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William Grayson

In office
March 4, 1789 - March 12, 1790
Preceded by None
Succeeded by John Walker

Born 1736
Prince William County, VA
Died 12 March 1790 (aged 53–54)
Dumfries, VA
Political party Anti-Administration

William Grayson (1736 – 12 March 1790) was a soldier, lawyer, and statesman from Virginia. He was one of the first two U.S. Senators from Virginia, and belonged to the Anti-Federalist faction.


Grayson was born in 1736 to parents Benjamin Grayson and Susannah Monroe Grayson at Belle Aire Plantation [1] in what is now Woodbridge, Virginia. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1760. He attended university in Great Britain, but it is uncertain whether he attended Oxford University or the University of Edinburgh. He practiced law in Dumfries, Virginia, until the American Revolutionary War began.

Serving as an aide-de-camp to George Washington, Grayson rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1777, he recruited a regiment for the Continental Army known as Grayson's Regiment, and served as its colonel through the Philadelphia campaign. In 1778, he served on a commission dealing with war prisoners, and in 1779 he resigned his military commission to serve on the Congressional Board of War. In 1781 he returned to Dumfries to practice law. Like many Continental Army officers, he was also an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati.

Grayson was a delegate to the Confederation Congress from 1785 to 1787. As an Anti-Federalist (one of the men who in Virginia called themselves "Republicans"), he joined George Mason, James Monroe, and Patrick Henry in opposing ratification of the United States Constitution at the Virginia Ratification Convention in 1788. In that Convention, Grayson argued that the proposed constitution was neither fish nor fowl—neither strong enough for a national government nor decentralized enough for a federal one—and thus eventually would either degenerate into a despotism or result in the dissolution of the Union. Although the Anti-Federalists lost that battle, Patrick Henry, Virginia's leading Anti-Federalist, rewarded Grayson by arranging his election to the first United States Senate. Grayson served from 4 March 1789 until his death on 12 March 1790. He and Richard Henry Lee were the only members of the first Senate who had opposed ratification, and so the two of them were unhappy (but not surprised) when the Bill of Rights omitted any provisions making serious corrections to the division of powers between the central government and the states. Grayson continued to believe that the Philadelphia Convention had struck precisely the wrong balance.

His brother was the Reverend Spence Monroe Grayson of Pohick Church, and through his mother he was a cousin to James Monroe. His wife was Eleanor Smallwood, a sister of Maryland Governor William Smallwood. Grayson was the grandfather of William Grayson Carter, Kentucky state senator, and Confederate General John Breckinridge Grayson.

Grayson is interred within the Grayson family vault at Belle Aire. The vault was encased in concrete [2] and buried by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the early 20th century. It is currently located on private property.


  • K[evin]. R. Constantine Gutzman. "Grayson, William". American National Biography Online, February 2000.
  • Kevin R. C. Gutzman, Virginia's American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840 (Lexington Books, 2007).

External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
United States Senator (Class 1) from Virginia
March 4, 1789 - March 12, 1790
Served alongside: Richard H. Lee
Succeeded by
John Walker


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