Randolph, John

Randolph, John,

1773–1833, American legislator, known as John Randolph of Roanoke, b. Prince George co., Va. He briefly studied law under his cousin Edmund Randolph. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1799–1813, 1815–17, 1819–25, 1827–29), where he became a prominent and feared figure, and in the U.S. Senate (1825–27). After breaking (1805) with President Jefferson on the acquisition of Florida, which he opposed, Randolph lost his leadership in the House. He strongly opposed James Madison and the War of 1812, the second Bank of the United States, the Missouri Compromise, and the tariff measures. From 1820 he was a violent sectionalist. His impassioned denunciations of Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams led (1826) to a duel with Clay. Appointed (1830) by President Jackson minister to Russia, he resigned shortly after his arrival there because of ill health. Following his return he denounced Jackson's proclamation against nullification. 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. A bizarre figure, Randolph numbered Pocahontas among his forebears. He became more eccentric in his later years and at times suffered from dementia. Chiefly remembered for his epigrammatic wit and caustic tongue, he also possessed a brilliant and scholarly mind and was celebrated as an orator.


See biographies by H. Adams (1882, repr. 1972) and W. C. Bruce (2 vol., 1922; repr. 1970); study by R. Kirk (rev. ed. 1964).

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Randolph, John

(1773–1833) U.S. representative, orator; born in Prince George County, Va. (second cousin of Edmund Randolph). Educated initially by his stepfather, he proved himself a restless but brilliant student who never stayed long with a particular college or tutor. A reckless horseman, he cut a swashbuckling pose in the U.S. House of Representatives (Dem.-Rep., Va.; 1799–1813), defending the Jeffersonians against the Federalists as chairman of the Standing Committee on Ways and Means. A sarcastic and witty speaker, he was really a party of one who alienated Northern Democrats and quarreled with Jefferson, then opposed the War of 1812, which cost him the next election. Returning to the House (1815–17, 1819–25), he strongly opposed the Missouri Compromise. After an erratic two years in the Senate (1825–27)—during which time he fought a duel in 1826 with Henry Clay over some political insult—he returned to the House (1827–29) leading the opposition to John Quincy Adams. He served briefly as President Andrew Jackson's ambassador to Russia in 1830, returning to his rustic home, "Roanoke," where chronic ill health drove him to drink and opium. At his death, he freed his slaves.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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