Today in history, on Dec. 19, 1753, John Taylor of Caroline was born. As a prominent promoter of Thomas Jefferson and his political philosophy, he was a significant but underappreciated member of the founding generation.
Among other accomplishments, Taylor was a prolific political writer who authored several books, served in the Continental Army with distinction, and became a state representative and United States Senator from Virginia. He was an unwavering advocate of federalism, and considered himself a Virginian above all else. According to historian Clyde Wilson, he was “the systematic philosopher” of Jeffersonian political principles in the early republic.
Deeply distrustful of federal power, Taylor devoted his political energies to thwart the plans of the Federalists in the 1790s. The sponsor of the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 in the Virginia House of Delegates, Taylor successfully lobbied to adopt a set of resolutions authored by James Madison, which would permit the state to “interpose” against unconstitutional federal laws, such as the Sedition Act, to arrest “the progress of evil.”
Taylor fiercely denounced protective tariffs, the national bank, the printing of paper money, the War of 1812, the Marshall Court opinion in McCulloch v. Maryland, and the Missouri Compromise. He was a true advocate for decentralized power in the early republic, and came to believe that the early Federalists had set out to violate the Constitution from the First Congress.
Thomas Jefferson heaped praise upon Taylor until the end of his life. He wrote that Taylor’s “Construction Construed and Constitutions Vindicated” was read with “great satisfaction,” and opined that “it has corrected some errors of opinion.” In response to Taylor’s “An Inquiry Into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States,” Jefferson similarly wrote that he and Taylor “could not think differently on the fundamentals of rightful government.”
Taylor’s seminal work, “Tyranny Unmasked,” is an early analysis of federal encroachment and should be compulsory reading for everyone interested in United States constitutional history. In addition, his “New Views on the Constitution” is a fantastic assessment of the orientation of the federal union and its connection to political powers.