Caleb Cushing, an American jurist and statesman, born in Salisbury, Essex co., Mass., Jan. 17, 1800. At the age of 17 he graduated at Harvard college, and for nearly two years subsequent was tutor of mathematics and natural philosophy in that institution. He was admitted to the bar and commenced practice at Nevvburyport in 1825. Although he attained high professional success, he continued to give a part of his attention to literary studies, and became a prominent contributor to the "North American Review" on historical and legal topics. In 1825 he was elected a representative from Newburyport to the lower house of the Massachusetts legislature, and in 1826 a member of the state senate. At the beginning of his public life he was a member of the then republican party. In 1829 he visited Europe on a tour of pleasure, and remained abroad nearly two years. The fruits of this tour were his "Reminiscences of Spain " (2 vols. 12mo, 1833), a collection of miscellanies which indicated a minute acquaintance with Spanish history and literature.
To this succeeded in the same year his elaborate " Historical and Political Review of the late Revolution in France," and of the consequent events in other European nations (2 vols.). In 1833 Mr. Cushing was again elected a representative from Newburyport to the Massachusetts legislature, in which office he continued two years. In 1834 he was elected from the Essex north district of Massachusetts a representative to congress, and served for four consecutive terms. He supported John Quincy Adams for the presidency, and was a whig until the accession of Mr. Tyler, whose administration he supported, and became classed as a democrat. In 1843 President Tyler nominated him as secretary of the treasury, but the nomination was rejected by the senate. In the summer of that year he went to China as commissioner, and in 1844 negotiated the first treaty of the United States government with the emperor of China. On his return he was again elected to represent New-buryport in the state legislature, and during the session of 1847 became conspicuous by his advocacy of the Mexican war. A bill, to appropriate funds to equip the Massachusetts regiment of volunteers having been defeated in the legislature, Mr. Cushing furnished the requisite sum from his own means.
He was then appointed colonel of the regiment, and in the spring of 1847 accompanied it to Mexico. He was attached to the army of Gen. Taylor, and soon after received the appointment of brigadier general. While still in Mexico, he was nominated by the democratic party of Massachusetts as its candidate for governor, but was defeated. In 1850, for the sixth time, he represented Newbury port in the legislature of Massachusetts. In the same year he was elected as the first mayor of that city, and was reelected the following year. In 1852 he was appointed a justice of the Massachusetts supreme court, a post which he filled till March, 1853, when he was appointed by President Pierce United States attorney general, from which office he retired March 4, 1857. In 1857, 1858,. and 1859 he again served in the legislature of Massachusetts. In April, 1860, he was president of the democratic national convention at Charleston, S. C, and in the following June of the convention of seceders from that body which met in Baltimore and nominated Breckinridge for president. About the middle of December he was sent to Charleston by President Buchanan as a confidential commissioner to the secessionists of South Carolina, to make arrangements about Fort Sumter; but his mission effected nothing.
During the civil war he held no official position, but gave his influence to the cause of the Union. In 1866 he was appointed one of three eminent lawyers to revise and codify the laws of the United States. In 1872 he was one of the counsel for the United States at the Geneva conference for the settlement of the Alabama claims, and in 1873 published a book entitled "The Treaty of Washington," in which he sharply criticises the character and conduct of Sir Alexander Cockburn, the British arbitrator. In December, 1873, he was appointed minister to Spain. In January, 1874, he was nominated to the office of chief justice of the United States, but the nomination was subsequently withdrawn.