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Fisher Ames. Oil on wood, c. 1807, by Gilbert Stuart. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of George Cabot Lodge.

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Ames, Fisher (09 April 1758–04 July 1808), Federalist party leader, member of Congress, essayist, and renowned orator, was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Ames, Sr., a physician, tavern keeper, and almanac writer, and Deborah Fisher. Intellectually honed, Ames was admitted to Harvard at twelve. Steeped in the classics, he excelled in elocution and participated in a debating club, the Institute of 1770. Graduating in 1774, he served with the Dedham militia at the time of the battle of Bunker Hill but did not see combat. At home he pursued his scholarly interests, reading widely in classical literature and history. He also occasionally taught school. Under the tutelage of the prominent ...

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Cockran, William Bourke (28 February 1854–01 March 1923), orator and U.S. congressman, was born in Carrowkeel, Ireland, the son of Martin Cockran and Harriet Knight, prominent farmers. He attended school in France and college in Ireland. At the age of seventeen he emigrated to the United States. In 1876 he was admitted to the bar and two years later set up practice in New York City. Cockran amassed a substantial fortune through his civil practice. His expertise in public utilities brought clients from the major gas and electric companies in the New York City area. Cockran married three times but remained childless. In 1876 he married Mary Jackson, who died in childbirth in 1877; in 1885 he married Rhoda Mack, who died in 1895; and in 1906 he married Anne L. Ide. In 1887 he bought an estate, “The Cedars,” at Sands Point, Long Island, which remained his chief residence....

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Curtis, George William (25 February 1824–31 August 1892), writer, editor, and orator, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of George Curtis, a banker and businessman, and Mary Elizabeth Burrill, whose father had been a U.S. senator from and chief justice of Rhode Island. After his mother died in 1826, Curtis and his older brother James Burrill Curtis were cared for by their father and relatives for four years and then attended a boarding school in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts. In 1835 their father married Julia B. Bridgham, aged twenty-four, and the boys joined them in Providence. Four years later the family moved to New York City, where Curtis was tutored for a short time and then became a counting-house clerk. He and his brother participated in the Brook Farm communal experiment at West Roxbury, outside Boston (1842–1843), returned home for a year, and became farmhands in Concord (1844–1846). During these years, Curtis made enormous intellectual strides through contact with ...

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Clarence Darrow Left, with John F. Raulston, the judge in the Scopes trial, 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-95411).

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Darrow, Clarence (18 April 1857–13 March 1938), lawyer, orator, and author, was born Clarence Seward Darrow at Kinsman, in rural Ohio, the son of Amirus Darrow, a furniture maker and undertaker, and Emily Eddy. He initially attended local public schools and then, in 1873–1874, the preparatory department of Allegheny College; thereafter he taught school in Vernon, Ohio, for three years while concurrently studying law books. In 1877 he enrolled in the law department of the University of Michigan, at which he remained only one year. He then apprenticed at a law office in Youngstown and was admitted to the Ohio bar on oral examination at the age of twenty-one....

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Chauncey Mitchell Depew. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90755).

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Depew, Chauncey Mitchell (23 April 1834–05 April 1928), public speaker, railroad president, and U.S. senator, was born in Peekskill, New York, the son of Isaac Depew, a shipowner, merchant, and farmer, and Martha Mitchell. After graduating from Peekskill Academy in 1852, Chauncey entered Yale where he forsook the Democratic faith of his father and sided with the antislavery forces of the newly created Republican party. After receiving his diploma in 1856, young Depew began the study of law in the office of a Peekskill attorney and was admitted to the bar in 1858. That same year he was a delegate to the Republican State Convention, and in 1862 and 1863 he served in the New York state legislature, becoming a leader of the GOP caucus during his second session. In 1863 he was elected New York’s secretary of state, a post he held for two years. Throughout this period he developed a reputation as a campaign speaker who could sway a crowd in support of the Republican cause. In an age when oratorical skill was a prerequisite to political success, his gift for speaking proved an invaluable asset....

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Anna E. Dickenson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102148).

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Dickinson, Anna Elizabeth (28 October 1842–22 October 1932), orator and lecturer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest child of John Dickinson, a merchant who never recovered from the Panic of 1837, and Mary Edmondson. Devout Quakers, the Dickinsons were active members of the local antislavery society. Dickinson was two when her father died, and her mother kept the family together by teaching school and taking in boarders. Dickinson attended a series of Friends’ educational institutions, but her formal training ended by the time she was fifteen....

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Diggs, Annie LePorte (22 February 1848–07 September 1916), Populist orator and journalist, was born in London, Ontario, Canada, the daughter of Cornelius LePorte, a French-Canadian lawyer, and Ann Maria Thomas. While Annie was still a small child, her father moved the family to New Jersey. She had a private governess then attended public schools and a convent school, but she always regretted her lack of a college education. Deciding on a career in journalism, she lived briefly in Washington, D.C., before moving west in 1873. She worked in a Lawrence, Kansas, music store demonstrating pianos until she married Alvin S. Diggs, a postal clerk, that September. The couple had three children....

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Edward Everett. After a painting from Alonzo Chappel. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107689).

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Everett, Edward (11 April 1794–15 January 1865), statesman and orator, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the son of Oliver Everett, a clergyman and judge who died when Edward was eight years old, and Lucy Hill, a woman of inherited means. Everett attended Harvard College, graduating in 1811 with highest honors at what was (even for then) a young age. He took an M.A. in divinity in 1814 and was installed that year as minister to the Unitarian Brattle Street Church, then the most distinguished pulpit in Boston....

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Gough, John Bartholomew (22 August 1817–18 February 1886), temperance orator, was born in Sandgate, Kent, England, the son of John Gough, a pensioned British war veteran, and Jane (maiden name unknown), a schoolteacher. Although the family was poor, Gough attended an academy until 1829, when his parents, seeking better opportunities for their son, paid ten guineas to David Mannering, a neighbor planning to emigrate, to take Gough to the United States. The youth worked on Mannering’s farm in Oneida County, New York, and joined the Methodist church during the revival then sweeping that region. Mannering, however, provided neither schooling nor a trade as had been promised, and in 1831 Gough left....

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Grady, Henry Woodfin (24 May 1850–23 December 1889), journalist and orator, was born in Athens, Georgia, the son of William Sammons Grady, a substantial merchant, and Ann Eliza Gartrell. He attended the local schools and the University of Georgia, from which he was graduated in 1868. He then spent a year as a postgraduate student at the University of Virginia. He excelled as a debater. The events of the Civil War and its tumultuous aftermath made a profound impression on Grady, whose father, an officer in the Confederate army, died of wounds suffered at Petersburg. In 1869 Grady entered the field of journalism, editing a succession of small newspapers in Rome, Georgia, before becoming part-owner and editor of the Atlanta ...

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Patrick Henry. Etching by Albert Rosenthal, 1888. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102566).

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Henry, Patrick (29 May 1736–06 June 1799), revolutionary statesman, orator, and lawyer, was born at Studley, Hanover County, Virginia, the son of John Henry, a Scottish-born and prosperous planter, and Sarah Winston Syme, a young widow, also from a family of substantial means. Often mistakenly thought to have been of more humble origins, Patrick Henry was, by birth and estate, a member of the gentry of the colony, if not of the highest rank. After attending a local school for a few years, he received the remainder of his formal education from his father, who had attended King’s College, University of Aberdeen....

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Hiawatha (fourteenth century–?), Onondaga warrior and orator, was spokesman for Deganawidah in the campaign for the formation of the League of the Hau-De-No-Sau-Nee, or People of the Longhouse. In the absence of contemporary sources, our current information is based on oral traditions handed down by the elders, some of which were recorded and published only in the late nineteenth century. Oral tradition is transmitted through storytelling, ritual reenactments, and sacred symbols carved on wooden sticks or embroidered on wampum belts. The so-called myths are of historical importance because they reflect the traditional values of the past and are called on to resolve present issues....

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Ingersoll, Robert Green (11 August 1833–21 July 1899), orator and lawyer, was born in Dresden, New York, the son of the Reverend John Ingersoll, a fiery Congregational orator and abolitionist, and Mary Livingston. When Robert was two years old his mother died. His father then moved the family through a dozen or more pastorates in New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. Robert came to reject his father’s gloomy Calvinism but embraced his oratorical style, abolitionism, and his assiduous reading habits. Although the itinerant status of the family limited his formal schooling, Ingersoll was well versed in the classics. He taught for two years at subscription schools in Mount Vernon and Metropolis, Illinois, and in Waverly, Tennessee. Both Robert and his brother Ebon Clark Ingersoll, a future congressman, were introduced to the law and politics when they read law for a few months in the office of Democratic congressman Willis Allen, in Marion, Illinois, where they were admitted to the bar in 1854. Robert served as a legal clerk in various federal, county, and circuit courts in southern Illinois. In late 1857 or early 1858 the brothers moved to Peoria, where they developed a thriving legal practice....

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Jasper, John (04 July 1812–30 March 1901), Baptist preacher and orator, was born in Fluvanna County, Virginia, the son of slave parents, Philip Jasper, a slave preacher, and Nina, head servant of the Peachy family. (His father served as a preacher at slave funerals.) John worked as a cart boy accompanying the plantation ox cart and on errands around the Peachy “great house.” In 1825 his master hired him out to Peter McHenry, for whom he worked one year in Richmond before returning to the Peachy plantation. He later labored in the coal mines of Chesterfield County. Jasper’s master sent him to Richmond a third time to work at Samuel Hargrove’s tobacco warehouse. Jasper led a life he later confessed to have been irreligious and riotous. A fellow slave taught him to read and spell....