The Education of John Randolph

By Robert Dawidoff | Go to book overview
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Political Education

The sources of Randolph's politics cannot be distinguished from the traditions in which he was reared or the books he read. His expectations of political life were decisively shaped by his class, his patria, and his experience of the tumultuous events of the American Revolution. On matters of state, as on everything else, Randolph's ideas were fixed early and interpreted literally. He never got over the heady emotional triumph of the Revolution, whose enthusiastic mood he caught as a boy. Everything that succeeded it proved a disappointment and a degeneration. Henry Adams placed Randolph's birth at the untimely moment "just as the downward plunge began, and every moment made the outlook drearier and more awful" for those of his kind, and this comment is appropriate to Randolph's political education as well. It seemed as if it could not have been better; it turned out very badly indeed. Virginia's version of English republican thinking in the immediate context of the "spirit of '76" created in Randolph a political expectation which America was bound to disillusion. 1

Randolph's political traditions were English and "country," aristocratic as well as republican. Hugh Blair Grigsby's description of Randolph's library shows it to have con


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