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John Randolph

In office
December 26, 1825 – March 3, 1827
Serving with Littleton W. Tazewell
Preceded by James Barbour
Succeeded by John Tyler

In office
May 26, 1830 – September 19, 1830
President Andrew Jackson
Preceded by Henry Middleton
Succeeded by James Buchanan

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 3, 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 3, 1823
Preceded by Archibald Austin
Succeeded by James Stephenson
In office
March 4, 1815 – March 3, 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 3, 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 3, 1803
Preceded by Abraham B. Venable
Succeeded by Joseph Lewis, Jr.

Born June 2, 1773(1773-06-02)
Cawsons, VA
Died May 24, 1833 (aged 59)
Philadelphia, PA
Political party Democratic-Republican
Profession Planter
Religion Episcopalian

John Randolph (June 2, 1773 – May 24, 1833), known as John Randolph of Roanoke,[1] was a Congressman from Virginia, serving in the House of Representatives (1799–1813, 1815–1817, 1819–1825, 1827–1829, 1833), the Senate (1825–1827), and also as Minister to Russia (1830). He was a leader of and spokesman for the "Old Republican" or "Quids" faction of the Democratic-Republican Party that wanted to restrict the role of the federal government.



He was born at Cawsons, Virginia (now in Hopewell, Virginia), he was the son of rich tobacco planter John Randolph (1742–1775) and Frances Bland (1744–1788). A peculiar illness as a young man left Randolph beardless and high-voiced. He was the nephew of Theodorick Bland and Thomas Tudor Tucker and a half brother of Henry St. George Tucker, Sr. and Nathaniel Beverley Tucker.

He studied under private tutors, at Walter Maury's private school, then College of New Jersey, and Columbia College, New York City. He studied law in Philadelphia, but never practiced. At an unusually young age Randolph was elected to the Sixth and to the six succeeding Congresses (1799 to 1813). Federalist William Plumer of New Hampshire wrote in 1803 of his striking presence:

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.

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 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.

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 effort in December of the same year against Samuel Chase, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In June 1807 he was the foreman of the Grand Jury in Richmond Va., 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.

He was defeated for re-election in 1812 due to his opposition to the War of 1812, but elected in 1814 and 1816, skipped a term, and served from 1819 until his resignation in 1825. Randolph was appointed to the Senate in December, 1825 to fill a vacancy, and served until 1827. Randolph was elected to the Congress in 1826, chairing the Committee on Ways and Means.

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. Elected again in 1832, he served until his death in Philadelphia on May 24, 1833. He is buried at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. He never married.

Autographed portrait of John Randolph

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

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

A modern conservative political group, the John Randolph Club, is named after Randolph. Randolph-Macon College and Randolph College also bear his name.

Eccentricity and outsider status

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 and eccentric. He had personal eccentricities as well, which were made worse by his lifelong ill health (he died of tuberculosis), his heavy drinking, and his occasional use of opium. He once fought a duel with Henry Clay, but otherwise kept his bellicosity to the floor of Congress. He routinely dressed in a flashy manner, often accompanied by his slaves and his hunting dogs.

In 1819, John Randolph wrote in his will a provision for the freedom of his slaves after his death. Three years later, in 1822, in a codicil to that will, he stipulated that money be provided to transport and settle these freed slaves in some other state (Ohio). (A group of the former "Randolph Slaves" settled in Rumley, Shelby County, Ohio. See List of ghost towns in the United States).


Randolph was raised and remained within the Episcopalian 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.[2] His 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."[2]


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

"I am an aristocrat. I love liberty, I hate equality."[3]

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

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

See also


  • Randolph, John. Letters of John Randolph, to a Young Relative, 1834, 254 pp.
  • Randolph, John. Collected letters of John Randolph of Roanoke to Dr. John Brockenbrough, 1812–1833, edited by Kenneth Shorey; foreword by Russell Kirk, Transaction Books, 1988. ISBN 0-88738-194-4


  1. ^ Roanoke refers to Roanoke Plantation in Charlotte County, Virginia, not to the city of the same name.
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind (1953), p. 130.


  • Adams, Henry. John Randolph (1882); New Edition with Primary Documents and Introduction by Robert McColley, 1996, ISBN 1-56324-653-8; negative assessment.
  • 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
  • Dawidoff, Robert. The Education of John Randolph, New York, Norton, (1979), ISBN 0-393-01242-5
  • Kirk, Russell. Randolph of Roanoke; a study in conservative thought, (1951), 186 pp. Short essay; recent editions include many letters
  • 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.

External links

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

March 4, 1799 – March 3, 1803
Succeeded by
Joseph Lewis, Jr.
Preceded by
John Dawson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 15th congressional district

March 4, 1803 – March 3, 1813
Succeeded by
John Kerr
Preceded by
John W. Eppes
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 16th congressional district

March 4, 1815 – March 3, 1817
Succeeded by
Archibald Austin
Preceded by
Archibald Austin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 16th congressional district

March 4, 1819 – March 3, 1823
Succeeded by
James Stephenson
Preceded by
John Floyd
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 5th congressional district

March 4, 1823 – December 26, 1825
Succeeded by
George W. Crump
Preceded by
George W. Crump
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 5th congressional district

March 4, 1827 – March 3, 1829
Succeeded by
Thomas T. Bouldin
Preceded by
Thomas T. Bouldin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 5th congressional district

March 4, 1833 – May 24, 1833
Succeeded by
Thomas T. Bouldin
United States Senate
Preceded by
James Barbour
United States Senator (Class 1) from Virginia
December 26, 1825 – March 3, 1827
Served alongside: Littleton W. Tazewell
Succeeded by
John Tyler
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Henry Middleton
United States Ambassador to Russia
May 26, 1830 – September 19, 1830
Succeeded by
James Buchanan


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