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John Randolph of Roanoke

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John Randolph of Roanoke

John Randolph of Roanoke
Portrait of Randolph by John Wesley Jarvis (1811)
8th United States Minister to Russia
In office
May 26, 1830 – September 19, 1830
President Andrew Jackson
Preceded by Henry Middleton
Succeeded by James Buchanan
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
December 26, 1825 – March 4, 1827
Preceded by James Barbour
Succeeded by John Tyler
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1833 – May 24, 1833
Preceded by Thomas T. Bouldin
Succeeded by Thomas T. Bouldin
In office
March 4, 1827 – March 4, 1829
Preceded by George W. Crump
Succeeded by Thomas T. Bouldin
In office
March 4, 1823 – December 26, 1825
Preceded by John Floyd
Succeeded by George W. Crump
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 16th district
In office
March 4, 1819 – March 4, 1823
Preceded by Archibald Austin
Succeeded by James Stephenson
In office
March 4, 1815 – March 4, 1817
Preceded by John W. Eppes
Succeeded by Archibald Austin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 15th district
In office
March 4, 1803 – March 4, 1813
Preceded by John Dawson
Succeeded by John Kerr
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 7th district
In office
March 4, 1799 – March 4, 1803
Preceded by Abraham B. Venable
Succeeded by Joseph Lewis, Jr.
Personal details
Born (1773-06-02)June 2, 1773
Cawsons, Virginia
Died May 24, 1833(1833-05-24) (aged 59)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Resting place Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia
Political party Democratic-Republican
Alma mater College of New Jersey
Columbia College
Profession Planter
Religion Episcopalian
Gilbert Stuart painting of a youthful Randolph

John Randolph (June 2, 1773 – May 24, 1833), known as John Randolph of Roanoke,[note 1] was a planter, and a Congressman from Virginia, serving in the House of Representatives at various times between 1799 and 1833, the Senate (1825–1827), and also as Minister to Russia (1830). After serving as President Thomas Jefferson's spokesman in the House, he broke with Jefferson in 1803 and became the leader of the "Old Republican" or "Quids", an extreme states' rights vanguard of the Democratic-Republican Party[1] who wanted to restrict the role of the federal government. Specifically, Randolph promoted the Principles of '98, which said that individual states could judge the constitutionality of central government laws and decrees, and could refuse to enforce laws deemed unconstitutional.

A quick thinking orator with a wicked wit, he was committed to republicanism and advocated a commercial agrarian society throughout his three decades in Congress. Randolph's conservative stance, displayed in his arguments against debt and for the rights of the landed gentry, have been attributed to his ties to his family estate and the elitist values of his native Southside Virginia. His belief in the importance of a landed gentry led him to oppose the abolition of entail and primogeniture, "The old families of Virginia will form connections with low people, and sink into the mass of overseers' sons and daughters". [2] Randolph vehemently opposed the War of 1812 and the Missouri Compromise of 1820; he was active in debates about tariffs, manufacturing, and currency. With mixed feelings about slavery, he was one of the founders of the American Colonization Society in 1816, to send free blacks to a colony in Africa. However, he also believed that slavery was a necessity in Virginia, saying, "The question of slavery, as it is called, is to us a question of life and death ...You will find no instance in history where two distinct races have occupied the soil except in the relation of master and slave" [3] Contrary to his beliefs, Randolph remained dependent on hundreds of slaves to work his tobacco plantation. But, he provided for their manumission and resettlement in the free state of Ohio in his will, providing monies for the purchase of land and supplies. They founded Rossville, now part of Piqua, Ohio.

Randolph was admired by the community and his supporters for his fiery character and was known as a man that was passionate about education and equality for all. He applied rousing electioneering methods, which he also enjoyed as a hobby. Randolph appealed directly to yeomen, using entertaining and enlightening oratory, sociability, and community of interest, particularly in agriculture. This resulted in an enduring voter attachment to him regardless of his personal deficiencies. His defense of limited government appeals to modern and contemporary conservatives, most notably Russell Kirk (1918–1994).

Randolph was a descendant of Pocahontas


  • Biography 1
  • Career 2
  • Eccentricity and outsider status 3
  • Electoral history 4
  • Religion 5
  • Quotes 6
  • Legacy and honors 7
  • Cultural depictions 8
  • Ancestry 9
  • See also 10
  • Works 11
  • Notes 12
  • References 13
  • Bibliography 14
  • External links 15


Randolph was born at Cawsons, Virginia (now in Nathaniel Beverley Tucker, and a cousin of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson's mother was the daughter of Isham Randolph of Dungeness.[6]

His step-father,

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Abraham B. Venable
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 7th congressional district

Succeeded by
Joseph Lewis, Jr.
Preceded by
John Dawson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 15th congressional district

Succeeded by
John Kerr
Preceded by
John W. Eppes
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 16th congressional district

Succeeded by
Archibald Austin
Preceded by
Archibald Austin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 16th congressional district

Succeeded by
James Stephenson
Preceded by
John Floyd
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
George W. Crump
Preceded by
George W. Crump
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
Thomas T. Bouldin
Preceded by
Thomas T. Bouldin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
Thomas T. Bouldin
United States Senate
Preceded by
James Barbour
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Virginia
Served alongside: Littleton W. Tazewell
Succeeded by
John Tyler
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Henry Middleton
United States Ambassador to Russia
Succeeded by
James Buchanan

External links

  • Adams, Henry. John Randolph (1882); New Edition with Primary Documents and Introduction by Robert McColley, 1996, ISBN 1-56324-653-8; negative assessment. (Available online.)
  • Bruce, William Cabell. John Randolph of Roanoke, 1773–1833; a biography based largely on new material, in 2 volumes; New York, London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1922 (2nd revised edition in 1 volume 1939, reprinted New York, Octagon Books, 1970); exhaustive details. (Available online: Vol. I, Vol. II.)
  • Dawidoff, Robert. The Education of John Randolph, New York: Norton, 1979. ISBN 0-393-01242-5
  • Devanny, John F., Jr. "'A Loathing of Public Debt, Taxes, and Excises': The Political Economy of John Randolph of Roanoke," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 2001 109(4): pp 387–416.
  • Garland, Hugh A. The Life of John Randolph of Roanoke; New York: Appleton & Company, 1851. (Available online: Vol. I, Vol. II.)
  • Johnson, David. John Randolph of Roanoke (Louisiana State University Press; 2012) 352 pages; detailed scholarly biography
  • Kauffman, Bill. Ain't My America: The Long, Noble History of Anti-War Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism, Metropolitan, 2008.
  • Kirk, Russell. Randolph of Roanoke; a study in conservative thought, (1951), 186 pp. Short essay; recent editions include many letters. (Available online.)
  • John Randolph of Roanoke: a study in American politics, with selected speeches and letters, 4th ed., Indianapolis, IN : Liberty Fund, 1997, 588 pp. ISBN 0-86597-150-1; focus on JR's political philosophy
  • Risjord, Norman K. The Old Republicans: Southern Conservatism in the Age of Jefferson (1965); the standard history of the Randolph faction.
  • Tate, Adam L. "Republicanism and Society: John Randolph of Roanoke, Joseph Glover Baldwin, and the Quest for Social Order." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 2003 111(3): 263–298.
  • Weaver, Richard M. "Two Types of American Individualism," Modern Age 1963 7(2): 119-134; compares Randolph with Henry David Thoreau online edition


  1. ^ Varon, Elizabeth R. Disunion! The coming of the American Civil War. University of North Carolina Press.2008, p. 36
  2. ^ Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy
  3. ^ Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy
  4. ^ Page, Richard Channing Moore (1893). "Randolph Family". Genealogy of the Page Family in Virginia (2 ed.). New York: Press of the Publishers Printing Co. pp. 249–272. 
  5. ^ Glenn, Thomas Allen, ed. (1898). "The Randolphs: Randolph Genealogy". Some Colonial Mansions: And Those Who Lived In Them : With Genealogies Of The Various Families Mentioned 1. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Henry T. Coates & Company. pp. 430–459. 
  6. ^ a b , p. 161Some Prominent Virginia FamiliesLouise Pecquet du Bellet,
  7. ^ Timothy Stanley (October 12, 2012). "Who Was John Randolph?". Retrieved March 23, 2015. [A] post-mortem examination of Randolph . . . recorded that the ‘scrotum was scarcely at all developed,’ with only a right testicle ‘the size of a small bean.’ 
  8. ^ Caro, Robert (2003). Master of the Senate. New York: Vintage Books. p. 92.  
  9. ^ McCarthy, Daniel (2008-05-05) Fewer Bases, More Baseball", The American Conservative
  10. ^ Borneman, Walter R., Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America. New York: Random House, 2008 ISBN 978-1-4000-6560-8. p. 25
  11. ^ Peter Kolchin, American Slavery: 1619–1877, New York: Hill and Wang, 1993, p. 81
  12. ^ a b David Lodge, "John Randolph and His Slaves", Shelby County History, 1998, accessed 15 March 2011
  13. ^ Peter Finkelman, "Thomas Jefferson and Anti-Slavery: The Myth Goes On", Virginia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 102, No. 2 (April 1994), p. 222, accessed 14 March 2011
  14. ^  
  15. ^ David Lodge, "Randolph Slaves Come to Ohio", Untitled article, Cincinnati Gazette, 2 July 1846, at Shelby County History, 1998, accessed 15 March 2011
  16. ^ Randolph Settlement/Jackson Cemetery (African), Ohio Historical Society, 2008. Accessed 2013-12-20.
  17. ^ Owen, Lorrie K., ed. Dictionary of Ohio Historic Places. Vol. 2. St. Clair Shores: Somerset, 1999, 1002.
  18. ^ a b Garland, Hugh A. (1874). "IX: Conversion". The Life of John Randolph of Roanoke II (13th ed.). New York: D. Appleton and Co. pp. 94–104. 
  19. ^ Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind (1953), p. 130.
  20. ^ Hugh Rawson, Margaret Miner, ed. (2006). The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations (Second ed.). p. 336. 
  21. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  22. ^ James E. Person (1999). Russell Kirk: A Critical Biography of a Conservative Mind. Madison Books. p. 79. 
  23. ^ Charles W. Dunn and J. David Woodard (2003). The Conservative Tradition in America. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 90. 
  24. ^ Russell Kirk, John Randolph of Roanoke: a Study in American Politics (1978).
  25. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  


  1. ^ Roanoke refers to Roanoke Plantation in Charlotte County, Virginia, not to the city of the same name.


  • Randolph, John. Letters of John Randolph, to a Young Relative, 1834, 254 pp. (Available online.)
  • Randolph, John. Collected letters of John Randolph of Roanoke to Dr. John Brockenbrough, 1812–1833, edited by Kenneth Shorey; foreword by Russell Kirk, Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1988.


See also


Portrayed by Melvyn Douglas in the 1936 film The Gorgeous Hussy.

Cultural depictions

Legacy and honors

(In reference to Henry Clay:). "He is a man of splendid abilities but utterly corrupt. He shines and stinks, like a rotten mackerel by moonlight."[20]

(In reference to President John Quincy Adams in 1826:) "It is my duty to leave nothing undone that I may lawfully do, to pull down this administration ... They who, from indifference, or with their eyes open, persist in hugging the traitor to their bosom, deserve to be insulted ... deserve to be slaves, with no other music to soothe them but the clank of the chains which they have put on themselves and given to their offspring."

(In reference to the Embargo Act of 1807:) "It can be likened to curing corns by cutting off the toes."

"Time is at once the most valuable, and the most perishable of all our possessions."

"I am an aristocrat. I love liberty, I hate equality."[19]

"We all know our duty better than we discharge it."


Randolph's life thereafter was marked with piety. For example, he wrote to John Brockenbrough that he was restrained from taking communion "by the fear of eating and drinking unrighteously."[18] Thus, the executors of Randolph's last will and testament included Virginia's bishop, William Meade.

Randolph was raised and remained within the Episcopal Church. Although he went through a phase of youthful irreligion, in 1818 he had a crisis ending in a conversion experience, all of which he recounted in letters to several friends.[18]


  • 1833; Randolph was re-elected unopposed.
  • 1827; Randolph was re-elected unopposed.
  • 1825; Randolph was re-elected unopposed.
  • 1823; Randolph was re-elected unopposed.
  • 1801; Randolph was re-elected unopposed.
  • 1799; Randolph was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives with 40.54% of the vote, defeating Federalists Powhatan Bolling and Clement Carington.

Electoral history

In 1819, Randolph provided in his will for the manumission of his slaves after his death. He wrote, "I give and bequeath to all my slaves their freedom, heartily regretting that I have ever been the owner of one."[12] Three years later, in 1822, in a codicil to that will, he stipulated that money be provided to transport and settle the freed slaves on land to be purchased in the free state of Ohio. Each slave above the age of 40 was to receive 10 acres of land.[12] He provided for the manumission of hundreds of slaves in his will.[13] Although the will was challenged in the courts, his slaves were finally ruled to be free.[14] After a lengthy court case, his will was upheld. In 1846 three hundred eighty-three former "Randolph Slaves" arrived in Cincinnati, before settling in Rumley, Shelby County, Ohio.[15] Many of them ultimately settled at Rossville near Piqua, Ohio,[16] of which only the community cemetery remains.[17]

Together with Henry Clay, Randolph was one of three founders of the American Colonization Society (ACS) in 1816, a collaboration of slaveholders and abolitionists that planned to transport and resettle free blacks in a colony in Africa (this territory became Liberia). Like some other slaveholders, Randolph had long been opposed to slavery in theory. In the two decades after the Revolutionary War, so many planters freed slaves that the proportion of free blacks in Virginia increased from less than one percent in 1782 to 13.5 percent in 1810.[11]

Randolph had an intense dislike for Rep. Willis Alston and had a pitched fight with him in a Washington boarding house. Heated words led to the two throwing tableware at each other. Six years later, they fought again in a stairwell at the House after Alston loudly referred to Randolph as a "puppy". Randolph beat Alston bloody with his cane and the two had to be separated by other congressmen. Randolph was fined $20 for this breach of the peace.

Randolph once fought a duel with Henry Clay, but otherwise mostly kept his bellicosity for the floor of Congress. He routinely dressed in a flashy manner, often accompanied by his slaves and his hunting dogs. "[W]hen Clay had set about making the speakership a position of true power upon his first election to that post in 1811, he had unceremoniously ordered Randolph to remove his dog from the House floor—something no previous Speaker had dared to do."[10]

Modern science has established that latent pulmonary tuberculosis can sometimes settle in the genital tract and can cause the symptoms and permanent damage that would prevent the onset of puberty. Randolph's brother died of TB, and it appears that Randolph contracted it as a youth and never went through puberty. He finally died of TB at age 60, after it broke out into the open. He began to use opium as a way to deal with the extreme pain caused by his lifelong battle with tuberculosis. Contemporary accounts attest to his having had a belligerent and bellicose personality before the onset of any disease.

Despite being a Virginia gentleman, one of the great orators in the history of Caroline, and House leader, Randolph after five years of leadership became (1803) a permanent outsider. He had personal eccentricities which were made worse by his lifelong ill health (he died of tuberculosis), heavy drinking, and occasional use of opium. According to Bill Kauffman, Randolph was "a habitual opium user [and] a bachelor who seems to have nurtured a crush on Andrew Jackson."[9]

Eccentricity and outsider status

Mirth, sparkling like a diamond shower,
From lips of life-long sadness;
Clear picturings of majestic thought
Upon a ground of madness
While others hailed in distant skies
Our eagle's dusky pinion,
He only saw the mountain bird
Stoop o'er his Old Dominion!
All parties feared him; each in turn
Beheld its schemes disjointed,
At right or left his fatal glance
And spectral finger pointed

John Greenleaf Whittier's poem "Randolph of Roanoke," written after the Virginian had become a symbol of "slave power," captures his strange brilliance:

Autographed portrait of John Randolph

Elected again in 1832, he served until his death in Philadelphia on May 24, 1833. He never married.

Randolph was a member of the Virginia constitutional convention at Richmond in 1829. He was appointed United States Minister to Russia by President Andrew Jackson and served from May to September 1830, when he resigned for health reasons.

In 1825 he talked for several days in opposition to a series of measures proposed by President John Quincy Adams; Randolph argued these measures would give advantage to the emerging industrial powers of New England at the expense of the Southern states. This series of speeches was the first Senate filibuster.[8]

Randolph was appointed to the US Senate in December 1825 to fill a vacancy, and served until 1827. Randolph was elected to the Congress again in 1826, chairing the Committee on Ways and Means.

In 1823-1824, John Randolph was asked to seek Office as the Democratic-Republican Party Candidate for the Office of U.S. President in time for the 1824 U.S. Presidential Election. He declined this offer.

Defeated for re-election in 1812 due to his opposition to the War of 1812, Randolph was elected in 1814 and 1816. He skipped a term, then was re-elected and served from 1819 until his resignation in 1825.

In June 1807 Randolph was the foreman of the Grand Jury in Richmond, which was considering the indictment of Aaron Burr and others for treason. By the end of the review, he was angry with Thomas Jefferson for supporting General James Wilkinson, Burr's chief accuser. He considered Wilkinson less than a reputable and honorable person.

Although he greatly admired the political ideals of the Revolutionary War generation, Randolph, influenced by Southern anti-Federalism, propounded a version of republicanism that called for the traditional patriarchal society of Virginia's elite gentry to preserve social stability with minimal government interference. Randolph was one of the Congressional managers who conducted the successful impeachment proceedings against John Pickering, judge of the United States District Court for New Hampshire, in January 1804. Critics complained that he mismanaged the failed impeachment effort in December of the same year against Samuel Chase, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Randolph was chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means in the Seventh through the Ninth Congresses, acting as the Democratic-Republican party leader. After breaking with his cousin the President Thomas Jefferson in 1806, he founded the Tertium quids, a faction of the Democratic-Republican Party that called for a return to the Principles of 1798 and renounced what it saw as creeping nationalism.

Mr. Randolph goes to the House booted and spurred, with his whip in hand, in imitation, it is said, of members of the British Parliament. He is a very slight man but of the common stature. At a little distance, he does not appear older than you are; but, upon a nearer approach, you perceive his wrinkles and grey hairs. He is, I believe, about thirty. He is a descendant in the right line from the celebrated Indian Princess, Pochahontas. The Federalists ridicule and affect to despise him; but a despised foe often proves a dangerous enemy. His talents are certainly far above mediocrity. As a popular speaker, he is not inferior to any man in the House. I admire his ingenuity and address; but I dislike his politics.

At the unusually young age of 26, Randolph was elected to the Sixth and to the six succeeding US Congresses (1799 to 1813). Federalist William Plumer of New Hampshire wrote in 1803 of his striking presence:


His interment was in Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery.

A genetic aberration—possibly Klinefelter syndrome—left him beardless and with a soprano pre-pubescent voice throughout his life.[7] First studying under private tutors, Randolph attended Walter Maury's private school, then the College of New Jersey, and Columbia College, New York City. He studied law in Philadelphia, but never practiced.


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