John Randolph

1773-1833

John Randolph was a Virginia statesman and an early advocate of the States' Rights doctrine. Born 2 June 1773 in Prince George county, Virginia, he was descended from an ancient family, and boasted that the Indian princess, Pocahontas, was one of his ancestors.  He studied briefly at Princeton, Columbia, and William and Mary Colleges.

In 1799, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and was reelected to the House, except for brief periods, for more than twenty years. From 1825 to 1827, he served in the U.S. Senate.

Randolph was a firm believer in states' rights. Like John Calhoun, he opposed the national bank and protective tariffs.  He was the democratic leader of the House of Representatives, but quarreled with Jefferson, and opposed the war of 1812, and the Missouri Compromise, and stigmatized the Northern members who voted for it as "Dough-faces."  Though he was said to dislike slavery, he owned more than 5000 acres of land with hundreds of slaves. Randolph maintained that the federal government had no constitutional right to legislate on the institution of slavery.

Bitterly opposing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (on the grounds that the law amounted to federal intrusion into areas where it lacked a constitutional mandate), he became a lifelong enemy of Henry Clay. Their dispute over the Missouri Compromise and Clay's support of John Quincy Adams in the election of 1824 led to a bloodless duel in 1826.

While a member of Congress, he became distinguished for his eloquence, wit, sarcasm, invective, and eccentricity, and for thirty years was more talked and written of than any American politician. Tall and meagre, peculiar in dress and manners, he was described as a strange mixture of the aristocrat and the Jacobin. In 1822 and 1824, he visited England, where his eccentricities attracted much notice. In 1825, he was chosen United States senator from Virginia, and in 1830 appointed Minister to Russia.

In frequent poor health, Randolph turned to alcohol and opium late in life. He lived alone on his plantation on the Little Roanoke River in present-day Charlotte county, Virginia. On 24 May 1833, Randolph died in Philadelphia, and was buried facing west (according to his own instructions) so that he could continue to keep an eye on his old enemy Henry Clay. Randolph's will ordered that all his slaves be freed (318 in all), and provided for their maintenance in a free state.

An outspoken champion of individual liberty, he staunchly defended the Constitution and states’ rights, and his views were influential in the South long after his death.