John Taylor of Caroline

John Taylor of Caroline

1753 - 1824

American political philosopher. Known as John Taylor of Caroline, he was born in Virginia, probably in Caroline co., where he later lived at “Hazlewood.” Orphaned at 10, he was adopted by his maternal uncle, Edmund Pendleton, who sent him to the College of William and Mary and under whom he studied law. Taylor fought in the American Revolution, rising to the rank of major, and was a member of the Virginia house of delegates (1779–81, 1783–85, 1796–1800).  Taylor became a planter, and did much to improve methods of cultivation and extend the knowledge of agriculture. The states’ rights doctrine (see Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions) was introduced in the Virginia house by Taylor, who became a leading publicist of Jeffersonian democracy, or “agrarianism.”

When Richard Henry Lee resigned from the United States senate, Taylor was appointed to the vacant seat. He entered the senate on 12 December, 1792, and was elected for the term that began in the following March, but resigned in 1794.  He was a presidential elector in 1797, and in 1803 again served in the senate for the two months that elapsed between the death of Stevens T. Mason and the election of his successor.  Although a strict constructionist, he defended the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase in A Defense of the Measures of the Administration of Thomas Jefferson (1804).

In Thomas Jefferson’s second term Taylor was a leader of the Quids, who, disliking James Madison, supported James Monroe for President, but he became a peacemaker between the factions. His greatest work, An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States (1814), was an attack on the growing power of finance capitalism and its harmful effects on agriculture and democracy. In Construction Construed and Constitutions Vindicated (1820), Tyranny Unmasked (1822), and New Views of the Constitution (1823), he opposed John Marshall and the growing power of the federal government. He was elected a senator two years before his death, taking his seat on 30 December, 1824.  An agrarian liberal, he was much concerned with the economic and political well-being of the farmer, and his Arator (1813) was one of the first analytical treatises on American agriculture and its problems. He is best known, however, as one of the first formulators of the states’ rights doctrine.