John Randolph (June 2, 1773 – May 24, 1833), known as John Randolph of Roanoke, was a leader in Congress from Virginia and spokesman for the "Old Republican" or "Quids" faction of the Democratic-Republican Party that wanted to restrict the federal government's roles.
He was born at Cawsons, Virginia (now in Hopewell, Virginia), he was the son of rich tobacco planter John Randolph and Frances Bland. A peculiar illness as a young man left Randolph beardless and high-voiced (Klinefelter's syndrome).
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 of 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 Wilkinson Burr's chief accuser. He considered Wilkinson less than a reputable and honorable person.
He was defeated for re-election in 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.
John Greenleaf Whittier's poem "Randolph of Roanoke," although written after the Virginian had become a symbol of "slave power," capture his strange brilliance:
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).
Historians reject assertions that Randolph at any time was a Muslim; the only evidence is one letter in 1818 in which he said that as a youth he rooted for the Muslim side when reading about the Crusades.
"I am an aristocrat. I love liberty, I hate equality."
“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."