Today in 1773, John Randolph of Roanoke was born. A Virginian cousin to Thomas Jefferson, Randolph was also related to many other prominent members of the Virginia gentry, such as Richard Bland, Peyton Randolph, and St. George Tucker.
Born with a genetic condition that left him with a high-pitched voice for his entire life, Randolph was sickly for most of his life. Still, he emerged as a passionate detractor that proved to be a thorn in the side of many presidents. He believed strongly in southern agrarianism, apprehending the moneyed interests of the northern bankers and speculators. He enjoyed hunting, and even brought his hunting dog with him to Congress. He coined the term “doughface” as a derogatory reference to northerners who held southern sympathies.
Randolph established himself as the most ideologically pure Jeffersonian in Congress, where he promoted the president’s Republican platform. As a devout adherent to the “Principles of 98,” the notion that individual states could determine for themselves the constitutionality of federal law, Randolph was adamantly committed to federalism under a league of states rather than a national union.
His amiable association with Jefferson came to a halt when Randolph broke with the president, forming a Republican faction known as the Tertium Quids – a Latin phrase for “a third thing.” Believing Jefferson’s doings had betrayed his earlier principles, Randolph thought the president gradually adopted Federalist inclinations. While he was never able to thwart Jefferson’s agenda, Randolph’s notoriety earned him acclaim from some and scorn from others.
During Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, he led the charge to rescind the Judiciary Act of 1801, to eliminate all internal taxes, to finalize the Louisiana Purchase, and to impeach Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. After he broke with Jefferson, he scolded the president for publicly condemning Aaron Burr as a traitor without sufficient evidence, refused to fund the purchase of Florida, and condemned the disastrous Embargo Act.
After Jefferson’s presidency, Randolph criticized the War of 1812, viewing the conflict only as an expansionary, militaristic affair. He opposed extending the charter of the national bank and the Missouri Compromise on the grounds that the arrangements were unconstitutional. A slaveholder that was morally opposed to the practice, he helped found the American Colonization Society. Like George Washington before him, Randolph manumitted his slaves in his will.
Randolph was a real American rabble-rouser who managed to raise the ire of anyone who stood against him, and his disposition truly exemplified the old south. Through pious adherence to the principles he espoused, he branded himself as a true defender of his home state and the originally ratified Constitution.
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