1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Randolph, John
|←Randolph, Edmund||1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 22
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RANDOLPH, JOHN (1773-1833), of Roanoke, American statesman. He was a member of an influential and wealthy Virginian family, and was the third and youngest son of John Randolph of Cawsons, Chesterfield county, where he was born on the 2nd of June 1773. He was a descendant of John Rolfe and his wife Pocahontas. His father having died in 1775, his early years were passed under the care of his mother and his stepfather, Mr St George Tucker, from whom, however, he eventually became estranged, as he did from almost every one with whom he was intimately associated. He attended a school at Williamsburg, Virginia, and for a short time studied at Princeton and at Columbia; but, although well read in modern works bearing on politics and philosophy, his own statement, “I am an ignorant man, sir,” was in other respects not inaccurate. Both his religious and his political views were radical and extreme. At an early period he imbibed deistical opinions, which he promulgated with eagerness. He was also, though a mere boy when the new Federal government was organized in 1789, strongly opposed to the new Constitution of the United States. In order to assist in asserting the right of resistance to national laws, and to withstand the “encroachments of the administration upon the indisputable rights” of Virginia, he was in 1799 elected as a Republican to the national House of Representatives, of which he was a member, with the exception of two terms (1813-15 and 1817-19), until 1825, and again in 1827-29. After the accession of Jefferson to the presidency in 1801, Randolph was appointed chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, and as such was naturally the leader of the Republican majority in the House. He took an active part in agitating for the reform of the judiciary, and in 1804 moved the impeachment of Judge Samuel Chase (q.v.), acting as the leader of prosecution in the trial before the Senate. Though an avowed Republican, he was far from being subservient to his party, and for several years after 1805 led a small faction, called “Quids,” which sharply criticized Jefferson and attempted to prevent the selection of Madison as the presidential candidate of his party. In March 1807 he lost the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee. Possessing considerable wit, great readiness, and a showy if somewhat bombastic eloquence, he would undoubtedly have risen to high influence but for his strong vein of eccentricity and his bitter and ungovernable temper. The championship of state's rights was carried by him to an extreme utterly quixotic, inasmuch as he not only asserted the constitutional right of Virginia to interpose her protest against the usurpation of power at Washington, but claimed that the protest should be supported by force. From December 1825 to March 1827 he served in the United States Senate, and in April 1826 he was forced to fight a duel with Henry Clay, on account of his violent abuse of that statesman in the course of a debate. In 1830 he was sent by President Jackson on a special mission to Russia, but remained in St Petersburg only ten days, then spent almost a year in England, and on his return in October 1831 drew $21,407 from the United States Treasury for his services. He died of consumption at Philadelphia on the 24th of June 1833. Though his political life was full of inconsistencies — he was even capable of advocating the passage of a bill on one day and of opposing the passage of the same bill on the next — he generally adhered to the principles enunciated by the Republican party in its earliest years, and throughout his later career, in numerous speeches, he laboured to bring about the identification of slavery with the theory of states' rights. In this he was the natural precursor of Calhoun. His last will was disputed in the law courts, and the jury returned a verdict that in the later years of his life he was not of sane mind. He was always in theory opposed to slavery, and by the will which was accepted by the courts, freed his own slaves.
The best biography is that by Henry Adams, John Randolph (Boston, 1882), in the “American Statesmen Series.” There is also a biography, which, however, contains many inaccuracies, by Hugh A. Garland (2 vols., New York, 1851).