Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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CURTIS, Benjamin Robbins, jurist, born in Watertown, Massachusetts, 4 November 1809; died in Newport, R. I., 15 September 1874. He was graduated at Harvard in 1829, admitted to the bar in 1832, and, after practicing for a short time in North-field, Massachusetts, removed to Boston. The extent and readiness of his attainments, his accuracy, and his logical mind, soon made him prominent in his profession. In 1851 President Fillmore appointed him to the U. S. supreme bench. In the celebrated " Dred Scott" case he dissented from the decision of the court and made a powerful argument in support of his conclusions. He upheld the right of congress to prohibit slavery, and declared his dissent from "that part of the opinion of the majority of the court in which it is held that a person of African descent cannot be a citizen of the United States." On this memorable occasion only one other justice of the seven coincided with the opinion of Judge Curtis.
He resigned in 1857, and resumed practice in Boston, frequently appearing before the Supreme Court at Washington in important cases. He was for two years a member of the Massachusetts legislature, but took little part in politics, devoting himself with earnestness to his profession. In the impeachment trial of President Johnson in 1868 Judge Curtis was one of the counsel for the defense. The answer to the articles of impeachment was read by him, and was largely his work. He opened the case in a speech that occupied two days in delivery, and that was commended for legal soundness and clearness. He was the democratic candidate for U. S. senator in 1874. He published "Reports of Cases in the Circuit Courts of the United States" (2 vols., Boston, 1854); " Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States," with notes and a digest (22 vols., Boston); and "Digest of the Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States." from the origin of the court to 1854. Of his "Memoir and Writings" (2 vols., Boston, 1880), the first volume contains a memoir by George Ticknor Curtis, and the second "Miscellaneous Writings," edited by his son, Benjamin R. Curtis.
--His brother, George Ticknor Curtis, lawyer, born in Watertown, Massachusetts, 28 November 1812, was graduated at Harvard in 1832. He was admitted to the bar in 1836, and engaged in the practice of the law in Boston till 1862, when he removed to New York. While in Boston, Mr. Curtis held the office of U. S. commissioner, and as such, in 1851, returned to his master a fugitive slave named Thomas Sims, for which act he was severely denounced by the abolitionists. He also served for two or three years in the Massachusetts legislature, but has allowed politics to interfere but little with his profession and his historical investigations. He has published a "Digest of English and American Admiralty Decisions" (Boston, 1839)" volumes ii. and iii. of a " Digest of the Decisions of the Courts of Common Law and Admiralty in the United States" (3 vols., 1840-'6); " Rights and Duties of Merchant Seamen" (1841); "American Conveyancer" (1846); "Law of Copyright" (1847); "Law of Patents" (1849; 4th ed., 1873); "Equity Precedents" (1850); " Inventor's Manual,"" Commentaries on the Jurisprudence, Practice, and Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Courts of the United States " (2 vols.. 1854-'8); "History of the Origin, Formation, and Adoption of the Constitution of the United States" (2 vols., 1855-'8); " Life of Daniel Webster" (New York, 1870); "Life of James Buchanan" (1883); and "Creation or Evolution" (1887).
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