Tristam Surges, an American statesman, born in Rochester, Mass., Feb. 26, 1770, died in Providence, R. I., Oct. 13, 1853. He graduated at Rhode Island college (now Brown university), Providence, in 1796, studied law, and became a leader of the Rhode Island bar. In 1815 he was made chief justice of the state, but went out of office in 1816 with the defeat of the federalists, and became professor of oratory and belles-lettres in Brown university. He was a representative in congress from Rhode Island from 1825 to 1835. A speech on the judiciary soon made him prominent. He submitted a bill proposing a system of pensions for the surviving soldiers of the revolution, and made many brilliant speeches in support of a protective tariff. He used sarcasm with great effect in debate, especially in his famous dispute with John Randolph. Though generally opposed to President Jackson, he fully sustained his course in respect to nullification. His vehement opposition to Mr. Clay's compromise tariff bill contributed to his losing his seat in congress in 1835, after which he retired from public life.
He published a number of his speeches, and in 1839 appeared his "Battle of Lake Erie, with Notices of Commodore Elliott's Conduct." A memoir of him, with selections from his speeches and writings, was published by Henry L. Bowen in 1835, and another memoir appeared in 1869.