Founding Father of the United States
Aide-de-camp to General George Washington
Member, Continental Congress
Governor of Virginia
1st U.S. Attorney General
2nd U.S. Secretary of State
(Editor's Note - For a change of pace this winter we will do profiles of some of the Federalists who helped create this great nation. They gave us Liberty. But would they even recognize the centralized authoritarian and socialistic Big Brother nation that calls itself the United States?)
Edmund Randolph (August 10, 1753 – September 12, 1813) was the seventh Governor of Virginia, the second Secretary of State, and the first United States Attorney General.
Randolph was born on August 10, 1753 to the influential Randolph family in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was educated at the College of William and Mary.
After graduation he began reading law with his father John Randolph and uncle, Peyton Randolph. In 1775, with the start of the American Revolution, Randolph's father remained a Loyalist and returned to Britain; Edmund Randolph remained in America where he joined the Continental Army as aide-de-camp to General George Washington.
Randolph was selected as one of eleven delegates to represent Virginia at the Continental Congress in 1779, and served as a delegate through 1782. During this period he also remained in private law practice, handling numerous legal issues for George Washington among others. He would go on to serve as mayor of Williamsburg.
Randolph was elected Governor of Virginia in 1786, that same year leading a delegation to the Annapolis Convention. The Annapolis Convention met at Annapolis, Maryland. There were 12 delegates from five states (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia) that unanimously called for a constitutional convention.
The Great Compromise
Randolph served as a delegate from Virginia to the Constitutional Convention. He attended every session, and took the floor more than one hundred and fifty times, third after Gouverneur Morris and James Wilson. He attended every session, and sat in the front of the room so he could take extensive notes of all the deliberations.
Randolph introduced the Virginia Plan as an outline for a new national government. He argued against importation of slaves and in favor of a strong central government, advocating a plan for three chief executives from various parts of the country.
The Virginia Plan also proposed two houses, where in both of them delegates were chosen based on state population. Randolph additionally proposed, and was supported by unanimous approval by the Convention's delegates, "that a Nationally Judiciary be established" (Article III of the constitution established the federal court system). The Articles of Confederation lacked a national court system for the United States.
Randolph was also a member of the "Committee of Detail" which was tasked with converting the Virginia Plan's 15 resolutions into a first draft of the Constitution. Randolph refused to sign the final document, however, believing it had insufficient checks and balances, and published an account of his objections in October 1787.
He nevertheless reversed his position at the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1788 and voted for ratification of the Constitution because eight other states had already done so, and he did not want to see Virginia left out of the new national government.
|America's First Cabinet.|
From the left, President George Washington, General Henry Knox was Secretary of War, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Attorney General Edmund Randolph.
George Washington's Cabinet
Randolph was appointed as the first U.S. Attorney General in September 1789, maintaining precarious neutrality in the feud between Thomas Jefferson (of whom Randolph was a second cousin) and Alexander Hamilton. When Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State in 1793, Randolph succeeded him to the position.
The major diplomatic initiative of his term was the Jay Treaty with Britain in 1794, but it was Hamilton who devised the plan and wrote the instructions, leaving Randolph the nominal role of signing the papers. Randolph was hostile to the resulting treaty, and almost gained Washington's ear.
The terms of the treaty were designed primarily by Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton; strongly supported by the chief negotiator John Jay; and supported by President George Washington. The treaty gained the primary American goals, which included the withdrawal of units of the British Army from pre-Revolutionary forts that it had failed to relinquish in the Northwest Territory of the United States (the area west of Pennsylvania and north of the Ohio River).
The British had recognized this area as American territory in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. The parties agreed that disputes over wartime debts and the American-Canadian boundary were to be sent to arbitration—one of the first major uses of arbitration in diplomatic history. The Americans were granted limited rights to trade with British possessions in India and colonies in the Caribbean in exchange for some limits on the American export of cotton.
The treaty was hotly contested by the Jeffersonians in each state. They feared that closer economic ties with Britain would strengthen Hamilton's Federalist Party, promote aristocracy and undercut republicanism.
Washington's announced support proved decisive and the treaty was ratified by a 2/3 majority of the Senate in November 1794. The treaty became a central issue of contention—leading to the formation of the "First Party System" in the United States, with the Federalists favoring Britain and the Jeffersonian republicans favoring France. The treaty was for ten years' duration. The treaty was signed on November 19, 1794, the Senate advised and consented on June 24, 1795.
Near the end of his term as Secretary of State, negotiations for Pinckney's Treaty were finalized.
Pinckney's Treaty was signed in Spain on October 27, 1795 and established intentions of friendship between the United States and Spain.
It also defined the boundaries of the United States with the Spanish colonies and guaranteed the United States navigation rights on the Mississippi River.
The treaty's full title is Treaty of Friendship, Limits, and Navigation Between Spain and the United States. Thomas Pinckney negotiated the treaty for the United States and Don Manuel de Godoy represented Spain. Among other things, it ended the first phase of the West Florida Controversy, a dispute between the two nations over the boundaries of the Spanish colony of West Florida.
A scandal involving an intercepted French message led to Randolph's resignation in August 1795. The British Navy had intercepted correspondence from the French minister, Joseph Fauchet, to the U.S. and turned it over to Washington. The letters implied that Randolph had exposed the inner debates in the cabinet to the French and told them that the Administration was hostile to France. Washington overruled Randolph's negative advice regarding the Jay Treaty.
Treason Trial of Aaron Burr
Edmund Randolph was thrust front and center into one of the great events of the American Republic - as a defense attorney in the phony treason trial of Aaron Burr.
Vice President Aaron Burr was arrested based on a "warrant" signed personally by Thomas Jefferson, not a warrant issued by any court. He was charged with the trumped up accounts of treason and trying to overthrow the government.
The punishment for this "treason" was execution. Jefferson was trying to kill his own Vice President.
Jefferson wondered how do you convict a hero of the Revolution and a Vice President of treason?
Jefferson had the military transport Burr to stand trial in Jefferson's home state in Richmond, Virginia. There a New Yorker would face charges from Prosecutors hand picked by the President himself and tried before a jury of Virginians who would supposedly be loyal to Jefferson.
The entire nation was in an uproar of partisan Federalist / Democrat-Republican fighting. There was no disguising that this was a show trial to beat down and make fearful any opponents of Jefferson.
Federalist Chief Justice John Marshall himself served as judge for this political show trial. Marshall issued rulings in favor of Burr's defense no doubt as payback to Jefferson's attack on the independent judiciary.
Burr assembled a dream team of defense attorneys including Edmund Randolph and Luther Martin, both delegates to the Constitutional Convention and among the most prominent men of the day.
Andrew Jackson attended the trial and threatened to fight any man who insulted Burr.
Randolph, who suffered from paralysis, died at age 60 on September 12, 1813, while visiting the home of a friend, Nathaniel Burwell of Carter Hall, near Millwood, Virginia, in Clarke County; he is buried at a nearby Burwell family cemetery "Old Chapel".
For more on the Burr trial see Aaron Burr - Founding Patriot.