James Maurice is a son of James Maurice and Jean his wife, who resided for many years in the city of New York. His father was a native of Ireland, of English ancestry – English in race and in religion – and was born in the parish of Maryborough, Queens county, August 16th 1777; emigrated to America immediately after the suppression of the rebellion, in which he took part against the insurgents, and landed in Philadelphia in 1799; died at Maspeth, Queens county, N.Y., March 22nd 1842. His mother was born in Philadelphia, December 14th 1792, of pure Scottish descent; and, her mother dying while she was yet an infant, she was brought up in the family of her uncle, John Rutherford, of Lansingburgh, Rensselaer county, N.Y. She died at Maspeth, December 19th 1877, aged 85 years and 5 days. They had six children, three sons and three daughters.
James was the second son, and was born at No. 39 Water street, near Coenties slip, in the city of New York, November 7th 1814. He was sent at a very early age to the Broad Street Academy, a famous institution in those days, where he studied the branches usually taught in a good school, and became noted for his remarkable skill in penmanship. He narrowly escaped death by drowning on two occasions, and was in very great danger for some months in the year 1822 from an attack of yellow fever, being one of the very first cases at the time that dreadful disorder became epidemic. He continued at school until the spring of 1826, and on July 6th in that year, recommended by his handwriting and being not quite 12 years of age, he entered the office of Messrs. William Seaman and Thomas Wills, attorneys and counsellors at law, as a clerk. The firm kept their office at No. 3 Peck slip, then a great business quarter of the city, and had a large and somewhat miscellaneous business – law, equity, admiralty, conveyancing, and every branch, indeed, of the profession- which was all the better for such of their clerks as were disposed to learn; but Mr. Wills was most eminent as an equity lawyer, and held for some time before his death the appointment of injunction master for the first circuit; he died in January 1831, and Mr. Seaman, who was of the old Long Island family of that name, followed him to the grave in January 1832. John I. Cameron, the law partner of Mr. Seaman, continued the business, and soon after Mr. Seaman’s death formed a connection with Philo T. Ruggles, who also was appointed a master in chancery; and Mr. Maurice continued with them and with Mr. Ruggles- who still survives- after Mr. Cameron’s death, until his admission to practice. He was admitted as an attorney at law and as a solicitor in chancery – the offices at that time being quite distinct – in 1835, and immediately afterward began business on his own account, in the old office of Seaman & Wills. Here he remained some two or three years and then returned to the office of Mr. Ruggles. In May 1839 he was admitted as counsellor in the supreme court and in the court of chancery.
In October 1840 he purchased from Garrit Furman a few acres at Maspeth, and began the erection of a dwelling house thereon, which was completed and occupied in June 1841, and in which he still resides, with the surviving members of his father’s family. About February 1841 he formed a professional partnership with James T. Brady,(James Topham Brady was born in the city of New York, April 9th 1815, and died there, February 9th 1869. His father was of Celtic and his mother – whose maiden name was Topham – of English ancestry. He was a very able lawyer and a highly eloquent speaker, and withal one of the most gifted men that ever practiced at the New York bar. The present John Riker Brady, one of the justices of the supreme court for the first judicial department, is his only surviving brother.) and for some eight or nine years thereafter the firm of Brady & Maurice was one of the best known and most considerable legal firms in the city. He received the appointment of master in chancery from Governor Bouck in March 1843. At this period there were only ten masters for the whole city and county of New York, and the office was a very important one. He continued in the discharge of the duties of this office until the court of chancery itself became extinct, July 1st 1847. He also assisted Mr. Brady- who had been appointed counsel to the corporation of the city of New York in 1845- to discharge the many duties of that position, and had under his control the practical management of the suits and street openings to which the city was a party; and had besides to act in a general advisory capacity in regard to the current business of the different city departments.
In the fall of 1850 he made his first essay in political life, and was elected member of Assembly for Queens county on the Democratic ticket in November of that year, after a most exciting contest. The Democrats were in the minority in the Assembly, having only about one-third of the members. Henry J. Raymond was chosen speaker at the regular session, and Joseph B. Varnum at the extra session held in July 1851. Mr. Maurice served on the judiciary, privileges and elections and manorial rents committees and on local general orders, commonly known as the “grinding committee,” and was rarely absent from his seat in the House except when acting upon a committee. He represented his district in the Democratic convention held at Syracuse in 1851, and took a prominent part in the debates and proceedings of that convention. In 1852 he received the nomination for representative in Congress from the first district, at the Democratic convention. He was elected a member of the XXX IIId Congress by a very satisfactory majority over John A. King, afterward governor, and served from March 4th 1853 to March 4th 1855. He belonged to the Hunker or Hardshell division of the Democratic party, and he and his party friends were practically ignored by President Pierce; but he still kept up his connection with the organization. He represented Queens county in the Democratic convention of 1853, and was very active in promoting the nomination of George W. Clinton for secretary of state and increasing the majority which Mr. Clinton obtained, in November of that year, in Queens county. In 1856 he attended the Union State convention – the precursor and harbinger of the Republican organization – at Albany, as a delegate from Queens county, his colleague being John A. King, his former competitor for Congress; and was very instrumental in effecting the nomination of Mr. King for governor and aided efficiently in securing his election. In 1865 Henry W. Genet, of the city of New York, bought (as was supposed) the nomination for member of Assembly in the second district of Queens county from the Democratic nominating convention. Mr. Maurice was prevailed upon to run against Genet, and defeated him, after a bitter struggle, by a large comparative majority. He served in the Assembly of 1866, Lyman Tremain being speaker, on the judiciary committee and on the committees on cities and the rules of the house, and contributed his best efforts to the business of the session; but had lost his relish, if he ever had any, for public employment, and was very well satisfied to leave Albany for a “private station” when the time came for final adjournment. His three nominations for the Assembly and Congress were the only occasions on which he offered himself for the support of the people, and he was successful in all. In 1855 he was offered the nomination for justice of the supreme court for the second judicial district, by gentlemen belonging to both wings of the Democratic party (a nomination equivalent probably, to an election), but deeming himself unsuited to the position he declined to become a candidate. He has acted as referee in several important cases, and some times, although rarely, as counsel in others, and has always had a place of business in the city of New York since the expiration of his Congressional term in 1855 but he is not now nor has he been for some years past actively engaged in his profession. His health has usually been, and still continues to be, very good.