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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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Rufus Choate

CHOATE, Rufus, lawyer, born in Essex, Massachusetts, 1 October, 1799; died in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 13 July, 18,59. His earliest ancestor in this country was John Choate, who became a citizen of Massachusetts in 1667. The grandson of this first ancestor, also named John. was a member of the Massachusetts legislature from 1741 till 1761, and for the next five years a member of the council. His son, David, was a man of strong character and unusual intellectual endowments. Though not trained to the law, on one occasion, when he had a suit pending in court and his counsel happened to be absent, he took up the ease himself, examined his witnesses, tore to shreds the testimony of the other side, made a sound and eloquent argument, and won the ease. David married Miriam Foster, a woman of strong sense and ready wit, and had several children, of whom Rufus Choate was one. The father died in 1808, when Rufus was but nine years old; the mother lived to witness the noble career of her son, and died in 1853. As a boy, Rufus was strong, active, and precocious. Before he was six years old he had become so familiar with "Pilgrim's Progress" as to repeat from memory large portions of it; and before he was ten he had devoured most of the volumes in the little village library. He was extremely fond of reading the Bible. He was graduated at Dartmouth with the valedictory in 1819. For scholarship and for command of language he was already remarkable. In comparison with his translations from Latin and Greek, said Ira Perley, who was one of his classmates, all other construing done in the class "seemed the roughest of unlicked babble." In 1818 Mr. Choate was greatly affected by the magnificent speech of Daniel Webster in the Dartmouth College case, and was confirmed in his inclination toward the study of law. After graduation he spent one year as tutor at Dartmouth, and then entered the law-school at Cambridge. In 1821 he removed to the office of William Wirt, then attorney general of the United States, at Washington. There he saw Marshall on the bench of the Supreme Court, and heard William Pinkney in the senate. In the autumn of 1822 he returned to Massachusetts and pursued his studies at Ipswich, and then for a while at SMem. In 1823 he was admitted to the bar, and opened an office in Danvers, where he remained five years. In 1825 he married Miss Helen Olcott, of Hanover, New Hampshire In 1828 he removed to Salem, and in 1830 was elected member of congress, where he distinguished himself the next year by a speech on the tariff. He was re-elected in 1832, but resigned at the end of the winter session of 1834, and removed to Boston, where he soon took a foremost place as an advocate. At the same time he paid much attention to literary studies, and occasionally delivered lectures on literary and historical subjects. In 1841 Daniel Webster accepted the office of secretary of state under President Harrison, and Mr. Choate was elected to his place in the United States senate. Among his most brilliant speeches as senator were those on the Oregon boundary, the tariff, the fiscal bank bill, the Smithsonian institution, and the annexation of Texas, which he opposed. In 1845, Mr. Webster having been re-elected to the senate, Mr. Choate returned to Boston and resumed the practice of his profession. In the summer of 1850 he travelled in Europe, visiting England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Germany. He was a delegate to the Whig national convention at Baltimore in June, 1852, and urged the nomination of Webster for the presidency. In the following year he took an important part in the Massachusetts convention for revising the constitution of the state. In the presidential canvass of 1856 he supported Mr. Buchanan. During the two troubled years that followed, Mr. Choate took a warm interest in national politics, and made a few speeches. His health, which had been for some time failing, gave way early in 1859, and, by the advice of his physicians, he sailed for Europe, accompanied by his son. On reaching Halifax, where the steamers then regularly stopped, he became convinced that it was useless to try to go farther. He took lodgings in the town, hoping to recover enough strength to get back to Boston, but in a few days, after a delusive appearance of improvement, suddenly died. Mr. Choate's love of literary pursuits endured to the end. He was extremely fond of poetry, and, being endowed with an extraordinary verbal memory, could repeat hundreds of favorite verses. He took an especial interest in Greek literature, and at one time even contemplated devoting his leisure hours to writing a history of Greece ; but he abandoned this project on seeing the early volumes of Grote's great work. In many respects he was the most scholarly of all American public men. He was tall, dignified, and graceful, with a face at once rugged and mobile, and unusually expressive. His voice was sympathetic and musical. He had an almost unrivalled power over his audiences. He rarely indulged in invective, as it was unsuited to his sweet and gentle nature, but excelled in quaint humor. No one could put things in a more ridiculous light; but it was done so delicately that the object of his ridicule could not help joining in the laugh. From light and airy banter he could pass in an instant into grand and solemn moods. His urbanity was exquisite. "The very manner in which he would pronounce your name, said a much younger lawyer, who had known him well, "was in itself the most delicate of compliments." This personal magnetism combined with his wealth of learning and his strong sense place him among the greatest forensic advocates that America has produced. He may fairly be ranked as the equal of Lord Erskine. His writings were edited, with a memoir, by S. G. Brown (2 vols., Boston, 1862). See also "Recollections of Eminent Men," by Edwin P. Whipple (Boston, 1886).--His brother, David, jurist, born in 1796" died in Essex, Massachusetts, 15 December, 1872, served in both branches of the Massachusetts legislature. He held the office of trial justice for many years in Essex, and was an active supporter of benevolent institutions.--Rufus, son of Rufus Choate, soldier, born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1834: died 15 January, 1866, was graduated at Amherst in 1855. He was admitted to the bar in Boston in 1858, and in 1861 entered the National service as second lieutenant. He took part in the battles of Winchester, Cedar Mountain, and Antietam, but, after being promoted to a captaincy, was forced to resign in 1862, from failing health.

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