Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Wheaton, Henry

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WHEATON, Henry, lawyer, b. in Providence, R. I., 27 Nov., 1785; d. in Dorchester, Mass., 11 March, 1848. He was a descendant of Robert Wheaton, a Baptist clergyman, who emigrated from Swansey, Wales, to Salem, Mass., but subsequently settled in Rhode Island. After graduation at Brown in 1802, Henry studied law under Nathaniel Searle, was admitted to the bar in 1805, and in that year continued his studies in Poictiers and London. On his return to this country he practised law in Providence till he removed in 1812 to New York, where he edited in 1812-'15 the “National Advocate,” the organ of the administration party. In this paper he published notable articles on the question of neutral rights in connection with the then existing war with England. On 26 Oct., 1814, he became division judge-advocate of the army, and from 1815 till 1819 he was a justice of the marine court of New York city. From 1816 till 1827 he was reporter for the U. S. supreme court in Washington, D. C., and published “Reports of Cases argued and determined in the Supreme Court of the United States ” (12 vols., New York, 1826-'7). This was termed by a German reviewer “the golden book of American law.” William B. Lawrence says: “The reputation which Mr. Wheaton acquired as a reporter was unrivalled. He did not confine himself to a mere summary of the able arguments by which the cases were elucidated; but there is scarcely a proposition on any of the diversified subjects to which the jurisdiction of the court extends, that might give rise to serious doubts in the profession, that is not explained not merely by a citation of the authorities adduced by counsel, but copious rules present the views which the publicists and civilians have taken of the question.” He was elected a member of the convention to form a new constitution for New York in 1821, was a member of the assembly in 1823, and in 1825 was associated with John Duer and Benjamin F. Butler in a commission to revise the statute law of New York. He also took part in important cases, and was the sole associate of Daniel Webster in that which settled the limits of the state and Federal legislation in reference to bankruptcy and insolvency. In 1827 he was appointed chargé d'affaires in Denmark, being the first diplomatist that was sent to that country from the United States. He served till 1835, displaying skill in the settlement of the Sound dues that were imposed by Denmark on the vessels of all countries, and obtained modifications of the quarantine regulations. He acquired reputation by his researches in the Scandinavian language and literature, and was elected a member of the Scandinavian and Icelandic societies. In 1835 he was appointed resident minister to the court of Prussia, and he was promoted to minister-plenipotentiary in 1837. He soon received full power to conclude a treaty with the Zollverein, which object he pursued for the ensuing six years. On 25 March, 1844, he signed a treaty with Germany, for which he received high commendation from President Tyler and John C. Calhoun, the secretary of state. This was rejected by the U. S. senate, but served as the basis for subsequent treaties. In 1846 he was requested by President Polk to resign his post, but, on his return to the United States in 1847, he was honored by public dinners in New York and Philadelphia, and immediately chosen lecturer on international law at Harvard, which office he was prevented by illness from accepting. He was made a corresponding member of the French institute in 1843, and a member of the Royal academy of Berlin in 1846. Harvard gave him the degree of A. M. in 1825, and he received that of LL. D. from Brown in 1819, from Hamilton in 1843, and from Harvard in 1845. He delivered many addresses before literary societies, among which were those before the New York historical society on the “Science of Public or International Law” (New York, 1820), and at the opening of the New York athenæum, afterward the Society library (1824). His most important work is “Elements of International Law” (Philadelphia, 1836; 2 vols., London, 1836; 3d ed., Philadelphia, 1845; French translation, Leipsic and Paris, 1848). This book was at once acknowledged as a standard authority. At the instance of Anson Burlingame, minister to China, it was translated into Chinese and published at the expense of the imperial government (4 vols., Pekin, 1865). It was also translated into Japanese. The 6th edition, with the last corrections of the author, was published by William Beach Lawrence, with a biographical notice (Boston, 1855). The 8th edition, by Richard H. Dana, Jr., was published with notes (Boston, 1866). The use of Mr. Lawrence's notes in the previous editions resulted in a protracted legal controversy, concerning which see Dana, Richard Henry, vol. ii., page 71. William B. Lawrence's “Commentaire sur les éléments du droit international et sur l'histoire des progrès du droits des gens de Wheaton” was published (4 vols., Leipsic, 1868-'80). Mr. Wheaton's other publications are “Considerations on the Establishment of a Uniform System of Bankrupt Laws throughout the United States” (Washington, 1815); “A Digest of the Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States from its Establishment in 1789 to 1820” (1820-'9); “Life of William Pinkney,” which was also published in Sparks's “American Biography” (1826); “History of the Northmen, or Danes and Normans, from the Earliest Times to the Conquest of England by William of Normandy,” which Washington Irving said “evinced throughout the enthusiasm of an antiquarian, the liberality of a scholar, and the enlightened toleration of a citizen of the world” (London, 1831; French translation by Paul Guillot, Paris, 1844); “Histoire du progres des gens en Europe depuis la paix de Westphalie jusqu'au congrès de Vienne, avec un précis historique du droit des gens européens avant la paix de Westphalie” (Leipsic, 1841), written in unsuccessful competition for a prize offered by the French institute and translated into English by William Beach Lawrence as “A History of the Law of Nations in Europe and America from the Earliest Times to the Treaty of Washington” (New York, 1845); and “An Enquiry into the Validity of the British Claim to a Right of Visitation and Search of American Vessels suspected to be engaged in the Slave-Trade” (Philadelphia and London, 1842; 2d ed., 1858). Mr. Wheaton translated the “Code of Napoleon,” but the manuscript was destroyed by fire, and he also contributed numerous political, historical, and literary articles to the “North American Review” and other periodicals. A discourse, “The Value of a Man,” was published on his death by the Rev. Edward B. Hall (Providence, 1848). — His son, Robert, author, b. in New York city, 5 Oct., 1826; d. in Providence, R. I., 9 Oct., 1851, spent his early life in Copenhagen and Paris, but left his school in the latter city in 1841 to devote himself to engineering, which he abandoned in 1843, and attended lectures at the Sorbonne and the College de France. In 1847 he came to this country with his father, entered the Harvard law-school, and was admitted to the bar in 1851. He was a skilful musician, and published several able and thoughtful articles in the “North American Review” and other periodicals. “Selections” from his writings were published by his sister, Abby Wheaton, with a memoir (Boston, 1854).