Peleg Sprague (1793 - 1880)

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Birthplace: Duxbury, Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States
Death: Died in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Managed by: Sarah Burns
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About Peleg Sprague

Peleg Sprague (April 27, 1793 – October 13, 1880) was an American politician from the U.S. state of Maine, and a United States federal judge.


Born in Duxbury, Massachusetts, Sprague graduated from Harvard University in 1812, and studied law in Litchfield, Connecticut. He was admitted to the bar in August 1815 and began practice in Augusta, Maine. In 1817, he moved to Hallowell, where he continued his practice.

Sprague's political career began when he served as a member of the Maine House of Representatives from 1821 to 1822. In 1823, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Maine's fourth congressional district, serving from March 4, 1825, to March 3, 1829, when he became a member of the United States Senate. Sprague continued to serve in the Senate until January 1, 1835, when he again resigned. Sprague then practiced law in Boston from 1836 to 1841. He was a presidential elector on the Whig ticket in 1840.

On July 15, 1841, Sprague was nominated by President John Tyler to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts vacated by John Davis. Sprague was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 16, 1841, and received his commission the same day. Sprague's service was terminated on March 13, 1865, due to resignation.

Sprague died in Boston in 1880. He is buried in the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. Sprague was a corporate member of the Maine Historical Society.


PELEG SPRAGUE Born in Duxbury, Mass., April 27, 1793; Harvard College 1812; admitted to Plymouth County Mass. bar in August, 1815, and located in Augusta, Maine; removed to Hallowell about two years later; member Maine House 1820-1821; U.S. Congress 1823-1829; U.S. Senator 1829-1835; appointed judge of U.S. District Court 1841 and served until 1865; died in Boston October 13, 1880.

"Dictionary of American Biography", edited by Dumas Malone, Volume XVII, Charles Scribner & Sons, New York, 1935, page 473. SPRAGUE, PELEG (Apr. 27, 1793 - Oct. 13, 1889), jurist, son of Seth and Deborah (Sampson) Sprague, was born in Duxbury, Mass., one of a large family of children. His father, a merchant of Duxbury and for many years a member of the Massachusetts legislature, was descended from William Sprague, who came from England to Salem in 1628 and finally settled at Hingham, Mass. Peleg Sprague graduated from Harvard College in 1812, and after studying law at Litchfield, Conn., was admitted to the bar in 1815 and practiced first in Augusta and then in Hallowell, Me. In August 1818 he married Sarah, daughter of Moses Deming of Whitesboro, NY. The had three sons and one daughter. Sprague was elected to the first legislature of Maine after its separation from Massachusetts and served in 1820-22. He represented Maine in the federal House of Representatives from 1825 to 1829, and in the United States Senate, 1829-1825. He then entered the practice of law in Boston, was chosen a presidential elector as a Whig in 1840, and in the following year was appointed United States district judge for the district of Massachusetts. In this position he found his real vocation until his retirement in 1865. From his college days, because of a nervous affection of the eyes, Sprague was unable to read much of the time. His trouble grew worse soon after he was appointed to the bench so that during most of his judicial career he was obliged to darken the courtroom and even to sit with eyes closed while listening to those addressing him. Nevertheless, he became a really great judge. His opinions, delivered orally, disclosed the full background of an exceptional mind trained in those powers of concentration which are sometimes characteristic of the blind. Upon his retirement a committee of the bar, headed by Benjamin R. Curtis, and including Sidney Bartlett and Richard H. Dana, Jr. [qq.v.] paid merited tribute to his thorough legal knowledge, to his extraordinary :"power of analysis . . . united with sound judgement to weigh its results," and to his possession of "that absolute judicial impartiality which can exist only when a tender and vigilant conscience is joined to an instructed and self-reliant intellect and a firm will" (2 Sprague's Decisions, 352). In March 1851, he delivered a notable charge to the grand jury after a mob had broken into the federal courtrooms, and rescued a Negro named Shadrach who had been arrested as a fugitive slave. Though himself regarding slavery as a great political and moral evil, he reminded the grand jury that the fact that human institutions are not perfect is no justification of forcible resistance to government and the introduction of anarchy and violence. In 1854 he delivered what had been described as an epoch making opinion in maritime law, holding that "when a sailing vessel, going free, meets a steamer, the rule ... requires the former to keep her course, and the latter to keep out of the way" (The Osprey, I Sprague's Decisions, at p. 256). This rule has survived all attacks as the guiding rule of the sea in American courts. During the Civil War (March 1863) he delivered a charge to the grand jury on the doctrine of treason and the powers of federal governments in which he "allowed of no line beyond which the government could not follow a treasonable rebellion" (Dana, post, p. 10). This address, printed and circulated by the Union League, "did more to settle the minds of professional men in this part of the country ... than anything that appeared, from whatever source, in the early stages of the controversy" (Ibid.). Before his appointment as a judge, Harvard College had offered Sprague the chair of ethics and moral philosophy, which he declined. The law school repeatedly sought his services as a professor, without avail. He retired from the bench in 1865 because of failing health, and was entirely blind for the last sixteen years of his life. He died in Boston at the age of eighty-seven. His Speeches and Addresses (1858) contains, among others, his speeches in Congress and his charge to the grand jury in the Shadrach case; selections from his decisions were published as "decisions of Hon. Peleg Sprague, in Admiralty and Maritime Cases (cited as Sprague's Decisions), Vol. I appearing in 1861, Vol. II in 1868. [ Justin Winsor, A History of the Town of Duxbury (1849), p. 379; Richard Soule, Jr., Memorial of the Sprague Family (1847); Dr. Warren Vincent Sprague, Sprague Families in America (1913); Biog. Dir. Am. Cong. (1928); R. H. Dana, Jr., A Tribute to Judge Sprague (1864); New England Mag., June 1835; Chicago Legal News, Nov. 15, 1879; New. Eng. Hist. and Geneal. Reg., Apr. 1881; Boston Daily Advertiser, Oct. 14, 1880; judicial traditions of Judge Sprague among his successors on the bench.]

"Who's Who In American History", page 499. SPRAGUE, Peleg, senator, jurist; b. Duxbury, Mass., Apr. 27, 1793; s. Seth and Deborah (Sampson) S; grad. Harvard, 1812, LL.D. (hon.), 1847; attended Litchfield (Conn.) Law Sch.; m. Sarah Deming, Aug. 1818, 4 children. Admitted to Litchfield bar, 1815; served in 1st Me. Legislature, 1820-22; corporate mem. Me. Hist. Soc.; mem. U.S. Ho. of Reps. form Me. 18th-20th congresses, 1825-29; mem. U. S. Senate from Me., 1829-Jan. 1, 1835; Whig presdl. elector, 1840; U. S. dist. judge for Mass., 1841-65; delivered important opinion in maritime law regarding right of way of steam vessels meeting sailing ships, 1854; deliverd charge construing broadly govt. authority to suppress rebellion in Civil War, 1863. Died Boston, Oct. 13, 1880; buried Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass.

From website

PELEG SPRAGUE Born in Duxbury, Mass., April 27, 1793; Harvard College 1812; admitted to Plymouth County Mass. bar in August, 1815, and located in Augusta, Maine; removed to Hallowell about two years later; member Maine House 1820-21; U.S. Congress 1823-29; U.S. Senator 1829-35; appointed judge of U.S. District Court 1841 and served until 1865; died in Boston October 13, 1880.

"Index of Politicians - Sprague" Sprague, Peleg (1793-1880) Grandfather of Charles Franklin Sprague. Born in Massachusetts, 1793. Member of Maine state legislature; U.S. Representative from Maine 4th District, 1825-29; U. S. Senator from Maine, 1829-1835; candidate for Governor of Maine, 1834; state court judge. Died in 1880. Interment at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MAss. See also: congressional biography.

SPRAGUE, Peleg, (1793 - 1880)

Senate Years of Service: 1829-1835

Party: Anti-Jacksonian

Maine State Museum

SPRAGUE, Peleg, (grandfather of Charles Franklin Sprague), a Representative and a Senator from Maine; born in Duxbury, Mass., April 27, 1793; graduated from Harvard University in 1812; studied law at Litchfield, Conn.; admitted to the bar in 1815 and commenced practice in Augusta, Maine; moved to Hallowell, Kennebec County, Maine, in 1817 and continued the practice of law; member, Maine house of representatives 1821-1822; corporate member of the Maine Historical Society; elected to the Nineteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-first Congresses and served from March 4, 1825, until his resignation, effective March 3, 1829, having been elected Senator; elected to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1829, to January 1, 1835, when he resigned; again resumed the practice of law in Boston, Mass., in 1840; presidential elector on the Whig ticket in 1840; United States district judge of Massachusetts 1841-1865; died in Boston, Mass., October 13, 1880; interment in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass.

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The Honorable Peleg Sprague, U.S. Senator's Timeline

April 27, 1793
Duxbury, Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States
Age 25
April 12, 1821
Age 27
Hallowell, Kennebec, Maine, United States
February 7, 1834
Age 40
Washington, District of Columbia, United States
October 13, 1880
Age 87
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Cambridge, Middlesex, Massachusetts, United States