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William Randolph


RANDOLPH, William, colonist, born at Morton Moreton, Warwickshire, England, in 1650; died on Turkey island, Virginia, 11 April, 1711. He belonged to a family line of which were Thomas Randolfe, mentioned in " Domesday Book" as ordered to do duty in person against the king of France (1294); John Randolph, an eminent judge, and connected with the exchequer (1385) ; Avery Randolph, principal of Pembroke college, Oxford (1590); Thomas Randolph, ambassador of Queen Elizabeth; and Thomas Randolph the poet (1604-'34). Colonel William was a son of Richard (of Morton Morrell. Warwickshire), a half-brother of the poet. Colonel William was preceded in Virginia by his uncle Henry, who came in 1643, and died there in 1673. He also founded a family; his widow married Peter Field, an ancestor of President Jefferson

Colonel William arrived in the year 1674 in Virginia (Correction: probably arrived 1669, as an orphan), and became owner of large plantations on James river. He fixed his abode on Turkey island (not now an island), about twenty miles below the city of Richmond, where as yet there was no settlement. He built, with bricks imported on his ship which plied regularly between Bristol and Turkey island, a mansion with lofty dome, whose picturesque ruin remains. Colonel William Byrd's letters written at the time show Randolph to have been a man of high character as well as of much influence. He was a member of the house of burgesses in 1684, and either he or his eldest son was the William Randolph mentioned as clerk of the house in 1705. Tradition says that he was a member of the governor's council. He was active in the work of civilizing the Indians, was a founder and trustee of William and Mary college, and on its first board of visitors appears "William Randolph, Gentleman," as he is also described in the college charter. He married Mary Isham, by whom he had ten children. The family and the family names so multiplied that the seven sons of William were conveniently distinguished by the estates he bequeathed them: William of Turkey island, Thomas of Tuckahoe, Isham of Dungeness, Richard of Curles, Henry of Chatsworth, Sir John of Taze-well Hall (see illustration), and Edward of Breno. Six of these sons begin the list of forty graduates of the Randolph name to be gathered from the catalogues of William and Mary college. The sons all appear to have entered with energy on the work of colonial civilization, save Edward, who married and resided in England.

--His eldest son, William Randolph, born 1681, was visitor of William and Mary college, a burgess in 1718, 1723, and 1726, a councilor of state, and treasurer of the colony of Virginia in 1737.

The third son, lsham Randolph, born 24 February 1687; died 2 November, 1742, resided in London in early life, where he married in 1717. On his return to Virginia he built himself a grand mansion at Dungeness, where a baronial hospitality was dispensed. He was a member of the house of burgesses for Goochland (now Albemarle) county in 1740, and adjutant-general of the colony. He was a man of scientific culture, and is honorably mentioned in the memoirs of Bartram the naturalist.--

The fifth son, Richard Randolph, born 1691 : died 1 December. 1748, was a member of the house of burgesses for Henrico county in 1740, and succeeded his brother William as treasurer of the colony.

The sixth son, Sir John Randolph, lawyer, born on Turkey island, Virginia, in 1693; died in Williamsburg, Virginia, 9 March, 1737, was graduated at William and Mary college, and studied law at Gray's Inn, London. At an early age he was appointed king's attorney for Virginia. He represented William and Mary college in the house of burgesses, and in 1730, while visiting England to obtain a renewal of the college charter, he was knighted. 

In 1736 he was chosen speaker of the Virginia house of burgesses, and in the same year was appointed recorder of the city of Norfolk. Sir John is said by his nephew, William Stith, to have intended to write a preface to the laws of Virginia, "and therein to give an historical account of our constitution and government, but was prevented from prosecuting it to effect by his many and weighty public employments, and by the vast burden of private business from his clients." The materials he had collected were used by Stith in his history of Virginia. His library is believed to have been the finest in Virginia. His mural tablet in William and Mary college was destroyed by fire, but its Latin epitaph is preserved in President Ewell's history of the college. See a notice of him in the "Virginia Law Journal" for April, 1877.--

Sir John's son, Peyton Randolph, patriot, born in Tazewell Hall, Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1721; died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 22 October, 1775, after graduation at William and Mary, studied law at the Inner Temple, London, and was appointed king's attorney for Virginia in 1748, Sir William Gooch being governor. He was also chosen representative of Williamsburg in the house of burgesses in the same year. At the opening of his career as law officer he was brought in opposition to the apostle of Presbyterianism, the Reverend Samuel Davies (q. v.). The attorney having questioned whether the toleration act extended to Virginia, Davies replied that if not neither did the act of uniformity, which position was sustained by the attorney-general in England. 

In 1751 the newly appointed governor, Dinwiddie, and his family, were guests of Peyton Randolph, but the latter presently resisted the royal demand of a pistole fee on every land-patent. In 1754 the burgesses commissioned the king's attorney to repair to London to impress on the English ministry the unconstitutionality of the exaction. He there encountered the crown lawyers, Campbell and Murray (afterward Lord Mansfield), with marked ability. The pistole fee was removed from all lands less in extent than one hundred acres, and presently ceased altogether. Governor Dinwiddie was naturally angry that the king's attorney should have left the colony without his consent, and on a mission hostile to his demand. A petition of the burgesses that the office of attorney should remain open until Peyton Randolph's return pointed the governor to his revenge ; he suspended the absent attorney, and in his place appointed George Wythe. Wythe accepted the place, only to retain it until his friend's return. Randolph's promised compensation for the London mission, £2,500, caused a long struggle between the governor and the burgesses, who made the sum a rider to one of £20,000 voted for the Indian war. The conflict led to a prorogation of the house. Meanwhile the lords of trade ordered reduction of the pistole fee, and requested the reinstatement of Randolph. " You must think y't some w't absurd," answered Dinwiddie (23 October, 1754), "from the bad Treatm't I have met with. However, if he answers properly w't I have to say to him, I am not inflexible ; and he must confess, before this happened he had greater share of my Favs, and Counten'ce than any other in the Gov't." 

The attorney acknowledged the irregularities and was reinstated. There was a compromise with the new house about the money. When tidings of Braddock's defeat reached Williamsburg, an association of lawyers was formed by the king's attorney, which was joined by other gentlemen, altogether one hundred, who marched under Randolph to the front and placed themselves under command of Colonel William Byrd. They were led against the Indians, who retreated to Fort Duquesne. During the next few years Peyton Randolph was occupied with a revision of the laws, being chairman of a committee for that purpose. He also gave attention to the affairs of William and Mary college, of which he was appointed a visitor in 1758. In 1760 he and his brother John. being law-examiners, signed the license of Patrick Henry, Wythe and Pendleton having refused. "The two Randolphs," says Jefferson, " acknowledged he was very ignorant of law, but that they perceived that he was a man of genius, and did not doubt he would soon qualify himself." 

Peyton Randolph was one of the few intimate friends of Washington. Jefferson, in a letter to his grandson, declares that in early life, amid difficulties and temptations, he used to ask himself how Peyton Randolph would act in such situation, and what course would meet with his approbation. Randolph drew up the remonstrance of the burgesses against the threatened stamp-act in 1764, but when it was passed, and Patrick Henry, then a burgess, had carried, by the smallest majority, his "treasonable" resolutions, the attorney was alarmed; Jefferson heard him say in going out, " By God, I would have given five hundred guineas for a single vote !" When he was appointed speaker in 1766, Randolph resigned his office as king's attorney and devoted his attention to the increasing troubles of the court-try. The burgesses recognized in his legal knowledge and judicial calmness ballast for the sometimes tempestuous patriotism of Patrick Henry, and he was placed at the head of all important committees. He was chairman of the committee of correspondence between the colonies in May, 1773, presided over the Virginia convention of 1 August, 1774, and was first of the seven deputies appointed by it to the proposed congress at Philadelphia. On 10 August he summoned the citizens of Williamsburg to assemble at their court-house, where the proceedings of the State convention were ratified, instructions to their delegates given, declaring the unconstitutionality of binding American colonies by British statutes, and aid subscribed for the Boston sufferers. 

For his presidency at this meeting his name was placed on the roll of those to be attainted by parliament, but the bill was never passed. He was unanimously elected first president of congress, 5 September, 1774. He was but fifty-three years of age, but is described by a fellow-member as "a venerable man," to which is added "an honest man ; has knowledge, temper, experience, judgment, above all, integrity--a true Roman spirit." His noble presence, gracious manners, and imperturbable self-possession won the confidence of all. He was constantly relied on for his parliamentary experience and judicial wisdom. 

On 20 January, 1775, he issued a call to the counties and corporations of Virginia, requesting them to elect delegates to a convention to be held at Richmond, 21 March, the call being signed " Peyton Randolph, moderator." He was elected to that convention on 4 February On the night of 20 April, 1775, the gunpowder was clandestinely removed from the public magazine at Williamsburg" by order of Lord Dunmore, governor of Virginia. Randolph persuaded the enraged citizens not to assault the governor's residence. To 700 armed men assembled at Fredericksburg, who offered their services, he wrote a reply assuring them that the wrong would be redressed if menace did not compel Dunmore to obstinacy. Through his negotiations with Lord Dunmore, assisted by the approach of Henry's men, £300 were paid for the powder, and hostilities were delayed. 

Randolph resumed his duties as speaker of the burgesses in May, 1775, and after their adjournment he returned to the congress at Philadelphia, where he died of apoplexy. His death is alluded to with sorrow in one of Washington's dispatches to congress. He married a sister of Benjamin Harrison, governor of Virginia, but left no issue. His body was conveyed from Philadelphia in the following year by his nephew, Edmund Randolph, and buried in the chapel of William and Mary college.

Another son of Sir John, John Randolph, lawyer, born in Tazewell Hall, Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1727 ; died in Brompton, London, 31 January, 1784, after graduation at William and Mary, studied law, and soon attained high rank at the bar. His home at Williamsburg was the centre of literary society as well as of fashion. He was a man of fine literary culture, an accomplished violinist, and in religion a freethinker. For interesting anecdotes concerning him see Wirt's "Life of Patrick Henry," and Randall's "Jefferson." In 1766 John Randolph was appointed king's attorney under Governor Fauquier, to succeed his brother Peyton. When, during the excitement that followed the removal of the gunpowder from Williamsburg, Lord Dunmore, fearing assassination, took up his abode on a man-of-war at York (8 June, 1775), John Randolph was the medium of communication between him and the burgesses. When hostilities became inevitable, he regarded it as inconsistent with his oath of office to assist a rebellion, as it then appeared, and in August he sailed for England with his wife and two daughters, leaving his only son, Ed-round, on the shore. His subsequent correspondence with his constant friend, Thomas Jefferson, proves that he was regarded by that statesman as in sympathy with the American cause. For a time Lord Dunmore gave him a home at his house in Scotland, and there one of the daughters, Ariana, was married to James Wormeley, of Virginia. When the newly married pair sailed for Virginia, on the first ship bound thither after the peace, they bore the dead body of John Randolph, whose dying request was to be buried in his native country. He was laid in the chapel of William and Mary college. 

John's son, Edmund Jennings Randolph, statesman, born in Williamsburg, Virginia, 10 August, 1753; died in Clarke county, Virginia, 13 September, 1813. He was distinguished for scholarship and eloquence at William and Mary college, and at eighteen years of age was orator to commemorate the royal founders, the oration being printed by the faculty. After studying law with his father he was admitted to the bar. He was a favorite of Lord Dunmore, and when his parents left for England was only withheld from sailing with them by enthusiasm for the American cause. 

Washington took him into his family as aide-decamp, 15 August, 1775, and Randolph received the guests at headquarters; but on the sudden death of his uncle Peyton he returned to Williamsburg. In the Virginia convention of 1776 he assisted in framing the constitution and passing the bill of rights. He opposed the demand of Patrick Henry that the governor should have power of veto. At the close of the convention he was elected mayor of Williamsburg, and he was also the first attorney-general of Virginia's new constitution. In 1779 he was elected to congress, but soon resigned. In 1780 he was re-elected, and remained in congress two years. There he was occupied with foreign affairs. He resigned his seat in 1782, and after his father's death in 1783 succeeded to the property of his uncle Peyton, which had become encumbered with claims against his father. These he might have met by selling the Negroes, but, being conscientiously opposed to this, he had to work hard at his profession. 

He was one of the commissioners at the Annapolis convention which induced congress to summon the Constitutional convention of 1787. Being governor of Virginia (1786-'88), he largely influenced the choice of delegates, and it was due to his persuasion that Washington's resolution not to attend was overcome. As leader of the Virginia delegation he introduced the general plan of a constitution that had been agreed on among them as a basis for opening the convention. He also drafted a detailed scheme of his own, which was discovered in 1887 among the papers of George Mason. His career in the convention was brilliant, and elicited admiration from Benjamin Franklin, who generally voted with him. 

He earnestly opposed the single executive, the presidential re-eligibility and pardoning power, the vice-presidential office, and senatorial equality of states. He desired an executive commission chosen by the national legislature, and resembling that of the present Swiss republic. He favored a strong Federal government which was to have power of directly negating state laws that should be decided to be unconstitutional by the supreme court. On his motion the word "slavery" was eliminated from the constitution. He refused to sign the document except on condition that a second National convention should be called after its provisions had been discussed in the country; but in the Virginia convention of 1788 he advocated its ratification on the ground that a ninth state was needed to secure the Union, and that within the Union amendments might be passed. 

The opposition, led by Patrick Henry, was powerful, and the ratification, even by a small majority (ten), was mainly due to Governor Randolph, whose inflexible independence of party was then and after described as vacillation. He urged amendments; owing to his vigilance the clause of Art. VI., on religious tests for office, implying power over the general subject, was supplemented by the first article added to the constitution. He resigned the governorship in 1788, and secured a seat in the assembly for the purpose of working on the committee for making a codification of the state laws. The code published at Richmond in folio, 1794, was mainly his work. While so occupied he was appointed by the president (27 September, 1789) attorney-general of the United States. 

In response to a request of the house of representatives he wrote an extended report (1790) on the judiciary system. Among the many important cases arising under the first administration of the constitution was Chisholm vs. Georgia, involving the right of an alien to sue a state. To the dismay of his southern friends, Randolph proved that right to the satisfaction of the court. His speech was widely circulated as a pamphlet, and was reprinted by legislative order in Massachusetts, while the alarm of debtors to England led to the 11th amendment. Early in 1795 Randolph issued, under the name of "Germanicus," an effective pamphlet against the " Democratic societies," which were charged with fomenting the whiskey rebellion at Pittsburgh, and exciting an American Jacobinism. 

Randolph tried to pursue, as usual, a non-partisan course in foreign affairs with a leaning toward France, Washington doing the like. Jefferson having retired, Randolph accepted, very reluctantly, 2 January, 1794, the office of secretary of state. His advice that an envoy should go to England, but not negotiate, was overruled. He advised the president to sign the Jay treaty only on condition that the "provision order" for the search of neutral ships were revoked. The Republicans were furious that the president and Randolph should think of signing the treaty apart from the "provision order"; but Washington, after the objectionable 12th article had been eliminated, was willing to overlook its other faults, but for the order issued to search American ships and seize the provisions on them. Meanwhile France was so enraged about the treaty that Monroe could hardly remain in Paris. During Jay's secret negotiations, the French minister, Fauchet, left Philadelphia in anger. 

The president had carried on through Randolph soothing diplomacy with France, and especially flattered the vanity of Fauchet, the French minister in Philadelphia, with an affectation of confidence. The Frenchman did not fail in dispatches to his employers to make the most of this. Also, being impecunious, he hinted to his government that with “several thousand dollars” he could favorably influence, American affairs, alleging a suggestion by Randolph to that effect. This dispatch was intercepted by a British ship and forwarded to the English minister in Philadelphia, (Hammond) just in time to determine the result of the struggle concerning the treaty. Washington had made up his mind not to sign the treaty until the "provision order” was revoked, and so informed the secretary of state in a letter from Mount Vernon, 22 July, 1795. The intercepted dispatch of Fauchet altered this determination, and the treaty was signed without the condition The only alternatives of the administration were to acknowledge the assurances diplomatically given to Fauchet, as egregiously falsified by him, or, now that they might be published, accept Randolph as scapegoat. It is difficult to see how Washington could have saved his friend, even if ready to share his fate. Randolph, having indignantly resigned his office, pursued Fauchet (now recalled) to Newport, and obtained from him a full retractation and exculpation. He then prepared his “Vindication.” 

After the intercepted letter was shown him. but withheld from the doomed secretary, Washington treated Randolph with exceptional affection, visiting his house, and twice giving him the place of honor at his table. It is maintained by Randolph’s biographer (M. D. Conway) that this conduct, and his failure to send for the other dispatches alluded to, indicate Washington’s entire disbelief of the assertions of Fauchet, whose intrigues he well knew (dispatch to Monroe, 29 July, 1795). Randolph had attended to Washington’s law-business in Virginia, always heavy, steadily refusing payment, and could hardly have been suspected of venality. The main charge against Randolph was based on Fauchet’s allegation of “precieuses confessions” made to him by the secretary. But that dispatch was closely followed by another, discovered in 1888, at Paris, in which Fauchet announced that he had found them “fausses confidences.” The charge of intrigue and revealing secrets is thus finally disposed of. In addition to the “Vindication of Mr. Randolph’s Resignation” (Philadelphia, 1795), the ex-secretary wrote a remarkable pamphlet, published the following year, “Political Truth, or Animadversions on the Past and Present State of Public Affairs.” 

After his resignation, Randolph was received with public demonstrations of admiration in Richmond, where he resumed the practice of law. The ruin of his fortunes was completed by an account made up against him of $49,000 for “moneys placed in his hands to defray the expenses of foreign intercourse.” Under the system of that period the secretary of state personally disbursed the funds provided for all foreign service, and if any money were lost through the accidents of war, or the failure of banks, he was held responsible. After repeated suits in which juries could not agree, Randolph, confident in the justice of his case, challenged an arbitration by the comptroller of the treasury, Gabriel Duval, who decided against him. Thereupon his lands, and the Negroes so conscientiously kept from sale and dispersion, were made over to Hon. Wilson Cary Nicholas, by whom the debt was paid in bonds, from which the government gained $7,000 more than the debt and interest. 

Meanwhile Randolph had again taken his place at the head of the Virginia bar. He was one of the counsel of Aaron Burr on his trial for treason at Richmond. He also wrote an important “ History of Virginia,” the greater part of which is now in possession of the Historical society of Virginia. Though much used by historians, it has never been published. In it there is an admirable sketch of the life and character of Washington, concerning whom no bitterness survived in his breast. For the fullest account of Edmund Randolph, and of his ancestors, see “Omitted Chapters of History, disclosed in the Life and Papers of Edmund Randolph,” by Non-cure D. Conway (New York, 1888). 

Edmund’s son, Peyton Randolph , born at Williamsburg, Virginia, 1779; died at Richmond, Virginia, 1828, was, from an early period of his life to its close, clerk of the supreme court of Virginia, and was the author of “Reports of Cases in that Court, 1821-‘8” (6 vols., Richmond, 1823-32). In 1806 he married Maria Ward (concerning whom see John Esten Cooke’s “Stories of the Old Dominion “).--

Peyton’s son, Edmund Randolph, jurist, born in Richmond, Virginia, 9 June, 1820 ; died in San Francisco, California, 8 September, 1861, was the youngest of ten children of Peyton and Maria Ward Randolph. He was graduated at William and Mary college, studied law at the University of Virginia, and began practice in New Orleans. He was for several years clerk of the United States circuit court for Louisiana, but in 1849 he removed to California. He was an active member of the legislature that met at San Jose, 15 December, 1849, to organize a state government, but he was never afterward a candidate for office, though he took an active part in California polities, and was a popular orator. William Walker fixed on Randolph as the chancellor of his proposed Nicaraguan empire. To what extent Randolph participated in that enterprise is not known, but his absence from California was brief. In the great, Ahnaden mine ease the advocacy of the claim of the United States devolved mainly on Randolph. Of this ease Jeremiah Black says; “ In the bulk of the record and the magnitude of the interest at stake, this is probably the heaviest ease ever heard before a judicial tribunal.” 

On Randolph’s argument, submitted after his death, the United States won the case. He was for four years engaged chiefly on this case, and his life was shortened by it. The government paid his widow $12,000 in addition to the $5,000 fee which her husband had received. Randolph was the author of “An Address on the History of California from the Discovery of the Country to the Year 1849,” which was delivered before the Society of California pioneers, at San Francisco, on 10 September, 1860 (San Francisco, 1860). His argument in the Almaden mine ease has also been printed. 

William’s great-grandson John “of Roanoke” Randolph, statesman, born at Cawsons, Virginia, 2 June, 1773 died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 24 Jane, 1833, was seventh in descent from Pocahontas by her marriage with John Rolfe. Richard Randolph of Curles, father of John Randolph of Roanoke died in 1775.  In l788 his mother married St. George Tucker, who was a father to her four children, among whom were divided the large possessions of their father, including more than 40,000, acres. According to an unpublished manuscript of his nephew, by marriage, John Randolph Bryan;

“his advantages of education were necessarily limited by the [Revolutionary] exigencies of the times. Such as he had were furnished by his step-father. His mother was a lady of rare intelligence, and ‘ little Jack, ‘ as he was always called, found in her a parent and guide such as few children have. For her his love and admiration were unbounded. She was a beautiful woman, with a charm of manner and grace of person most captivating. In addition, she possessed a voice which had rare power. Jack was a beautiful boy, and the picture of the child and his mother was greatly admired. Randolph never spoke of her in after-life but with peculiar tenderness. From his mother he learned the power of tone in reciting, of which he made use in manhood.” 

In his great speech in congress (1811) Randolph said: 

“Bred up in the principles of the Revolution, I can never palliate, much less defend [the outrages and injuries of England]. I well remember flying with my mother and her new-born child from Arnold and Phillips; and they had been driven by Tarleton and other British pandours from pillar to post while her husband was fighting the battles of his country.” 

Although Randolph was argumentatively pugnacious, he would appear to have imbibed a hatred of war, which animated his diatribes against Napoleon and his resolute opposition to the war policy of Madison. The Randolph-Tucker library was well supplied with history and romance, of which the child made good use. After attending Walker Maury’s school in Orange County for a time he was sent, in his twelfth year, to the grammar-school connected with William and Mary college. He did not mingle easily with other boys, but attached himself vehemently to one or two. In 1784 he went with his parents to the Island of Bermuda, remaining eighteen months. 

In the autumn of 1787 he was sent to Princeton, but in 1788 his mother died, and in June of that year he went to Columbia college, New York, where he studied for a short time. On 30 April, 1789, he witnessed the first president’s inauguration. 

“ I saw Washington, but could not hear him take the oath to support the Federal constitution. I saw what Washington did not see ; but two other men in Virginia saw it--George Mason and Patrick Henry--the poison under its wings.” 

When Edmund Randolph, a year later, entered on his duties as attorney-general, John, his second cousin, was sent to Philadelphia and studied law with him. Among his unpublished letters are several that indicate a temporary lapse into gambling and other dissipation about this time, and suggest an entanglement, if not indeed a marriage, in Philadelphia, as the explanation of the rupture of his engagement with the famous beauty. Maria Ward, whose marriage (to Peyton, only son of Edmund Randolph) completed the tragedy of his private life. While in Philadelphia he does not appear to have studied law exclusively, but availed himself of opportunities for hearing political debates, and attended lectures in anatomy and physiology. He had been a precocious skeptic, but passed into a state of emotional religion, under the influence of which he writes to a friend (24 February 1791) : “ I prefer a private to a public life, and domestic pleasure to the dazzling (the delusive) honors of popular esteem.” 

At the beginning of the French revolution he was filled with enthusiasm, and at the same time his idols were Jefferson and Burke. A strange combination of opposite natures was always visible in him. As his father before him had sold slaves to supply the cause of freedom with powder, so the son was at once aristocrat and democrat--offending President Adams by addressing him without adding any title, and signing “Your Fellow-citizen.” He built up a distinctively pro-slavery party, and wrote a will liberating his slaves on the ground that they were equally entitled to freedom with himself. 

In 1795 Randolph returned to Virginia and lived in the family of his brother Richard, to whom he was devoted. The death of this brother (1796), under the shadow of a painful scandal, was a heavy blow. At “Bizarre,” the family mansion, Randolph now dwelt as head of a large household. In 1797 he writes to his friend, Henry Rutledge, of another calamity:” I have been deprived by the Federal court of more than half my fortune. ‘Tis an iniquitous affair, and too lengthy to be related here. The loss affects me very little, since 1 have as yet a competence, but I am highly chagrined at being robbed in so villainous a manner. I have but little thought of practicing law.”

Randolph’s first speech was made in 1799, in answer to Patrick Henry. The power of expelling foreigners from the country without trial, conferred on the president by the alien and sedition acts, had been answered in Virginia by legislative denunciation of the acts as infractions of the constitution. The issue had arisen in Virginia as to the reversal of those resolutions. When Randolph stepped forth to defend the resolutions, he encountered Patrick Henry. There is little doubt that the powerful speech ascribed to Randolph in Hugh Garland’s “ Life “ was based on reports from hearers, and the language is characteristic. Randolph was now elected to congress.

His first speech in that body (10 January, 1800) had ominous results. Advocating a resolution to diminish the army, he used the phrase “ standing or mercenary armies,” contending that all who made war a profession or trade were literally “ mercenary.” The etymology was insufficient for certain officers, who took occasion to insult him in the theatre. Randolph wrote to President Adams, improving the occasion to let him and the Federalist party know his opinion of the executive office. He addressed Mr. Adams with no other title than “President of the United States,” and signed himself, “With Respect, Your Fellow-citizen, John Randolph.” Sir Adams sent the complaint to the house, where the question of dealing with the affair as a breach of representative “privilege” ended in a deadlock. Quickly becoming Republican leader of the house, chairman of the ways and means committee, Randolph became the pride of Virginia. He commanded the heart of the nation by his poetic eloquence, his absolute honesty, and the scathing wit with which he exposed every corrupt scheme. In his slight boyish form was sheathed a courage that often fought single-handed, and generally won a moral if not a technical victory, as in the great Yazoo fraud which, after repeated defeats, could only be passed in his absence; also in the impeachment of Judge Chase, who was saved only because the constitutional apparatus was inadequate to carry out the verdict of a large majority.

President Jefferson admired his young relative, and gained much by his support; but it speedily became evident that their connection was unreal. Jefferson idealized Napoleon, Randolph abhorred him. John had learned from Edmund Randolph a knowledge of the English constitution rare at that time, and some of the most impressive passages of his speeches were those in which he jointed out the reactionary character of certain events and tendencies of the time. The appearance of a postmaster-general as agent of two land companies to urge the Yazoo claims on congress in 1805 pointed one of Randolph’s finest speeches. At this time he was so national in his political ideas that in defending the purchase of Louisiana he maintained the constitutionality of the transaction. It was of importance to the president that his act should be regarded as extra-constitutional. Owing to Randolph’s course, the constitutional amendment that the president asked was never gained, and any further development of executive authority continued extra-constitutional. It was inevitable that there should be a steady alienation between the administration and Randolph. In the heat of a moment, as when the-outrage on the ship “Chesapeake” occurred, the revolutionary element in him might appear; in the case alluded to he advocated an embargo; but when the embargo came from the senate, and he saw his momentary wrath systematized into a permanent war-measure, under which England and New England would suffer to the advantage of “that coward Napoleon (his favorite phrase), he voted against it. It seems impossible to ascribe this apparent inconsistency to "anything,” except Randolph’s moral courage. This is not the only instance in which he confronted the taunt of , admitting himself to have been in the wrong.

He never desired office; his ambition was to be a representative of Virginia and to fight down every public wrong. This involved quarrels, alienations, and a gradual lapse into a pessimistic state of mind, fostered, unfortunately, by domestic distresses and physical ailments. After his great struggle to prevent the war of 1812, and his conflict with Madison, he was left out of congress for two years, and during that time lived at Roanoke. When he returned to congress in 1815 the aspect of affairs filled him with horror, and he devoted himself to the formation of a “State-Rights“ party, He vaguely dreamed of the restoration of the “Old Dominion.” His ideal country was now England. Although in his state-rights agitation he appealed to the fears of southerners for their property, that reactionary attitude passed away. Hatred of slavery was part both of his Virginian and his English inheritance only the legal restrictions on emancipation, and the injustice to his creditors that would be involved, prevented manumission of his slaves before his death.

At the same time he voted against the Missouri compromise, and originated the term “ dough-faces” which he applied to its northern supporters. He had no dream of a southern confederacy none would have more abhorred a nationality based on slavery. He had no respect for Calhoun, or for Clay, who challenged Randolph for using insulting language in a speech, and shot at him, but was spared by the Virginian. He had been elected to the United States senate in December, 1824, to fill a vacancy, and served in 1825-‘7, being defeated at the next election. Though he accepted the Russian mission in 1830 from Jackson, whom he had supported in 1828, he soon returned and joined issue with the president on the nullification question. In 1829 he was a member of the Constitutional convention of Virginia, and, though he was very infirm, his eloquence enchained the assembly.

He died of consumption in a hotel in Philadelphia as he was preparing for another trip abroad. His last will was set aside on the ground that it was written with unsound mind. By the earlier will, which was sustained, his numerous slaves were liberated and they were colonized by Judge William Leigh in the west. Although eccentric and sometimes morose, Randolph was warm-hearted. He was fond of children. “ His fondness for young people,” says the Bryan MS., “was particularly shown in a correspondence with his niece, during which he wrote her more than 200 letters.” Randolph’s personal appearance was striking. He was six feet in height and very slender, with long, skinny fingers, which he pointed and shook at those against whom he spoke. His “Letters to a Young Relative” appeared in 1834. See “ Life of John Randolph,” by Hugh A. Garland (2 vols., New York, 1850)” also “John Randolph,” by Henry Adams (Boston, 1882).

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM
Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

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