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About Rufus Choate
Rufus Choate (October 1, 1799 – July 13, 1859), American lawyer and orator, was born in Ipswich, Massachusetts, a descendant of an English family which settled in Massachusetts in 1643. His first cousin, physician George Choate, was the father of George C. S. Choate and Joseph Hodges Choate. Rufus Choate's birthplace, Choate House, remains virtually unchanged to this day.
A precocious child, at six he is said to have been able to repeat large parts of the Bible and of Pilgrim's Progress from memory. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated as valedictorian of his class at Dartmouth College in 1819, was a tutor there in 1819–1820, spent a year in the law school of Harvard University, and studied for a like period in Washington, D.C., in the office of William Wirt, then Attorney General of the United States.
He was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1823 and practiced at what was later South Danvers (now Peabody) for five years, during which time he served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1825–1826) and in the Massachusetts Senate (1827).
In 1828, he moved to Salem, where his successful conduct of several important lawsuits brought him prominently into public notice. In 1830 he was elected to Congress as a Whig from Salem, defeating the Jacksonian candidate for re-election, Benjamin Crowninshield, a former United States Secretary of the Navy, and in 1832 he was re-elected. His career in Congress was marked by a speech in defence of a protective tariff.
In 1834, before the completion of his second term, he resigned and established himself in the practice of law in Boston. Already his reputation as a speaker had spread beyond New England, and he was much sought after as an orator for public occasions. For several years, he devoted himself unremittingly to his profession but, in 1841, succeeded fellow Dartmouth graduate Daniel Webster in the United States Senate. Shortly afterwards he delivered an address at the memorial services for President William Henry Harrison at Faneuil Hall.
In the Senate, he spoke on the tariff, the Oregon boundary, in favor of the Fiscal Bank Act, and in opposition to the annexation of Texas. On Webster's re-election to the Senate in 1845, Choate resumed his law practice. He later served a short term as attorney-general of Massachusetts in 1853–1854. In 1846, Choate convinced a jury that the accused, Albert Tirrell, did not cut the throat of his lover, or, if he did so, he did it while sleepwalking, under the 'insanity of sleep'. His successful use of sleepwalking as a defense against murder charges was the first time in American legal history this defense was successful in a murder prosecution. He was a faithful supporter of Webster's policy as declared in the latter's Seventh of March Speech of 1850 and labored to secure for him the presidential nomination at the Whig national convention in 1852. In 1853, he was a member of the state constitutional convention.
In 1856, he refused to follow most of his former Whig associates into the Republican Party and gave his support to Democrat James Buchanan, whom he considered the representative of a national instead of a sectional party. In July 1859 failing health led him to seek rest in a trip to Europe, but he died on July 13, 1859 at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he had been put ashore when it was seen that he probably could not last the voyage across the Atlantic.
Works — edited, with a memoir, by S. G. Brown, were published in two volumes at Boston in 1862 Memoir — published in 1870
EG Parker's Reminiscences of Rufus Choate (New York, 1860)
EP Whipple's Some Recollections of Rufus Choate (New York, 1879)
Albany Law Review of 1877–1878)
The Political Writings of Rufus Choate,' (2003)
Rufus Choate, born October 1, 1799 in the old town of Ipswich, MA. He died on July 13, 1859 in Halifax. Few Legal practitioners, who have been so exclusively devoted to their profession, have acquired the popular reputation which followed the man, as it will long attach itself to the memory of Rufus Choate. The bar, even in its more intelligible exhibitions - those likely to interest the sympathies and arouse the admiration of a general audience - has but a limited field for display. Like the "momentary graces" of the actor, much of the success of the advocate blazes and expires on the instant. The spectators in a court room are moved; the judge, perhaps, relaxes his official dignity in the restrained tribute of a smile, or a frown a little less severe; and the jury may melt in a body, victims to the resistless cunning or eloquence of the pleader. But how little of all these triumphant exertions - this acting and applause, the wit, the humor, the skill, the judgment, the readiness of mind - leave the hall with the retiring advocate. At most a general reputation is gained - all important indeed to the man of law, for his success will bring him flocks of clients, trusting their lives and fortunes to his powers, and opening their purses with ever increasing prodigality and alacrity; but how scant is the material for biography in the cash book of the counselor. A few anecdotes of his brilliancy linger awhile among the litigants and his fellow members of the bar; the dashing pleader retires to give place to other expenders of breath in the ceaseless service of injured fortunes and reputations; and all that is left of the bubbling vanity of fame is the label on the empty bottle denoting the costly vintage which once sparkled within. The wine has been poured out, quaffed with enthusiasm, set the table in a roar, and the banquetters have long since taken their departure. Such for the most part, is professional success. If a record is kept by the court reporter, the drier portions of the argument only will be preserved, studiously stripped of their rhetorical ornaments, and though, to members of the profession, there can be no greater mental luxury than the technical intricacies of a protracted legal disputation, such reading, it must be equally admitted, has never been found peculiarly attractive to the public at large. Lawyers, it must be admitted, are indifferent guardians of one another's fame. A volume entitled "Reminiscences of Rufus Choate, the great American Advocate", was written by Edward G. Parker," Mr. Parker was a life long acquaintance of Mr. Choate, enjoying peculiar opportunities of tracing his career. Choate started learning Latin at the age of ten, receiving instruction from a physician who resided in his father's family; and continued his studies during a portion of each year with the parish clergyman or the teachers of the district school, till he reached his 16th year, when after passing a season at the academy in Hampton, NH., he was admitted, in the summer of 1815, to the Freshman class in Dartmouth College. He also attended Dane law school at Cambridge. Choate went to the law office of William Wirt, who was then residing at Washington in the duties of the Attorney general of the United States.