Rufus Choate Biography

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Who is Rufus Choate? Information on Rufus Choate biography, life story, works and political career.

Rufus ChoateRufus Choate; (1799-1859), American lawyer and political leader, who was deeply devoted to the law and phenomenally successful at its practice. George F. Hoar compared his power over jurymen with the fascination of a snake for a bird, and Wendell Phillips called Choate “a man who made it safe to murder.” Tall, with wild hair, unearthly eyes, and a voice that ranged from a whisper to a roar, Choate suited an age that liked picturesque heroes and purple oratory.

Born in Essex, Mass., on Oct. 1, 1799, Choate graduated from Dartmouth College in 1819, first in his class. Worship of Daniel Webster, the hero of the Dartmouth College case (1818), won Choate over to the practice of law. Admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1823, he started his practice at Danvers, Mass., later moving to Salem and then to Boston.

Unlike many attomeys, Choate preferred the life of a lawyer to that of an officeholder. He served in both houses of the Massachusetts legislature (1825-1831), in the U. S. House of Representatives (1831-1833), and in the U. S. Senate (1841-1845), but he retired gratefully and declined appointments to the Massachusetts supreme court and the U. S. Supreme Court. His political views reflected the economic needs of his state, and his nationalism was another form of New England sectionalism. His law practice included famous cases argued before the U. S. Supreme Court, such as the License and Passenger cases (1847 and 1849), but criminal law was his forte.

A lifelong scholar, Choate accumulated an 8,000-volume library and wrote and leetured on a multitude of subjects. He died en route to Europe, at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on July 13, 1859.

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