Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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SMITH, Erasmus Peshine, jurist, born in New York city, 2 March, 1814; died in Rochester, New York, 21 October, 1882. While he was quite young his parents removed to Rochester, New York, and his early education was received there. He was graduated at Columbia in 1832, and at the Harvard law-school in 1833, and entered upon the practice of law at Rochester soon afterward. During the early years of his practice he was an editorial writer on the Rochester " Democrat," and later he was editor of the Buffalo " Commercial Advertiser" and of the "Washington Intelligencer." He was called to the chair of mathematics in the University of Rochester in 1850, holding office two years, when he became state superintendent of public instruction at Albany. In 1857 he was appointed reporter of the court of appeals of the state of New York, and in this post he instituted the custom of numbering the reports consecutively through the entire series, and only secondarily by the name of reporter, a custom that has since been generally followed. He was appointed commissioner of immigration at Washington in 1864, which post he relinquished soon afterward to become examiner of claims in the department of state, where he exercised much influence in shaping the policy of the department under William H. Seward and Hamilton Fish, and where his great knowledge of international law was of value to the government. In 1871, See. Fish being asked by the Japanese government to name an American to undertake the duties of adviser to the mikado in international law (a post analogous to that of the secretary of state in the United States), Mr. Smith was recommended. He was the first American that was chosen to assist the Japanese government in an official capacity, and remained in Japan five years, making treaties and establishing a system of foreign relations. While thus engaged he rendered an important service to the world, as well as to the government by which he was employed, in breaking up the coolie trade. The Peruvian ship " Maria Luz," having a cargo of coolies, was wrecked off the coast of Japan, and, under Mr. Smith's advice, the 230 wrecked Chinamen were detained by the Japanese government. The case was submitted to the arbitration of the emperor of Russia, and under his decision, Mr. Smith representing the Japanese government, the coolies were sent back to China, with the result of breaking up the trade. Mr. Smith published a "~ Manual of Political Economy" (New York, 1853), in refutation of the theories of Ricardo and Malthus. It is "an attempt to construct a skeleton of political economy on the basis of purely physical laws, and thus to obtain for its conclusions that absolute certainty that belongs to the positive sciences." In this regard the work is wholly original, and has largely affected the work on later economists. It has been translated into French. Mr. Smith contributed a word to the English language in suggesting, through the Albany "Evening Journal," the use of "telegram " in place of cumbrous phrases, such as " telegraphic message" and " telegraphic despatch." He returned from Japan in 1876.
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