Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.
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The following comes from:
Published by the Author
Clemmitt & Jones, Printers
QUERY: I'd like to hear from anyone interested in a small-scale reprinting of this book, done in 19th century "subscription" style, for something in the neighborhood of $20.
No well-known 19th century American is as much like a character out of Dostoevsky as John Randolph. If he were to meet Nicholai Stavrogan, of The Possessed, one would expect them either to embrace, or try to kill each other in a duel. Such compounds of nobility, cruelty, brilliant wit, and madness, a staple of Dostoevsky and Gogol, are extremely rare in American history or fiction. Is this an enlightening observation? I wonder.
Powhatan Bouldin grew up and lived among the neighbors of John Randolph, and was the son and nephew of the next two men to serve in Randolph's congressional seat. John Randolph, of Roanoke, as he styled himself (the "of", having the sense of the French "de", or German "von", I expect) exerted a remarkable psychic power over those around him, as shown in Bouldin's memoir of Randolph.
Though widely regarded as mad, or at least the "strangest man who ever lived", he was returned to congress time after time, and, according to Bouldin, only defeated once, by
Mr. Eppes, who he charged was imported like a stallion,
for the purpose of being run against him.
Mr. Baldwin, in his Party Leaders, says "he
was defeated, and without a murmur bowed his head to the stroke."
We say emphatically that is not Mr. Randolph. He may have gone about in a more pleasing shape than that of a roaring lion, but he certainly sought whom he might devour. His resentment was high and lasting. He never did forgive those who voted against him.
The following passage gives, I think, a better sense of the method to Randolph's madness (and the "secret of his success") than anything else I have read (though there is a lot I haven't read).
The Secret of his Success-How he carried Elections-Highly
Dramatic Scenes-An Overseer scared out of his Wits-a Religious Lecture
suddenly cut short-A Georgian run clean out of the Country-Anecdotes by
Henry Carrington, Esq.
IN one respect, Mr. Randolph's life may be regarded a
perfect success. From the time that he made his first appearance upon the
political arena, to the last year of his life, he held high and responsible
positions in the affairs of the nation.
"For more than thirty years," says Mr. Benton,
"he was the political meteor of Congress, blazing with undiminished
splendor during the whole time. His parliamentary life was resplendent
in talent, elevated in moral tone, always moving on the lofty line of honor
and patriotism, and scorning everything mean and selfish. He was the indignant
enemy of personal and plunder legislation, and the very scourge of intrigue
and corruption." "During the first six years of Mr. Jefferson's
administration," adds the same high authority, "he was the Murat
of his party, brilliant in the charge, and always ready for it, and valued
in the council as well as in the field. In England we are informed that
"his company was sought after by the nobility and gentry, and on one
occasion royalty itself condescended to admit him within the same tent."
Lord L. was forced to acknowledge that his conversations were most dazzling
even in London.
His example of lofty purpose, untarnished honor and manly
bearing, was worth a great deal to the nation. It is true that there are
few great measures of civil polity which his admirers can lay their hands
upon, and say: "This is Randolph's work!" Mr. Baldwin says: "None."
Mr. Sawyer admits that "there were some important measures for which
the nation is indebted to his oratorical powers, as the originator and
successful defender;" and he mentions the substitution under the appropriate
heads, of specific, instead of general and indefinite appropriations, which
he brought about after a warm and extremely powerful discussion with Mr.
Lowndes, of South Carolina, who advocated the old system. The standing
appropriation of $200,000, for arming the whole body of the militia, is
also placed to his credit.
The reader doubtless remembers that in his speech at Halifax
Courthouse, in 1827, he plead guilty to the charge of "trying
to pull down other men's work," and boasted that "it was the
brightest feather in his cap." "My whole aim," he said,
"has been to prevent not to promote legislation."
But it is to Mr. Randolph at home
that we wish to devote ourself mainly. He exerted
an influence which no other man in his district or any other district ever
did. His power was almost supreme. We stated that he never was defeated
but once before the people, and that was by Mr. Eppes, who he charged was
imported like a stallion, for the purpose of being run against him.
Mr. Baldwin, in his Party Leaders, says "he
was defeated, and without a murmur bowed his head to the stroke."
We say emphatically that is not Mr. Randolph. He may have
gone about in a more pleasing shape than that of a roaring lion, but he
certainly sought whom he might devour. His resentment was high and lasting.
He never did forgive those who voted against him. Mr. Baldwin invests him
with a degree of Christian patience, which he was far from possessing.
Of all the men upon the face of the earth, we should say he was the least
disposed to bow to a stroke of that sort. One of his old constituents once
told us that he frequently alluded to the canvass with Eppes, in which
he was defeated, and in no pleasant manner. We were forcibly reminded of
this remark when we read the manuscript report of the last speech he made
to the people of Charlotte nearly twenty years after the canvass with Eppes.
This speech, as reported by one who heard it, and took it down at the time,
is now before us; and in it we find him cutting at those who assisted in
returning him, "to be discharged from the confidence of his old constituents."
We once heard one of the keenest observers of human nature say, that notwithstanding
Mr. Randolph visited on terms of friendship at her brother's, she fancied
she could see in his eye, beneath all that was superficial, that he remembered
her father's political opposition long years before.
The question is sure to rise in the minds of intelligent
readers, how did Mr. Randolph gain such continued support of the people?
What made them vote for him?
We have the greatest respect for Mr. Benton's "Thirty
Years" view of Mr. Randolph in Congress; but not much value
could be placed upon a picture of Mr. Randolph at home, taken from
his observatory at Washington. In our estimation, the likeness drawn by
Hon. James W. Bouldin, who saw him in his house, on his plantation, and
on the court green, is much more valuable.
When Mr. Benton informed us that he never saw Mr. Randolph
affected by wine, we were somewhat surprised; but we were still more so
when he intimates that his popularity was founded upon the love and affection
of his people. A member of Congress for sixteen years with him, and who
afterwards published a biography of him, after speaking of his strong and
lasting friendship for Mr. Tazewell, says: "So with many others, and
preeminently so of his constituents- the people of his congressional district-affectionate
and faithful to him, electing him, as they did, from boyhood to the grave."
Again, Mr. Benton says, his friendship with Mr. Macon
was historical. It is true that his friendship for a few, very few,
of his neighbors, and constituents in the different counties composing
his district, was proverbial; but it is equally true that his capacity
for friendship was very small.
In conversing with the old men of Charlotte, they will
talk a long time about how Mr. Randolph flattered this one to carry his
point; how he barbecued another for merely differing with him in opinion;
how he drove men clean out of the country who offended him; how ridiculous
he sometimes made his acquaintances appear; we say they will entertain
you a long time in this way, before they will mention one word about his
friendship for anybody, or anybody's for him.
The means which a master spirit employs in gaining his
influence and establishing himself firmly upon his throne, must ever be
a subject for curious speculation. This is particularly the case in regard
to Mr. Randolph. But, really, we should never get at the secret of his
success if we relied on the books that have been written; they being inconsistent
with themselves and with one another upon this point.
His first biographer attributes his popularity to his
"acts of neighborly kindness," and his "free and easy manners."
Another says, "his want of charity was his greatest defect;"
and laments that, "to the constancy and intrepidity of Mr. Randolph
were not allied the suavity and gentleness of manner, which had made those
stern attributes to be beloved as well as admired."
Mr. Baldwin states that Mr. Randolph was "eminently
unsocial, proud, reserved, uncommunicative," and that "he never
made a speech that he did not make more enemies than converts. How then
did he manage always but once to be elected? And what becomes of Mr. Benton's
theory of the affection of his constituents, electing him, as they did,
from boyhood to the grave? And there is something almost laughable in the
idea that Mr. Randolph owed his success to "his acts of neighborly
kindness." He did not owe it to his "free and easy manners,"
nor to his "imposing presence," nor to the affection of his constituents
gained by any means; but he owed it to his commanding genius, to the force
of his will and the great strength of his moral and physical courage. And
it was chiefly by flattery, by domineering, by bullying, that he obtained
his unparalleled sway. But his was not the fulsome adulation applied without
discrimination; nor was he an ordinary street bully. In all his acts he
was infinitely above ordinary men. His knowledge of human nature was miraculous,
and he had the greatest facility for applying his knowledge. He had unwavering
supporters; but for the most part they were men who had no affection for
him, who had never received any favors at his hands. Some voted for him
because he was an able and fearless exponent of their principles; but it
was, as we stated, chiefly by arts of flattery and bullying that he obtained
his almost supreme power in his district. There is much truth in what Miss
Mary Bouldin replied, when we asked her how Mr. Randolph gained his position
in society: "By kicking every body else out of their places and getting
in himself," she said. She went on to state, that if there was a man
who stood high in the community before Mr. Randolph came to the county
himself, a man of great talents and virtue, he soon gave him to understand
that he, Randolph, must be foremost, and that he did not intend to join
in the worship of him. If a citizen of his county held a prominent position
and opposed him, he immediately set to work to pull him down-and that must
have been a solid foundation which his destructive hand could not demolish.
No one flattered more his friends than he did; none were
capable of doing it in finer style. Few could resist his arts. A young
man of talent and promise, upon whom he chose for some cause or other to
lavish his favors, might be conscious of his insincerity, might have received
the solemn warnings of his friends, still he would remain under the spell
of his influence. Nor could he be led away from the snare by his father
even, until the tempter changed his better nature, and "by some devilish
cantrap slight," suddenly forced him from his presence. Then followed
tears of repentance, for having neglected the advice of his parent who,
from long observation, had discovered how easily Mr. Randolph's friendship
was estranged, and how deadly his resentment against those he once pretended
When he chose to make himself agreeable, there was a charm
about him which was irresistible. The pious old lady, who religiously observed
the second commandment, never having seen Mr. Randolph, might grieve to
find her husband worshiping an idol below, but when she too came to know
him well, found herself kneeling at the same idolatrous shrine. We should
like to know how many of those he determined to win ever failed to be won.
The only way of escape, we imagine, was to flee. To remain within the sound
of that voice, when in tune, to gaze upon that eye when "the fire
was quenched," was certain and hopeless captivity. It is curious how
that eye and that voice could be made at one time the instrument of such
pleasure, and at another of such pain; how his presence should be so fascinating
to his friends, and so terrible to his foes. But it is no wonder that with
these extraordinary physical advantages and his genius he "raised
emotions never felt before," and produced effects which the world
despaired of ever witnessing again.
But, like Swift, Mr. Randolph coveted the fear of his
fellow man more than his love or admiration. His genius was idolized, but
the man was not beloved. He possessed the art of making people in love
with themselves, but not with him. He mixed very little with society at
home, and had none of those qualities which drew his supporters near. He
looked upon mankind in the light in which they are represented in the Scriptures,
but without charity. Hence he preferred to govern by fear rather than by
love; to drive, instead of leading them gently by the hand.
We are not mistaken in saying that he possessed an influence
in his district which no other man ever did. During a long career of public
service, as stated before, he was never defeated before the people but
once. His conduct, in consequence of that defeat, his never forgetting
it, his high resentment against those who voted against him, and the means
he adopted of repairing his loss and ensuring his next election, lets us
into the secret of his great success, and utterly dispels the illusion
about his "bowing his head to the stroke without a murmur."
In some places we are informed the people voted for his
opponent en masse. He found out the leading men in all the neighborhoods
which went against him. It is astonishing what a knowledge he had, not
only of the public affairs of others, but of their private concerns. It
seemed he knew everything that was going on, heard everything to be heard,
and saw everything in sight, and what he could neither see nor hear, he
had some one to tell him, even if it was a negro.
So it was one court day he sought out a certain Mr. S.,
who he knew had carried a certain precinct almost unanimously for Mr. Eppes.
He met him with malice prepense, but with all the forms of the greatest
politeness and friendship.
Now let the reader bear in mind that whenever Mr. Randolph
stopped for a moment on the street, the people began to collect around
him, and if he remained long at a place talking politics to any one, the
whole court green was gazing at him, and eagerly catching in every word
Mr. S. being artfully drawn into a political discussion,
Mr. Randolph propounded to him some of the most difficult questions that
ever were conceived of, questions which perhaps Webster himself could not
His opponent being a plain farmer, who made no pretensions
to deep learning, failed of course to solve the abstruse problems. Mr.
Randolph would then express the greatest astonishment that a man of his
sense and weight in the community had not turned his attention to those
Mr. Randolph raising his voice to a pitch resembling a
speech, by this time had gathered a tremendous crowd around him, who witnessed
the agonizing scene. Mr. S. would have given his right arm for a chance
to escape; but the inexorable schoolmaster held him on to his lessons.
To break off and run before everybody, and with a fire in rear, was what
he could not stand.
Mr. Randolph kept putting knotty questions to him, which
he failed to answer, whereupon he would repeat his expressions of astonishment.
Still, all was done in such elegant style, that no offense could be taken.
But no schoolboy on examination ever suffered more at being deficient
than did Mr. S. on this memorable occasion.
The sympathies of the spectators were all against the
ignorant man who undertook to control the votes of others. For, we may
rest assured, that Mr. Randolph, before he was done with him, made them
believe that his antagonist had committed an unpardonable sin. We would
not be surprised if they were enraged both against themselves and him-
themselves for following the blind and him for presuming to lead.
This thorough examination and exposure, before a large
collection of people, we are informed, completely destroyed the confidence
of the neighbors in the political sagacity of the said Mr. S. At the next
election Mr. Randolph carried the precinct by an overwhelming majority.
This unmerciful chastisement was to be, moreover, a warning
to all who should dare to take an active part against him for all time
Few men who, if they had the ability, have the heart to
expose a man after this manner. But, we must recollect, Mr. Randolph could
stand no opposition, and individual feeling was never in his way. Nor did
he regulate the punishment according to the offence. If he were thwarted
in the least, he would crush the very soul of his opponent.
Attacks upon the feelings and opinions of others was one
of the means he adopted of maintaining his supremacy. But he also made
people afraid of the dirk which he wore in his pocket. Generally, he could
pierce a man through with that long bony finger; but those who were insensible
to that, he wished to keep in dread of the solid metal.
His plan was to make people afraid of him physically,
as well as mentally. He frequently talked about shooting people. He threatened
to shoot Mr. S., and actually called for him at a sale for the purpose;
but Mr. S. stood firm and Mr. Randolph abandoned what he pretended was
He also threatened the son of Mr. S., and scared him terribly,
for talking about whipping his servant, Juba.
As to his servants, he kept them in terror of him.
After his return from Russia, and after the Southampton
insurrection, he gave orders that all his negroes should change quarters.
Those at the lower should be moved to the upper plantation, and vice
versa. At the same time he instituted a general search for stolen goods.
In one of the cabins he found some wood, which he said
he was convinced was stolen. He shut himself up in the same room with the
suspected negro, told him he could not live in the same world with such
a rascal, and gave him one gun, and he took another. The poor slave, alarmed
nearly to death, ran up stairs and jumped out of the window.
All this was for effect. He knew his servant was afraid
to defend himself; nor had he the slightest idea of shooting him; his sole
object was to place the negro in terror.
His method of dealing with his overseers is well known
in the county. We have seen how he dismissed one for not joining in his
abuse of a neighbor, and how he made another pull off his shoes before
he went in to see him; we will now, state how he served another for a slight
variation of orders.
In a spirit of spiteful annoyance to a gentleman who resided
on the opposite side of Staunton river, and who kept a ferry, he established
another, offering its use gratuitously. One day Mr. Randolph rode down
and found York, the ferryman, absent from his post. The overseer was immediately
summoned to explain why it was so.
Mr. Randolph asked him if he did not tell him that York
was to be on the bank?
The overseer replied that he had merely sent him a little
way off to worm some tobacco, which he thought he could do, and attend
to the ferry besides.
"The next time you disobey my orders," said
Mr. Randolph," I wish you to understand that you are to be cashiered."
Mr. Randolph has the reputation of being one of the strangest
men that ever lived; and we have no doubt the reader, when he opened this
volume, expected to find a record of some of his extraordinary deeds. If
not already satisfied that there never lived a human being like him, we
are confident he will be when he peruses the following incidents, written
at our solicitation by the late Henry Carrington, of Charlotte county,
Virginia, a gentleman of the highest standing, who was an eye witness to
the scenes described, and whose statements are entitled to the utmost credit.
We are glad to be able to lay them before the reader in his own words and
graceful style. Mr. Carrington says:
In 1818 I lived in Mr. Randolph's neighborhood-received much hospitable
attention from him, and heard many things from him highly interesting to
me at the time. He was, at that time, unconnected with the politics of
the country, having declined a reelection to Congress. The year was also
memorable in the history of Mr. Randolph, as being the time at which he
made a profession of religion, had family prayers, and preached to his
servants on Sunday.
Many incidents that were interesting at the time have passed away. I
recollect, however, one or two, which perhaps it may be well to preserve.
In the above mentioned year, Mr. Randolph failed in his supply of tobacco
plants at his lower quarter, where a man by the name of P. was overseer.
About the first of July he ascertained that he could get plants from Colonel
C., in Halifax. He wrote to P. to take a boat belonging to the estate,
cross the river to Colonel C.'s, get the plants and plant his crop.
Some two days afterwards, he learned that the overseer had not obeyed
the order. He was aroused. He wrote to me to meet him on the estate at
nine o'clock next day. On going to the place, according to his appointment,
I found him on the ground, and also Colonel C., Captain W., Captain J.
S. and Mr. A. G. He proposed to us to ride with him over the estate and
view the condition of the crops. We found everything in bad order, the
tobacco ground particularly out of order for planting.
After consuming some hours in the survey, he conducted us to the granary.
There were gathered together the plantation implements of every description,
and, in the midst, were standing two negro girls, each with a mulatto child
in her arms. The assemblage was remarkable, and I anxiously expected a
scene. He enquired of the girls where was P. They said that, after collecting
the various articles then in our view, he disappeared.
Mr. Randolph said he had ordered him also to be present; but he disobeyed
because he could not stand the ordeal to which he was to be subjected.
Then, turning to Mr. G., a plain but respectable citizen, who had, some
years before, acted as steward for Mr. Randolph, he said: "I have
invited you here today, Mr. G., to make to you publicly, in the presence
of these gentlemen, all the reparation in my power for the great injury
I have done you."
Mr. G. seemed greatly startled. He assured Mr. Randolph that there was
no occasion for explanation; that he had always treated him very well
"Sir," replied Mr. Randolph, "you are greatly mistaken.
For more than a year past, I have endeavored to show by my bearing towards
you, my disgust with you and my contempt for your character. But I am undeceived.
This fellow, P., had induced me to believe that you were the father of
the children now before us. But, I now know that he, P., has carried on
the intercourse which he charges upon you, and that these are his children."
Never was man more astonished than was Mr. G. He reiterated,- "never
Mr. Randolph, was there a greater lie." * * * Mr. Randolph
all the time assuring him that he knew that he had wronged him, and therefore
he was anxious to make the most ample apology and reparation.
He then fumed to the gentlemen present and said: "Look at these
girls; they are my crop hands. See how their heads are combed; how
oily their hair. Do they look like they had stood the blasts of Winter
or Summer's sun. No, sirs; they have been in his harem."
The scene was highly dramatic; the acting, if it could be so regarded,
After this scene at the granary, Mr. Randolph proposed to us to go to
the house and get some fresh water. Mrs. P. brought us the water. Mr. Randolph,
in our presence, said to her, he was aware of the infidelity of her husband,
and felt for her the deepest compassion.
Mr. P. had, in the mean time, taken himself to some house in the neighborhood,
where, from great perturbation of spirit, he fell ill. Mr. Randolph sent
for a lawyer and instituted several suits against him. But, hearing that
he was seriously ill, his feelings relented. He told me it did not become
him, a professing Christian, to persecute the man to death. "I must
go and see him," said he; and he did so, with the hope of curing and
He told P. that he must not let this difficulty depress him; that the
suits he had ordered against him must be prosecuted to judgment, as an
example to his successors, but that no execution should be issued.
Mr. Randolph asked him what he intended to do. Mr. P. told him he wished
to move west. Mr. Randolph asked him if he had money for the purpose. Mr.
P. replied, he had not; but that he proposed selling the negro boy who
waited on him. Mr. Randolph asked the price. Five hundred dollars, was
the reply. Thereupon Mr. Randolph agreed to purchase the boy, and paid
Mr. Carrington continues:
In August of the year 1818, there came to Mr. Randolph's a man by the
name of M., who represented himself to be a citizen of Georgia, but staying
at present with G. B., whose lands adjoined Mr. Randolph's, that he was
negotiating with said B. for his land, and that he had called on Mr. Randolph
to get some information in regard to the dividing lines between him and
Mr. Randolph said to him, that he must decline going into the matter
of the land; but there was one subject which his conscience required him
to bring to his mind. "Sir," said Mr. Randolph, "there is
a subject of vastly more importance than land-the salvation of your soul.
It is strongly impressed upon me that you are a great sinner. It is too
probable that you have already committed the unpardonable sin; but possibly
this may not be the case." And he urged upon him the importance
of attending to this great matter.
M. was amused at the freedom of Mr. Randolph's remark, and concluded
to indulge in some freedom in return in regard to Mr. Randolph.
He said: "Mr. Randolph, you can't tell me what I am thinking about."
Mr. Randolph replied: "I should be very poorly employed in guessing
M. at length said: "Mr. Randolph, I must tell you what I am thinking
about-I am thinking you are an eunuch."
Mr. Randolph immediately assumed the loftiest attitude. "Sir,"
said he, "if you had used this language to me at any other period
of my life, you would have been instantly a dead man. Nothing restrains
me from taking your unprofitable life but the fear of God and the grace
that is here," (laying his hand upon his heart). "Go, sir; leave
me, lest I be tempted to sin."
M. left in great consternation.
Mr. Randolph came into the room where were assembled Mr. __, Dr. __,
and Dr. __. He was greatly excited; talked till late bedtime on the
subject. Next morning, about daybreak, he came into the room where
the three gentlemen slept; awoke them, and said that he had made this M's
conduct the subject of much reflection and of prayer; and he had come to
the conclusion that, by no law, human or divine, ought such a wretch to
live; that he had loaded the guns and ordered an early breakfast and horses,
and they must all go and put him to death.
All was hurry and preparation, and soon they were on their way to Shoot
M. Mr. Randolph declared that it was said to him in answer to prayer that
the wretch must die.
Arrived at the place, M. was called out, and told to take his stand,
that they came to take his life.
M. was greatly alarmed and agitated. He fell on his knees and begged
Mr. Randolph made every demonstration of his deadly purpose, but suddenly
seemed to relent, and said that as he so eagerly desired to live, and certainly
was in no condition to die, he would grant his life, but on the condition
that he should immediately leave the county and state, and never be heard
of here again. Moreover, he should advertise him as a swindler and
M. was too glad to accept the terms, mounted his horse, and rode off
at a rapid pace.
Mr. Randolph advertised in the Enquirer newspaper, in a few days
thereafter, the said M. as a swindler and impostor, and a purchaser of
pretended titles to land.
It is said, we know not how truthfully, that the last time M. was seen
in these parts was at Halifax Courthouse, riding at full speed and
looking behind him. The image of Mr. Randolph was doubtless more indelibly
impressed upon his mind than that of any other object on earth, and remained
the dark cloud of his existence.
This is the way Mr. Randolph resented insults from nerveless men. His
conduct on this occasion was not that of an ordinary man with strong
feelings, but of an extraordinary man, arbitrary, vindictive, with
almost absolute power over others, yet under the dominion of his own violent
passions. It is the conduct of one whose heart but not head is
Are we wrong in saying that Mr. Randolph was the most vindictive man
that ever lived? For a remark, which was not intended as an insult, he
humbled his victim to the very dust, and pronounced a judgment upon him
more terrible and speedy in its effects than any which could proceed from
a court of justice. We have no doubt that the reader is satisfied with
the proof which we have adduced, and that he has rendered a verdict of
Well may it be said of him, that he did things which nobody else could
do, and made others do things which they never did before, and of which
they repented all the days of their lives, and that, on some occasions,
he was totally regardless of private rights, and not held amenable to the
laws of the land.