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Rufus Choate

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Title: Rufus Choate  
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Subject: Daniel Webster, John H. Clifford, Hall of Fame for Great Americans, United States congressional delegations from Massachusetts, Matthew H. Carpenter
Collection: 1799 Births, 1859 Deaths, Burials at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Choate Family, Dartmouth College Alumni, Hall of Fame for Great Americans Inductees, Harvard Law School Alumni, Lawyers from Boston, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Attorneys General, Massachusetts Lawyers, Massachusetts National Republicans, Massachusetts State Senators, Massachusetts Whigs, Members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Members of the United States House of Representatives from Massachusetts, National Republican Party Members of the United States House of Representatives, People from Boston, Massachusetts, People from Ipswich, Massachusetts, Politicians from Boston, Massachusetts, United States Senators from Massachusetts, Whig Party United States Senators
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Rufus Choate

Rufus Choate
United States Senator
from Massachusetts
In office
February 23, 1841 – March 4, 1845
Preceded by Daniel Webster
Succeeded by Daniel Webster
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1831 – June 30, 1834
Preceded by Benjamin W. Crowninshield
Succeeded by Stephen C. Phillips
10th Massachusetts Attorney General
In office
Preceded by John H. Clifford
Succeeded by John H. Clifford
Personal details
Born (1799-10-01)October 1, 1799
Ipswich, Massachusetts
Died July 13, 1859(1859-07-13) (aged 59)
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Political party Whig
Alma mater Dartmouth College
Harvard University
Profession Law
Religion Christian

Rufus Choate (October 1, 1799 – July 13, 1859) was an American lawyer, orator, and Congressman.


  • Early life and family 1
  • Career 2
  • Works 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early life and family

Rufus Choate was born in Joseph Hodges Choate. Rufus Choate's birthplace, Choate House, remains virtually unchanged to this day.

A precocious child, at six he is said to have been able to repeat large parts of the Bible and of Pilgrim's Progress from memory. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa[2] and graduated as valedictorian of his class at Dartmouth College in 1819, was a tutor there in 1819–1820, spent a year in the law school of Harvard University, receiving the LL.D. degree in 1845. Choate studied for a like period in Washington, D.C., in the office of William Wirt, then Attorney General of the United States.


Rufus Choate memorial statue by noted American sculptor Daniel Chester French, John Adams Court House, Boston, Massachusetts

He was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1823 and practiced at what was later South Danvers (now Peabody) for five years, during which time he served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1825–1826) and in the Massachusetts Senate (1827).

In 1828, he moved to Salem, where his successful conduct of several important lawsuits brought him prominently into public notice. In 1830 he was elected to Congress as a Whig from Salem, defeating the Jacksonian candidate for re-election, Benjamin Crowninshield, a former United States Secretary of the Navy, and in 1832 he was re-elected. His career in Congress was marked by a speech in defence of a protective tariff.

Choate lived on Winthrop Place, Boston, 1851-1859[3]

In 1834, before the completion of his second term, he resigned and established himself in the practice of law in Boston. Already his reputation as a speaker had spread beyond New England, and he was much sought after as an orator for public occasions. For several years, he devoted himself unremittingly to his profession but, in 1841, succeeded fellow Dartmouth graduate Daniel Webster in the United States Senate. Shortly afterwards he delivered an address at the memorial services for President William Henry Harrison at Faneuil Hall.

In the Senate, he spoke on the tariff, the Oregon boundary, in favor of the Fiscal Bank Act, and in opposition to the annexation of Texas. On Webster's re-election to the Senate in 1845, Choate resumed his law practice. He later served a short term as attorney-general of Massachusetts in 1853–1854. In 1846, Choate convinced a jury that the accused, Albert Tirrell, did not cut the throat of his lover, or, if he did so, he did it while sleepwalking, under the 'insanity of sleep'.[4] His successful use of sleepwalking as a defense against murder charges was the first time in American legal history this defense was successful in a murder prosecution.[5] He was a faithful supporter of Webster's policy as declared in the latter's Seventh of March Speech of 1850 and labored to secure for him the presidential nomination at the Whig national convention in 1852. In 1853, he was a member of the state constitutional convention.

In 1856, he refused to follow most of his former Whig associates into the Republican Party and gave his support to Democrat James Buchanan, whom he considered the representative of a national instead of a sectional party. In July 1859 failing health led him to seek rest in a trip to Europe, but he died on July 13, 1859 at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he had been put ashore when it was seen that he probably could not last the voyage across the Atlantic.


  • Works — edited, with a memoir, by S. G. Brown, were published in two volumes at Boston in 1862
  • Memoir — published in 1870
  • EG Parker's Reminiscences of Rufus Choate (New York, 1860)
  • EP Whipple's Some Recollections of Rufus Choate (New York, 1879)
  • Albany Law Review of 1877–1878)
  • The Political Writings of Rufus Choate,' (2003)


  1. ^ Jameson, Ephraim Orcutt. The Choates in America. 1643–1896. John Choate and His Descendants. Chebacco, Ipswich, Mass. Boston: A. Mudge & Son, printers, 1896.
  2. ^ Dartmouth to honor two valedictorians, Dartmouth Press Release, June 2009, accessed Oct 9, 2009
  3. ^ State Street Trust Company. Forty of Boston's historic houses. 1912.
  4. ^ "Maria Bickford". Brown University Law Library. Retrieved 2007-11-22. 
  5. ^ Kappman (ed), Edward W. (1994). Great American Trials. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press. pp. 101–104.  


  •  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

External links

  • Rufus Choate at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • The Works of Rufus Choate: With a Memoir of His Life, by Samuel Gilman Brown
  • .Reminiscences of Rufus Choate By Edward Parker, published 1860.
  • Memories of Rufus Choate by Joseph Neilson, published 1884.
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Benjamin Crowninshield
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 2nd congressional district

1831 – 1834
Succeeded by
Stephen C. Phillips
United States Senate
Preceded by
Daniel Webster
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Massachusetts
1841 – 1845
Served alongside: Isaac C. Bates
Succeeded by
Daniel Webster
Political offices
Preceded by
John H. Clifford
Attorney General of Massachusetts
1853 – 1854
Succeeded by
John H. Clifford
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