Edmund Randolph

Edmund Randolph

Infobox Governor
name = Edmund Jenings Randolph

order = 7th
office = Governor of Virginia
term_start = 1786
term_end = 1788
lieutenant =
predecessor = Patrick Henry
successor = Beverley Randolph
order2 = 1st United States Attorney General
term_start2 = September 26, 1789
term_end2 = January 26, 1794
president2 = George Washington
predecessor2 = None
successor2 =William Bradford
order3 = 2nd United States Secretary of State
term_start3 = January 2, 1794
term_end3 = August 20, 1795
president3 = George Washington
predecessor3 = Thomas Jefferson
successor3 = Timothy Pickering
birth_date = birth date|1753|8|10|mf=y
birth_place = Williamsburg, Virginia
death_date = death date and age|1813|9|12|1753|8|10|mf=y
death_place = Millwood, Virginia
party = Federalist
spouse = Sara Elizabeth Nicholas
profession = Lawyer, Politician
religion = Episcopalian

Edmund Jenings Randolph (August 10, 1753ndash September 12, 1813) was an American attorney, Governor of Virginia, 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.

Upon the death of his uncle Peyton Randolph in October of 1775 Randolph returned to Virginia to act as executor of the estate, and while there was elected as a representative to the Virginia Convention. He would go on to serve as mayor of Williamsburg, and then as the first Attorney General of the United States under the newly-formed government.

He was married on August 29, 1776 to Elizabeth Nicholas (daughter of Robert C. Nicholas), and had a total of six children.

Randolph died on September 12, 1813 while visiting the home of a friend, Nathaniel Burwell of Carter Hall, near Millwood, Virginia, in Clarke County and is buried at a nearby Burwell family cemetery "Old Chapel".

Political career

Randolph was selected as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1779, and served there to 1782. During this period he also remained in private law practice, handling numerous legal issues for George Washington among others.

Randolph was elected Governor of Virginia in 1786, that same year leading a delegation to the Annapolis Convention.

Constitutional Convention

The following year, as a delegate from Virginia to the Constitutional Convention, 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 tne constitution established the federal court system). [Erwin Chemerinsky. "Federal Jurisdiction". New York: Aspen Publishers. 2007.] The Articles of Confederation lacked a national court system for the United States.

Randolph was also a member of the "committee on 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.

Attorney General

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 cousinFact|date=January 2008) 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. Near the end of his term as Secretary of State, negotiations for Pinckney's Treaty were finalized.


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. Washington was dismayed that the letters reflected contempt for the United States and that Randolph was primarily responsible. 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. At the very least, Elkins and McKitrick conclude, there "was something here profoundly disreputable to the government's good faith and character." Washington immediately overruled Randolph's negative advice regarding the Jay Treaty. A few days later Washington, in the presence of the entire cabinet, handed the minister's letter to Randolph and demanded he explain it. Randolph was speechless and immediately resigned. Elkins and McKitrick (pages 425-6) conclude that Randolph was not bribed by the French but "was rather a pitiable figure, possessed of some talents and surprisingly little malice, but subject to self-absorbed silliness and lapses of good sense."

After leaving the cabinet he returned to Virginia to practice law; his most famous case was that of defense counsel during Aaron Burr's trial for treason in 1807.

External links

* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=20977 Edmund Randolph] at Find A Grave

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