussels in the winter of 1802–3, until persuaded by Robert to go to Paris in February 1803 as a United Irish envoy. He was in regular communication with the French government, which in May 1803 promised to invade Ireland with 25,000 men. On 23 July Robert Emmet rose in Dublin without French assistance and was quickly defeated. In September Thomas met Bonaparte, then first consul, who assured him that the invasion would take place soon. In France the personal and political enmity between O'Connor and Emmet grew increasingly bitter, as each represented himself as the official representative of the United Irishmen. The Jacobin sympathies of some in the Emmet camp, and Emmet's repeated complaints about France's broken promises, alienated Bonaparte, who increasingly favoured O'Connor. O'Connor's appointment as general of the newly formed Irish legion in February 1804 further disillusioned Emmet. By then he believed that a successful French invasion would simply establish an authoritarian puppet state in Ireland, and he denounced Bonaparte as ‘the worst enemy Ireland ever had’ (Madden, 38). On 4 October 1804 he sailed with his family for America, arriving in New York on 17 November.
He settled in New York where, through the influence of Jeffersonian republicans such as Governor George Clinton and his nephew Mayor DeWitt Clinton, he was admitted by special legislation to the bar without the usual study requirements. Emmet later repaid the Clintons with his staunch political support. In his first case at the bar he represented a fugitive slave, and he occasionally acted as counsel for the New York Manumission Society. Because of his opposition to slavery he had refused to consider living in the South. He soon built up a thriving practice and at the height of his career was one of New York's most celebrated lawyers, earning $15,000 a year. Short-sighted, stooping, and often carelessly dressed, he looked older than his years and was a serious man not readily given to levity. A fellow lawyer described him as ‘generous, humane, obliging and strictly honest’, but allowed that ‘his zeal sometimes cloud[ed] his judgement’ (Haines, 119). As an Irish radical, he initially attracted some animosity from Federalist lawyers, but in time many Federalists came to appreciate his abilities and he settled well into America. Irish nationalist commentators made much of his success, claiming it showed how an Irishman could prosper in a free republic; Emmet himself expressed his wish never to return to Ireland while it remained under British rule.
For the first few years in America, he largely avoided political controversy but in 1807 he exacted revenge on Rufus King, the Federalist candidate for governor of New York who had opposed the admission of United Irish prisoners to the USA in 1798, by mobilising Irish-American opinion against him and defeating him. He became friendly with the then deeply unpopular Thomas Paine and was one of the executors of his will in 1809. In 1812 he was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the New York city assembly to assist DeWitt Clinton's presidential bid. His Republican connections led him to be briefly appointed attorney general of New York state (August 1812–February 1813). He formed close links with other exiled United Irishmen such as MacNeven and William Sampson (qv) and attempted to assist Irish immigrants, writing Hints to immigrants (1816). A founder and first president of the Shamrock Friendly Society (1816–18), he was also first president of the New York Irish Emigrant Society (1817) which lobbied strongly for land grants in Illinois to be made available to Irish immigrants. A popular figure with the city's Irish catholic community, he frequently represented them in disputes with local Orangemen. To support his large family he maintained a heavy workload into his sixties, and became an expert in the great legal battles over steamboat monopolies in the 1810s and 1820s. Seized by a fit while in court, he died hours later at his home in New York on 14 November 1827. His funeral was attended by the city's leading politicians, officials, and lawyers. He was buried in the churchyard of St Mark's, Broadway, New York, where a large white marble monument marks his grave.
He had nine surviving children (five boys and four girls). The eldest son, Robert Emmet (1792–1873), lawyer and political activist, was born 8 September 1792 in Dublin, and was with his father at Fort George, where he was tutored by United Irish prisoners. After graduating from Columbia University (1810) he studied law, assisted his father for several years, and became a prominent lawyer. During the war of 1812 he served as a captain in the American army. He was elected to the New York state legislature (1828). After MacNeven's death in 1841 he was recognised as the leading figure in Irish-American affairs in New York and was elected president of the New York Repeal Association. A member of the Irish Directory formed in New York in 1848 to assist Irish nationalist exiles, he helped finance and organise the rescue of several Young Ireland prisoners from Tasmania. He became a judge of New York's superior court (1852–4). He quit the Democratic party because of his opposition to slavery and was a founder and leading member of the Republican party in New York. He died at New Rochelle 15 February 1873. In 1817 he married Rosina Hubley of Lancaster, Pa., daughter of Col. Adam Hubley, a veteran of the revolutionary wars; they had eight children.
The second son of Thomas Addis Emmet, John Patton Emmet (1796–1842), scientist, was born 8 April 1796 in Dublin, and was raised mostly by his grandparents until he joined his parents in America in March 1805. In 1814 he became a cadet at West Point but because of illness quit in 1817 before graduating (his health was never robust). He went to Italy and studied music and art. He returned home in 1819 and studied medicine at the University of New York under the direction of MacNeven, and graduated MD (1822). Soon afterwards he set up practice in Charleston, South Carolina, and at the invitation of Thomas Jefferson he became professor of natural history at the University of Virginia (1825–7) and later professor of chemistry and materia medica (1827–42). In the 1830s he experimented with the growing of rare flowers, fruit, and vines, the cultivation of silkworms, and the manufacture of silk, pottery, and porcelain. He contributed regularly to scientific journals, notably the American Journal of Science, on chemical, pharmaceutical and physical topics; he also developed apparatus for the study of magnetism and electricity. He died 15 August 1842 at Mount Vernon, near New York. In 1827 he married Mary Byrd Farley Tucker (d. 1860), a native of Bermuda. They had two surviving children, including Thomas Addis Emmet (1828–1919), a leading American gynaecologist, who was president of the Irish National Federation of America (1892–1901), and wrote several medical and historical works, including histories of the Emmet family and Ireland under English rule (1903).