Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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GILES, William Branch, statesman, born in Amelia County, Virginia, 12 August, 1762" died in Albemarle County, Virginia, 4 December 1830. He was educated at Hampden Sidney College, and at Princeton, and then studied law with Chancellor George Wythe. After his admission to the bar he practiced for several years in Petersburg. Virginia, when he was elected to congress, and served continuously from 6 December 1791, till 3 March, 1803, except during the 6th congress (1799-1801). His opposition to the bill creating a bank of the United States led to his estrangement from the Federal party and to his affiliation with the Democrats. On 23 January 1793, he made an attack on Alexander Hamilton, then secretary of the treasury, charging him with corruption and peculation. Hamilton vindicated himself in a report, and Giles replied by proposing resolutions censuring the secretary for undue assumption of power, and for want of respect to the house. In 1796 Giles strongly opposed the ratification of John Jay's treaty with Great Britain, and in 1798 the proposed war with France, for her outrages on American commerce. In the latter year he became a member of the Virginia legislature, and co-operated with James Madison in procuring the passage of the celebrated resolutions of 1798, serving also as a presidential elector in 1801. In 1804 he was appointed United States senator, to succeed Wilson Cary Nicholas, and with subsequent elections served until 3 March, 1815, when he resigned. He at once took the position of a Democratic leader in the senate, and held it until 1811, when he openly manifested his opposition to the administration of President Madison. Mr. Giles then retired from public life, and continued so until 1825, when he was again a candidate for the United States senate, but was defeated by John Randolph. In 1826 he was induced to become a member of the legislature of Virginia, principally from his strong opposition to the project of calling a convention to revise the constitution of the state. In the same year he was elected governor of Virginia, and held that office until 1829. The bill for calling a convention was revived, and passed at the session of 1827-'8, and Mr. Giles while governor was chosen a member. The convention sat in 1829-'30, and he took a distinguished part in its deliberations. As a parliamentary tactician he was unrivalled. "Mr. Giles was considered by John Randolph to be in the House of Representatives what Charles Fox was admitted to be in the British house of commons --the most accomplished debater that his country had ever seen. But their acquired advantages were very different. Fox was a ripe scholar; Giles neither read or studied. Fox perfected himself in the house, speaking on every subject; Giles out of the house, talking to everybody." He published a speech on the embargo laws (1808)" political letters to the people of Virginia (1813); a series of letters, signed " A Constituent," in the Richmond "Enquirer," against a plan for general education (1818); a singular letter of invective against President Monroe and Henry Clay for their "hobbies" ; the South American cause, the Greek cause, internal improvements, and the tariff (1824); and a letter to Judge John Marshall disclaiming the expressions, not the general sentiments, in regard to Washington ascribed to him in the debate of 1796 in Marshall's "Life of Washington" (1825).
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