Edmund Randolph - Encyclopedia

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EDMUND [JENNINGS] RANDOLPH (1753-1813), American statesman, was born on the 10th of August 17J3, at Tazewell Hall, Williamsburg, Virginia, the family seat of his grandfather, Sir John Randolph (1693-1737), and his father, John Randolph (1727-84), who (like his uncle Peyton Randolph) were king's attorneys for Virginia. Edmund graduated at the College of William and Mary, and studied law with his father, who felt bound by his oath to the king and went to England in 1775. In August-October 1775 Edmund was aide-de-camp to General Washington. In 1776 he was a member of the Virginia Convention, and was on its committee to draft a constitution. In the same year he became the first attorney-general of the state (serving until 1786). He served in the Continental Congress in 1 779 and again in 1780-82. He had a large private practice, including much legal business for General Washington. In 1786 he was a delegate to the "Annapolis convention," and in 1787-88 was governor of Virginia. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and on the 29th of May presented the "Virginia plan" (sometimes called the "Randolph plan").1 In the Convention Randolph advocated a strongly centralized government, the prohibition of the importation of slaves, and a plural executive, suggesting that there should be three executives from different parts of the country, and refused to sign the constitution because too much power over commerce was granted to a mere majority in Congress, and because no provision was made for a second convention to act after the present instrument had been referred to the states. In October 1787 he published an attack on the Constitution; but in the Virginia convention he urged its ratification, arguing that it was too late to attempt to amend it without endangering the Union, and thinking that Virginia's assent would be that of the necessary ninth state. In 1788 he refused re-election as governor, and entered the House of Delegates to work on the revision and codification of the state laws (published in 1794). In September 1789 he was appointed by President Washington first attorney-general of the United States. He worked for a revision of Ellsworth's judiciary act of 1789, and especially to relieve justices of the supreme court 1 The plan was not drafted by Randolph, but he presented it because he was governor. It called for a legislature of two branches, one chosen by the people and based on free population (or on wealth) and the other chosen by the first out of candidates nominated by the state legislatures; a majority vote only was required in each house; and Congress was to have a negative on such state legislation as seemed to the Congress to contravene the articles of the Union. There was to be, under this plan, an executive chosen by the national legislature, to be ineligible for a second term, to have general authority to execute the national laws and to have the executive rights vested in Congress by the Confederation; and the executive with a convenient number of the national judiciary was to compose a Council of Revision, with a veto power on acts of the national legislature and on the national legislature's vetoes of acts of state legislatures - but the national legislature might pass bills (or vetoes of state legislation) over the action of the Council of Revision. The plan provided for a Federal judiciary, the judges to be appointed by the national legislature, to hold office during good behaviour, and to have jurisdiction over cases in admiralty and cases in which foreigners or citizens of different states were parties. The Virginia plan was opposed by the smaller states, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, which demanded equal representation in the legislature. It was too radically different from the Articles of Confederation. A draft of a constitution in Randolph's handwriting, discovered in 1887, seems to have been the report (6th August) of a Committee of Detail of five members (John Rutledge, Edmund Randolph, Nathaniel Gorham, Oliver Ellsworth and James Wilson). It is reproduced in facsimile in W. M. Meigs's The Growth of the Constitution (Philadelphia, 1900). Conway, who discovered it, exaggerated its importance and thought it had been drawn by Randolph alone and before the Convention.

of the duties of circuit judges, and advocated a Federal code;: in 1791 he considered Hamilton's scheme for a national bank unconstitutional; and in 1792-93, in the case Chisolm v. Georgia before the supreme court, argued that a state might be sued by a citizen of another state. On the 2nd of January 1794 he succeeded Thomas Jefferson as secretary of state. In 1795 he wrote thirteen letters (signed "Germanicus") defending the President in his attack on the American Jacobin or democratic societies. He was the only cabinet member who opposed the ratification of the Jay treaty (his letters to the President on the subject are reprinted in The American Historical Review, vol. xii. pp. 587-599), and before it was ratified the delicate task of keeping up friendly diplomatic relations with France fell to him. Home despatches of the French minister, Joseph Fauchet, intercepted by a British man-of-war and sent to the British minister to the United States, accused Randolph of asking for money from France to influence the administration against Great Britain. Although this charge was demonstrably false, Randolph when confronted with it immediately resigned, and subsequently secured a retractation from Fauchet; he published A Vindication of Mr Randolph's Resignation (1795) and Political Truth, or Animadversions on the Past and Present State of Public Af f airs (1796). He was held personally responsible for the loss of a large sum of money during his administration of the state department, and after years of litigation was judged by an arbitrator to be indebted to the government for more than $49,000, which he paid at great sacrifice to himself. He removed to Richmond in 1803, and during his last years was a leader of the Virginia bar; in 1807 he was one of Aaron Burr's counsel. He died a Carter Hall, Millwood, Clarke county, Virginia, on the 12th of September 1813.

Moncure D. Conway, in his Omitted Chapters of History disclosed in the Life and Papers of Edmund Randolph (New York, 1888; 2nd ed., 1889), greatly exaggerates Randolph's work in the Constitutional Convention; the commoner view underrates him and makes him a "hair-splitter," and a man of no decision of character.

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