Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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BRIGHT, Jesse D., senator, born in Norwich, Chenango County, New York, 18 December, 1812; died in Baltimore, Maryland, 20 May, 1875. He was taken to Indiana by his parents in 1820, received an academic education there, studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1831, and began practice in Madison, Indiana He was elected judge of the probate court of Jefferson County in 1834, was sent to the legislature in 1836, and in 1841 became lieutenant governor of the state. He had also served as circuit judge and United States marshal. He was sent to the United States senate as a democrat in 1845, and was twice re-elected, serving several times as its president pro tempore. While in congress he voted persistently with the southern democrats on all questions involving the restriction of slavery. In 1857 it was claimed by the republicans that his election was fraudulent, and his seat was contested. He was victorious, however, and held it until 1862, when a charge of disloyalty was brought against him, the chief evidence being a letter addressed to "His Excellency, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederation of States," recommending a friend who had an "improvement in fire-arms" of which he wished to dispose. The senate committee on the judiciary reported, five to two, that this did not constitute sufficient evidence against Mr. Bright. In a speech in his own behalf, he said that in March, 1861 (the date of the letter), he had no idea that there would be war, and that he wrote it to rid himself of the inventor's importunities. Nevertheless, Charles Sumner and others made strong speeches against him, and on 5 February, 1862, he was formally expelled from the senate, by a vote of 32 to 14. He afterward removed, with his family, to Carrollton, Kentucky, and then to Covington, where he was elected to the Kentucky legislature in 1866. In 1874 he removed to Baltimore, where he remained till his death.
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