Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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AMES, Fisher, statesman, born in Dedham, Massachusetts, 9 April 1758; died there, 4 July 1808. His father, a physician, died when Fisher was but six years old, but his mother resolved, in spite of her limited income, to give the boy a classical education. At the age of six he began the study of Latin, and at the age of twelve he was sent to Harvard, where he was graduated in 1774. Owing to his extreme youth and the straitened circumstances of the family, he was obliged to spend some years in teaching before studying law, and during this period he devoted himself with indefatigable zeal to self-culture. Often in after-life he spoke or the ravenous appetite with which he had devoured the books within his reach. He read the leading English poets, dwelling for hours on their beauties, and fixing the most striking passages in his memory. He admired Virgil, and could repeat considerable portions of the Eclogues and Georgics, and most of the fine passages of the 2Eneid. He was a profound student of the Scriptures, and declared that no man could become truly eloquent "without being a constant reader of the Bible and an admirer of the purity and sublimity of its language." Mr. Ames studied law in the office of William Tudor, and began practice in his native village in 1781. His abilities were first made known by several political essays, contributed to Boston journals under the signatures of "Brutus" and "Camillus." In 1788 he was elected representative in the state legislature, where he distinguished himself so highly that he was elected to the convention that met in Massachusetts the same year to ratify the federal constitution. In this convention he urged the adoption of the constitution, and made also a speech on biennial elections, which manifested extraordinary eloquence and power. Joining the federal party, he was elected to congress in December of the same year for the district that then included Boston. He served in congress for eight years, supporting Washington's administration, and when upon Washington's retirement congress voted an address to him, Mr. Ames was chosen to pronounce it. On 28 April 1796, Mr. Ames advocated the appropriation required for the execution of Jay's treaty with Great- Britain in the most eloquent and powerful speech of his life. A member of the opposition objected to the taking of a vote at that time, on the ground that the house was too excited to come to a just decision. Declining health now compelled Mr. Ames to withdraw from public life and he returned to his farm in Dedham. In 1798 he wrote " Laocoon " and other essays to rouse the federalists to more strenuous opposition to the aggressions of France. On the death of Washington he pronounced his eulogy before the legislature of Massachusetts. He was elected president of Harvard College in 1804, but declined the honor on account of his health, and spent his last years in retirement. Though not a deliberate artist in words, his diction is highly pictorial, and he abounds in verbal felicities, in condensed, epigrammatic sentences and illuminated sayings that linger long in the memory. He rarely wrote out beforehand any part of his speeches, but jotted down a few heads only, on which he studied till he had gained a complete mastery of his theme, and trusted for the rest to the inspiration and resources of the hour. In person Mr. Ames was somewhat above the average stature, well proportioned, and very erect. His face had none of the strong and rugged lines that mark the highest type of greatness but had a peculiarly benignant expression. His disposition was amiable, his manners gentle and winning, and his character without a blemish. He was a brilliant talker, and one of the wittiest and most sparkling of letter-writers. A collection of his works, with a life by Rev. J. T. Kirkland, was published in Boston in 1809; and his son, Seth Ames, published an enlarged edition (2 vols., 1854). In 1871 his grandson, Pelham W. Ames, published a selection from his congressional speeches, four of which are not contained in the former collections.
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