Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court of Judicature, 1761-1763
Benjamin Pratt was born in Massachusetts in 1710. He graduated from Harvard College in 1737 and studied law with a leading lawyer of the time, Jeremiah Gridley. Following his admission to the Bar, Pratt had an extensive legal practice and became involved in politics.
In October 1761, at the invitation of Cadwallader Colden, Lieutenant-Governor of New York Province, Pratt moved to New York. In November of that year, he was commissioned Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature “during his Majesty’s pleasure.” The wording of his commission brought him to the forefront of a longstanding and bitter fight between the elected Assembly and the Council, appointed by the executive. The crisis deepened with the death of George II, at which time all judicial commissions expired. The Assembly refused to grant any salary to the Chief Justice or to any of the justices unless their commissions were issued “during good behavior.” The Lieutenant-Governor was determined that all judicial commissions should be at the pleasure of the Crown. The Puisne (associate) judges presented a memorial to the Lieutenant-Governor noting that the commissions formerly granted to them by the late Governor were “during good behavior.” They declined new commissions “at his Majesty’s pleasure.” Pratt himself expressed the dilemma: “A Judge liable to be broke by the Governor if he don’t please him. And to be starved by the Assembly if he don’t please them.” Benjamin Pratt died on January 5, 1763.
Benjamin Pratt was also a poet of some renown and his poem “Death” is included in several anthologies.
Kettell, Samuel. Specimens of American Poetry, with Critical and Biographical Notices. 1829.
The American Lawyer 11 (1903).