Hon. Robert Rantoul, Jr.
WE can give no better sketch of Mr. Rantoul's life than to quote from Hon. Charles Sumner's eulogy pronounced in congress. He was born August 13th, 1805, at Beverly, in the county of Essex, the home of Nathan Dane. Here under happy auspices of family and neighborhood, he commenced life. His excellent father, honored for his public services, venerable also in years and flowing silver locks, yet lives to mourn his last surviving son. The sad fortune of Burke is renewed. He who should have been as posterity, is now to this father in the place of ancestry. Mr. Rantoul was early a member of the legislature of Massachusetts, and there won his first fame. For many years he occupied a place in the board of education in that state. He was also, for a time, collector of the port of Boston, and afterwards attorney of the United States for Massachusetts. During a brief period he held a seat in the senate, and finally, in 1851, by the choice of his native district, remarkable for its intelligence and public spirit, he became a representative in the other branch of our national legislature. In all these spheres he performed most acceptable service, and the future promised opportunities of a higher character, to which his abilities, industry and fidelity would have amply responded. By fitness, by study, knowledge and experience, he was formed for public service, but he was no stranger to other pursuits. Early devoted to the profession of the law, he followed it with assiduity and success. In the antiquities of cur jurisprudence, few were more learned, and his arguments at the bar were thorough. Nor were his intelligence and promptness in all emergencies of a trial easily surpassed. Literature, neglected by many under the pressure of professional duties, was always cultivated by him. His taste for books was enduring. He was a constant student, amidst his manifold labors, professional and public. He was a reformer in the warfare with evil He was enlisted earnestly and openly as a soldier for life. As such, he did not hesitate to encounter opposition, to meet obloquy, and to brave his enemies. His conscience, pure as goodness, sustained him in every trial, even that sharpest of all, the desertion of friends; and yet while earnest in his cause, his zeal was tempered beyond that of the common reformer. He knew well the difference between the ideal and the actual, and sought by practical means, in harmony with public sentiment, to promote the public interest. Recognizing in the social and political system the essential elements of stability and progress, he discerned the off ice of the conservative and the reformer; but he saw, also, that a blind conservatism was not less destructive than a blind reform. He was the faithful supporter of common schools, the glory of New England. By word and example he sustained the cause of temperance. Some of his most devoted labors, commencing in the legislature of Massachusetts, were for the abolition of capital punishment. With its final triumph, in the progress of civilization, his name will be indissolubly connected. In harmony with these noble reforms was the purity of his private life; there he was blameless. In manners, he was modest, simple and retiring. In conversation, he was disposed to listen rather than to speak, though all were well pleased when he broke silence, and in apt language declared his glowing thoughts. But in the public assembly, before the people, he was bold and triumphant. As a debater, he rarely met his equal. Fluent, earnest, rapid, incisive, his words at times came forth like a flashing scimitar. Few could stand against him; he always understood his subjects, and then clear, logical, and determined, seeing his point before him, pressed forward with unrelenting power. His speeches were enriched by study, and contained passages of beauty - but he was most truly at home in dealing with practical questions arising from exigencies of life. Few had studied public affairs more intelligibly. As a constant and effective member of the democratic party, he had become conspicuous by the championship of its doctrines. There was no topic of national moment that did not interest him. Northwestern and Western interests were near his heart.
In person, Mr. Rantoul was of medium height, of spare figure, and restless activity both of mind and body. His manner of speaking was peculiar to himself; with great rapidity of utterance, his sentences were simple in their construction, and his language selected less with reference to ornament than to strength. Devoted to his profession and studies, of abstemious habits, great purity of character, the friend of all moral movements of society, he was snatched away in the prime of life, when his talents, matured by earnest study, were unfolding themselves to the world with much power.