Slike strani
PDF
ePub
[graphic][ocr errors]

JOHN RANDOLPH.

JOHN RANDOLPH, of Roanoke, one of the most eminent of those scholars, statesmen, and orators, who belong to Virginia, was the third and youngest son of John Randolph and Frances, a daughter of Colonel Theodoric Bland,* of the family bearing that name in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He was born at Cawson's, the seat of his grandfather, near the junction of the Appomatox and James rivers, in Virginia, on the second day of June, 1773. When scarcely three years old his father died, leaving him to the sole care of his excellent mother. By her he was taught to read, and his mind was early imbued with the lessons of religion and duty. "When I could first remember," says he to a friend, "I slept in the same bed with my widowed mother each night, before putting me to bed, I repeated on my knees before her the Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed-each morning kneeling in the bed I put up my little hands in prayer in the same form. Years have since passed away; I have been a skeptic, a professed scoffer, glorying in my infidelity, and vain of the ingenuity with which I could defend it. Prayer never crossed my mind, but in scorn. I am now conscious that the lessons above mentioned, taught me by my dear and revered mother, are of more value to me than all that I have learned from my preceptors and compeers. On Sunday, I said my catechism, a great part of which at the distance of thirty-five years, I can yet repeat."

In September, 1778, Mrs. Randolph married Mr. St. George Tucker, a native of Bermuda, and retired to the family estate of the Randolphs, at Matoax, two miles above Petersburg, where she continued to reside until the time of her death. "A more amiable and exemplary stepfather than Mr. Tucker, could not be found." The instruction of the children, which, since the death of their father, had been acquired at the hands of their mother, was now undertaken by Mr. Tucker. To that object he devoted all the leisure he could command in the midst of his professional duties, and always manifested the deepest interest in the welfare and improvement of his pupils. The extreme youth and delicate constitution of little John at this time rendered his confinement to study impracticable, and he was allowed to follow his own inclinations. But he was not idle. Before he was ten he read Voltaire's History of Charles XII., and the Spectator. "I read Humphrey Clinker, also," he says, in the Letters to Dudley, "that is, Win's and Tabby's Letters with great delight, for I could spell at that age pretty correctly. Reynard, the Fox, came next, I think; then Tales of the Genii and Arabian Nights. This last, and Shakspeare, were my idols. I had read them, with Don Quixote, Gil Blas, Quintus Curtius, Plutarch, Pope's Homer, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver, Tom Jones, Orlando Furioso, and Thomson's Seasons, before I was eleven years of age; also, Goldsmith's Roman History, and an old history

*Colonel Bland was an active promoter of the Revolution. When Lord Dunmore, in the spring of 1775, under instructions from England, undertook to disarm the people, by secretly withdrawing the muskets and powder from the magazine in Williamsburg, Colonel Bland was among the first to rouse the country to resistance. As munitions of war were scarce, he, his son Theodoric Bland, junior, and his son-in-law John Randolph, father of the late John of Roanoke, sold forty negroes, and with the money purchased powder for the use of the colony. Endowed with an ample fortune and a manly character, having been for a series of years in succession, lieutenant of the county of Prince George, clerk of the court, and representative in the House of Burgess he possesse a commanding influence among the people. His house was the centre of a wide circle of friends and relations, who had pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, to the cause of independence.-Garland's Life of Randolph.

of Braddock's War. At about eleven, (1784-5,) Percy's Reliques and Chaucer became great favorites, and Chatterton and Rowley. I then read Young and Gay, &c. Goldsmith I never saw till 1787."

During the winter of 1781, John was sent with his brothers to a school in Orange county, where he remained until the latter part of the following year. The facts of this year of his life are not recorded. On retiring from this school, he was placed in the primary department of William and Mary College. Here he made considerable progress in the classics, "learned to repeat the Westminster Greek Grammar by heart," and increased his knowledge of the French language. But, his health failing, he was compelled to relinquish his books, and, in the spring of 1784, in company with his parents he visited the Island of Bermuda. After an absence of eighteen months, he returned to Virginia, and, in 1787, entered Princeton College. Dissatisfied with this institution, he removed the next year to Columbia College, in New York city. Of his career in this place little is known.

From the time he left college until his appearance in opposition to Patrick Henry, at the Charlotte Court, in March, 1799, Mr. Randolph was engaged in the duties of his estate, in visiting the southern cities, and in acquiring a knowledge of the political affairs of the world. The exciting topics in 1799, were the alien and sedition laws. The Virginia Legislature had passed resolutions declaring those laws unconstitutional. Mr. Henry viewed the step with apprehension and alarm, and anxious to preserve the Union of his country which seemed to be threatened with danger, he left the retirement of his home and offered himself as a candidate for the State Legislature. At the March Court, he appeared on the election ground, and delivered one of his most eloquent and touching appeals. When he had finished, young Randolph, who was a candidate for Congress, rose to reply. It was his first attempt at public speaking. He spoke three hours; the people all that time, standing on their feet, hung with breathless silence on his words. His youthful appearance, boyish tones, distinct and thrilling utterance; his grace; his bold and manly thoughts, struck them with astonishment.* The result of the contest was the election of both of the speakers; Mr. Henry to the State Legislature and Mr. Randolph to the Congress of the United States.

Mr. Randolph took his seat in Congress in December, 1799, and soon became a prominent and active member. His first appearance in debate was on the tenth of January, 1800, at the time Mr. Nicholas's resolution for reducing the army was before the House. At the opening of the first session of Congress under the administration of President Jefferson, he was placed at the head of the Committee of Ways and Means, one of the most considerable and laborious positions in Congress. In February, 1802, in accordance with the recommendation of the President, he reported a bill to repeal the laws of the last session with respect to the judiciary, and, in the debate on the subject, delivered a powerful and effective speech. This bill, after a warm and protracted discussion, in which nearly all the celebrated men in Congress took a part, was passed early in March, by a large majority. In the other important measures which originated or were discussed in this session, Mr. Randolph was constantly and indefatigably engaged. He introduced a resolution, directing the Secretary of the Treasury to lay before the House a list of the exports to the Mediterranean, distinguishing those of the growth of the United States;-took part in the debates on the Apportionment Bill, the navigation of the Mississippi, and the purchase of Louisiana. His agency in these measures is too well understood to require particular notice in this place.

In January, 1804, he offered a resolution that a committee be appointed to inquire into the official conduct of Judge Chase of the Supreme Court of the United States, and report whether he had so acted in his judicial capacity as to require the interposition of the House. This was the foundation of the celebrated impeachment of Judge Chase. Although Mr. Randolph's resolution met with a strong opposition, it was finally carried; articles of impeachment were reported, but for want of time, were continued to the next session. In November, 1804, they were again reported, and Mr. Randolph was appointed to conduct the trial. On the fourteenth

*Mr. Henry's speech on this occasion will be found at page 12, of the first volume of this collection. A spirited resume of Mr. Randolph's remarks is given in Mr. Garland's life of that celebrated man.

of February, 1805, he appeared at the bar of the Senate and opened the case, in a speech occupying one hour and a half. The result of this novel and exciting trial is well known. During the same session, Mr. Randolph delivered his celebrated speech on the Yazoo Question, a full account of which will be found in Mr. Garland's interesting volume.

Pending the difficulties between the United States and Great Britain, in 1805-6, many plans of action were proposed both in the Senate and House of Representatives. Mr. Gregg's resolution, the prominent one in the House, suggested a prohibition of all intercourse between the two nations, until England would consent to arrange the matters in dispute on fair terms. This professed to be a peace measure; but many of its friends discussed it as a war measure; Mr. Randolph so regarded it, and on the fifth day of March, 1806, he delivered an able and eloquent speech against it. By many, this effort was regarded as his most forcible and patriotic. It caused general remark in England, where it was republished, soon after its delivery, with a comprehensive introduction by the author of the celebrated pamphlet, War in Disguise. Mr. Randolph combated, with energy and resolution, every measure that tended to weaken the bonds of peace between the United States and Great Britain. His speech on an increase in the army, delivered in the lower House of Congress, on the tenth of December, 1811, contributed to that end.

Early in April, 1812, President Madison sent in a secret message recommending an immediate embargo. The Committee of Foreign Relations, anticipating the message, had already prepared a bill, which was read twice, reported to the Committee of the Whole, referred back to the House, and immediately put on its passage. The question was asked by one of the members whether the bill was to be considered as a peace measure, or a precursor to war. He was answered that it was understood as a war measure; "and it is meant," said the member, "that it shall lead directly to it." Approbation of the message and the proposition before the House was then expressed by different members, when Mr. Randolph rose and made the following remarks :*"I am so impressed with the importance of the subject, and the solemnity of the occasion, that I cannot be silent. Sir, we are now in conclave; the eyes of the surrounding world are not upon us: we are shut up here from the light of heaven, but the eyes of God are upon us. He knows the spirit of our minds. Shall we deliberate upon this subject with the spirit of sobriety and candof, or with that spirit which has too often characterized our discussions upon occasions like the present? We ought to realize that we are in the presence of that God who knows our thoughts and motives, and to whom we must hereafter render an account for the deeds done in the body. I hope, sir, the spirit of party, and every improper passion, will be exorcised, that our hearts may be as pure and clean as fall to the lot of human nature.

"I am confident in the declaration, Mr. Chairman, that this is not a measure of the Executive; but that it is engendered by an extensive excitement upon the Executive * * * *

"I will appeal to the sobriety and reflection of the House, and ask, what new cause of war for the last twelve months? What new cause of embargo within that period? The affair of the Chesapeake is settled. No new principles of blockade interpolated into the laws of nations. I suppose every man of candor and sober reflection will ask why we did not go to war twelve months ago? Or will it be said we ought to make up, by our promptness now, for our slowness then? Or will it be said, that if the wheat for which we have received two dollars a bushel had been rotting in our barns, we should have been happier and richer? What would the planter say if you were to ask him which he would prefer,—the honorable, chivalrous course advocated by the Speaker, with the consequences which must attend it, the sheriff at his back, and the excise collector pressing him? He would laugh in your face. It is not generally wise to dive into futurity; but it is wise to profit by experience, although it may be unpleasant. I feel much concerned to have the bill on the table for one hour." That privilege was not allowed, however; the bill was hurried through, and in a short time became a law. At the close of his term Mr. Randolph retired to his estate on the Roanoke River.

In 1816, he again took his seat in Congress, where he distinguished himself by a strong oppo

*Life of John Randolph of Roanoke, by Hugh A. Garland. Vol. I. page 298.

sition to the Bank of the United States. He opposed it as unconstitutional, inexpedient, and dangerous. "I declare to you, sir," said he, "that I am the holder of no stock whatever, except live stock, and had determined never to own any-but, if this bill passes, I will not only be a stockholder to the utmost of my power, but will advise every man over whom I have any influence, to do the same, because it is the creation of a great privileged order of the most hateful kind to my feelings, and because I would rather be the master than the slave. If I must have a master, let him be one with epaulettes-something that I can fear and respect, something that I can look up to-but not a master with a quill behind his ear." Mr. Randolph was equally strong and vehement in his opposition to the "revenue bill," of this session.

During the summer of 1816, after his return to Roanoke, Mr. Randolph's health, which for some time had been declining, became more feeble, and the following winter he suffered extremely. An anecdote of this period of his life, is related by Mr. Roane, who was a member of Congress from Virginia during the session of 1816-17. "I remember," says he, "that one morning Mr. Lewis came into the House of Representatives and addressed Mr. Tyler and myself, who were the youngest members from Virginia, and said we must go to Georgetown to Mr. Randolph. We asked for what; he said that Mr. Randolph had told him that he was determined not to be buried as beau Dawson had been, at the public expense, and he had selected us young bloods to come to him and take charge of his funeral. We went over immediately. When we entered Mr. Randolph's apartments he was in his morning gown. He rose and shook us by the hand. On our inquiries after his health, he said, 'Dying! dying! dying! in a dreadful state.' He inquired what was going on in Congress. We told him that the galleries were filling with people of the District, and that there was considerable excitement on the re-chartering of the batch of banks in the District. He then broke off, and commenced upon another subject, and pronounced a glowing eulogium upon the character and talents of Patrick Henry. After sitting for some time, and nothing being said on the business on which we had been sent to him, we rose and took our leave. When we got to the door, I said, 'I wish, Mr. Randolph, you could be in the House to-day.' He shook his head-'Dying, sir, dying!' When we had got back to the House of Representatives, Mr. Lewis came in and asked how we had found Mr. Randolph. We laughed, and said as well as usual-that we had spent a very pleasant morning with him, and had been much amused by his conversation. Scarcely a moment after, Mr. Lewis exclaimed, 'There he is!' and there to be sure he was. He had entered by another door, having arrived at the Capitol almost as soon as we did. In a few moments he rose and commenced a speech, the first sentence of which I can repeat verbatim.-' Mr. Speaker,' said he, 'this is Shrove Tuesday. Many a gallant cock has died in the pit on this day, and I have come to die in the pit also.' He then went on with his speech, and after a short time turned and addressed the crowd of hungry expectants,' as he called them-tellers, clerks, and porters in the gallery."

Mr. Randolph continued his legislative duties until the spring of 1821, when he obtained leave of absence, and sailed for England in search of health. On his arrival, he met a flattering and distinguished reception. "The plainness of his appearance," says a London paper, "his republican simplicity of manners, and easy and unaffected address, attracted much attention." After travelling extensively in England and Scotland, he returned to the United States in November, 1822, and the following December took his seat in Congress. Here he remained until the close of the session, but never took part in the debates.

At the opening of the eighteenth Congress, Mr. Randolph appeared at his place, and entered zealously into the various discussions of the day. He opposed Mr. Webster, Mr. Clay, and others in the debate on the Greek Question; delivered an elaborate speech against a contemplated scheme of internal improvements, which originated with Mr. Monroe, and was supported by Mr. Clay, and combated the Tariff in all its stages. After he had given up all hope of success in his efforts against the latter measure, he wrote thus to a friend: "I am satisfied (now) that nothing can avail to save us. Indeed, I have long been of that opinion. The ship will neither wear nor stay, and she may go ashore, and be —,' as Jack says."

Shortly after the adjournment of Congress, Mr. Randolph again visited Europe, spending the latter part of the summer of 1824 among the mountains of Switzerland. He returned to New

« PrejšnjaNaprej »