Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO JOSEPH DELAPLAINE - The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826)
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TO JOSEPH DELAPLAINE - Thomas Jefferson, The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826) 
The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 12.
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TO JOSEPH DELAPLAINE
Monticello, July 26, 1816
—In compliance with the request of your letter of the 6th inst., with respect to Peyton Randolph, I have to observe that the difference of age between him and myself admitted my knowing little of his early life, except what I accidentally caught from occasional conversations. I was a student at college when he was already Attorney General at the bar, and a man of established years; and I had no intimacy with him until I went to the bar myself, when, I suppose, he must have been upwards of forty; from that time, and especially after I became a member of the legislature, until his death, our intimacy was cordial, and I was with him when he died. Under these circumstances, I have committed to writing as many incidents of his life as memory enabled me to do, and to give faith to the many and excellent qualities he possessed, I have mentioned those minor ones which he did not possess; considering true history, in which all will be believed, as preferable to unqualified panegyric, in which nothing is believed. I avoided, too, the mention of trivial incidents, which, by not distinguishing, disparage a character; but I have not been able to state early dates. Before forwarding this paper to you, I received a letter from Peyton Randolph, his great nephew, repeating the request you had made. I therefore put the paper under a blank cover, addressed to you, unsealed, and sent it to Peyton Randolph, that he might see what dates as well as what incidents might be collected, supplementary to mine, and correct any which I had inexactly stated; circumstances may have been misremembered, but nothing, I think, of substance. This account of Peyton Randolph, therefore, you may expect to be forwarded by his nephew.
You requested me when here, to communicate to you the particulars of two transactions in which I was myself an agent, to wit: the coup de main of Arnold on Richmond, and Tarleton’s on Charlottesville. I now enclose them, detailed with an exactness on which you may rely with an entire confidence. But, having an insuperable aversion to be drawn into controversy in the public papers, I must request not to be quoted either as to these or the account of Peyton Randolph. Accept the assurances of my esteem and respect.1
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF PEYTON RANDOLPH.
Governor Dinwiddie having, about this period, introduced the exaction of a new fee on his signature of grants for lands, without the sanction of any law, the House of Burgesses remonstrated against it, and sent Peyton Randolph to England, as their agent, to oppose it before the king and council. The interest of the governor, as usual, prevailed against that of the colony, and his new exaction was confirmed by the king.
After Braddock’s defeat on the Monongahela, in 1755, the incursions of the Indians on our frontiers spread panic and dismay through the whole country, insomuch that it was scarcely possible to procure men, either as regulars or militia, to go against them. To counteract this terror and to set a good example, a number of the wealthiest individuals of the colony, and the highest standing in it, in public as well as in their private relations, associated under obligations to furnish each of them two able-bodied men, at their own expense, to form themselves into a regiment under the denomination of the Virginia Blues, to join the colonial force on the frontier, and place themselves under its commander, George Washington, then a colonel. They appointed William Byrd, a member of the council, colonel of the regiment, and Peyton Randolph, I think, had also some command. But the original associators had more the will than the power of becoming effective soldiers. Born and bred in the lap of wealth, all the habits of their lives were of ease, indolence, and indulgence. Such men were little fitted to sleep under tents, and often without them, to be exposed to all the intemperances of the seasons, to swim rivers, range the woods, climb mountains, wade morasses, to skulk behind trees, and contend as sharp-shooters with the savages of the wilderness, who, in all the scenes and exercises, would be in their natural element. Accordingly, the commander was more embarrassed with their care, than reinforced by their service. They had the good fortune to see no enemy, and to return at the end of the campaign rewarded by the favor of the public for this proof of their generous patriotism and good will.
When afterwards, in 1764, on the proposal of the Stamp Act, the House of Burgesses determined to send an address against it to the king, and memorials to the Houses of Lords and Commons, Peyton Randolph, George Wythe, and (I think) Robert C. Nicholas, were appointed to draw these papers. That to the king was by Peyton Randolph, and the memorial to the Commons was by George Wythe. It was on the ground of these papers that those gentlemen opposed the famous resolutions of Mr. Henry in 1765, to wit, that the principles of these resolutions had been asserted and maintained in the address and memorials of the year before, to which an answer was yet to be expected.
On the death of the speaker, Robinson, in 1766, Peyton Randolph was elected speaker. He resigned his office of Attorney-General, in which he was succeeded by his brother Randolph, father of the late Edmund Randolph, and retired from the bar. He now devoted himself solely to his duties as a legislator, and although sound in his principles, and going steadily with us in opposition to the British usurpations, he, with the other older members, yielded the lead to the younger, only tempering their ardor, and so far moderating their pace as to prevent their going too far in advance of the public sentiment.
On the establishment of a committee by the legislature, to correspond with the other colonies, he was named their chairman, and their first proposition to the other colonies was to appoint similar committees, who might consider the expediency of calling a general Congress of deputies in order to procure a harmony of procedure among the whole. This produced the call of the first Congress, to which he was chosen a delegate, by the House of Burgesses, and of which he was appointed, by that Congress, its president.
On the receipt of what was called Lord North’s conciliatory proposition, in 1775, Lord Dunmore called the General Assembly, and laid it before them. Peyton Randolph quitted the chair of Congress, in which he was succeeded by Mr. Hancock, and repaired to that of the House which had deputed him. Anxious about the tone and spirit of the answer which should be given (because being the first it might have effect on those of the other colonies), and supposing that a younger pen would be more likely to come up to the feelings of the body he had left, he requested me to draw the answer, and steadily supported and carried it through the House, with a few softenings only from the more timid members.
After the adjournment of the House of Burgesses he returned to Congress, and died there of an apoplexy, on the 22d of October following, aged, as I should conjecture, about fifty years.
He was indeed a most excellent man; and none was ever more beloved and respected by his friends. Somewhat cold and coy towards strangers, but of the sweetest affability when ripened into acquaintance. Of attic pleasantry in conversation, always good humored and conciliatory. With a sound and logical head, he was well read in the law; and his opinions, when consulted, were highly regarded, presenting always a learned and sound view of the subject, but generally, too, a listlessness to go into its thorough development; for being heavy and inert in body, he was rather too indolent and careless for business, which occasioned him to get a smaller proportion of it at the bar than his abilities would otherwise have commanded. Indeed, after his appointment as Attorney-General, he did not seem to court, nor scarcely to welcome, business. In that office he considered himself equally charged with the rights of the colony as with those of the crown; and in criminal prosecutions, exaggerating nothing, he aimed at a candid and just state of the transaction, believing it more a duty to save an innocent than to convict a guilty man. Although not eloquent, his matter was so substantial that no man commanded more attention, which, joined with a sense of his great worth, gave him a weight in the House of Burgesses which few ever attained. He was liberal in his expenses but correct also, so as not to be involved in pecuniary embarrassments; and with a heart always open to the amiable sensibilities of our nature, he did as many good acts as could have been done with his fortune, without injuriously impairing his means of continuing them. He left no issue, and gave his fortune to his widow and nephew, the late Edmund Randolph.