Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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GRUNDY, Felix, statesman, born in Berkeley county, Virginia, 11 September, 1777; died in Nashville, Tennessee, 19 December, 1840. He was a seventh son. His father, an Englishman, came to this country early in life. In 1779 he removed to Red Stone Old Fort, near what is now Brownsville, Pennsylvania, and in 1780 to Kentucky. In both places the family were much exposed to Indian depredations, and three of Grundy's brothers were killed by the Indians during his infancy. His first instruction was received from his mother, who was an ambitious woman of strong character, and he then went to Dr. James Priestly's Bardstown academy. His mother wished him to enter the medical profession, but his natural tastes led him to the law, which he studied under George Nicholas. He was elected to the Kentucky constitutional convention in 1799, and from that year till 1806 was a member of the legislature. He introduced a bill to establish the circuit court system, which was passed over the governor's veto, and in 1802 had a debate with Henry Clay, then as little known as himself, on banks and banking, in which was foreshadowed the future course of both in national politics. In 1806 Grundy was appointed a judge of the supreme court of errors and appeals, and in March, 1807, he became chief justice. The salary being too small to enable him to live comfortably, he resigned, and in the winter of 1807-'8 removed to Nashville, Tennessee, to practise law. Here he achieved a great reputation as a criminal lawyer. He defended 105 criminals on capital indictments, of whom but one was executed. In 1811 he was elected to congress as a war Democrat, and was re-elected in 1813, but resigned next year on account of the illness of his wife. During the financial depression that followed the war of 1812. he was in 1819 elected to the Tennessee legislature, where he opposed all relief laws, but successfully advocated the establishment of the state bank. In 1820 he was appointed a commissioner to settle the boundary-line dispute with Kentucky. In 1829 he was elected to the United States senate for the unexpired term of John H. Eaton, as an avowed Jacksonian. His speech in 1830 on Foote's resolution was regarded by many in Tennessee as leaning toward nullification, but in the Jackson-Calhoun imbroglio Grundy criticised both participants. In 1832 and 1833, when he was a candidate for re-election, in spite of a letter from Jackson approving his course, he was bitterly opposed by administration organs, but was finally successful after a long contest. In the senate he was chairman of the committee on post offices and of the judiciary committee. He supported and defended nearly all of Jackson's measures. In 1838 he entered Van Buren's cabinet as attorney-general, but only served from September, 1838, to December, 1839, when he resigned, having been re-elected to the senate on 19 November in place of Ephraim H. Foster. On 14 December he resigned his seat on the ground of ineligibility, as he had been still attorney-general when chosen, but he was at once re-elected. In 1838, being instructed to vote against the sub-treasury system, he did so, though favoring it. He opposed all protection except that which is incidental to a tariff levied for revenue, favored the compromise bill of 1833, and suggested and was a member of the committee that revised it. He lies buried in the Nashville city cemetery, where a monument has been erected to his memory. His most finished oration was that delivered on the death of Jefferson and Adams. He was a man of commanding presence, gentle, and amiable. The legal literature of the southwest is filled with anecdotes about him. His last political act was to speak in Tennessee for Van Buren against Harrison. During this contest Henry Clay, who was passing through Nashville, visited Mrs. Grundy, and, on being told where her husband was, said: "Ah, I see! Still pleading the cause of criminals."
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