William Wirt(redirected from Wirt, William)
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Wirt, William(wûrt), 1772–1834, U.S. Attorney General and author, b. Bladensburg, Md. He had little formal schooling but was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1792. His first book was an anonymous collection of sketches called The Letters of a British Spy (1803), which purported to be the work of a "meek and harmless" noble visitor to America. The Rainbow (1804) and The Old Bachelor (1810) are similar collections, attempting the style of Joseph Addison. Wirt's Life and Character of Patrick Henry (1817) was his first book to appear under his own name; it presumed to give the text of Henry's speeches. His role as prosecutor in the trial (1807) of Aaron Burr brought him renown as a lawyer. As U.S. Attorney General (1817–29), Wirt initiated the practice of preserving his official opinions so that they could be used as precedents. In 1832 he accepted the nomination for President of the Anti-Masonic partyAnti-Masonic party,
American political organization that rose after the disappearance in W New York state in 1826 of William Morgan. A former Mason, Morgan had written a book purporting to reveal Masonic secrets.
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Wirt, William(1772–1834) lawyer, cabinet officer, author; born in Bladensburg, Md. Son of Swiss-German tavern-keepers, he read law and began his practice in Virginia. After three terms as clerk of Virginia's House of Delegates (1800–02), he gained fame as assistant prosecuting attorney in Aaron Burr's treason trial (1807). As U.S. attorney general (1817–29) under both President James Monroe and John Quincy Adams, he argued landmark cases. He was the reluctant presidential candidate of the Anti-Masons in 1832. With some ambition to have a literary reputation, he enjoyed considerable popularity with The Letters of the British Spy (1803), observations on society supposedly written by an English visitor. Less successful was his Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (1817).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.