Peyton Randolph

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Peyton Randolph
1st and 3rd President of the Continental Congress
In office
September 5, 1774 – October 22, 1774
Preceded by New creation
Succeeded by Henry Middleton
In office
May 10, 1775 – May 24, 1775
Preceded by Henry Middleton
Succeeded by John Hancock
Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses
In office
Preceded by John Robinson
Succeeded by Office abolished
Personal details
Born (1721-09-10)September 10, 1721
Williamsburg, Virginia
Died October 22, 1775(1775-10-22) (aged 54)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Resting place Chapel of the College of William and Mary
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Harrison
Alma mater College of William and Mary
Signature Peyton Randolph's signature
Virginia colonial currency (1773) signed by Randolph and John Blair, Jr..

Peyton Randolph (September 10, 1721 – October 22, 1775) was a planter and public official from the Colony of Virginia. He served as speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, chairman of the Virginia Conventions, and the first President of the Continental Congress.[1][2]

Early life

Randolph was born in Tazewell Hall[3][4] Williamsburg, Virginia[5] to a prominent family. His parents were Sir John Randolph,[6] the son of William Randolph, and Susannah Beverley, the daughter of Peter Beverley; his brother was John Randolph. His father died when he was 16.

Randolph attended the College of William & Mary, and later studied law at Middle Temple at the Inns of Court in London, becoming a member of the bar in 1743.[7]

Political career

Randolph returned to Williamsburg after he became a member of the bar, and was appointed Attorney General of the Colony of Virginia the next year.

He served several terms in the Virginia House of Burgesses, beginning in 1748. It was Randolph's dual roles as attorney general and as burgess that would lead to an extraordinary conflict of interest in 1751.

The new governor, Robert Dinwiddie, had imposed a fee for the certification of land patents, which the House of Burgesses strongly objected to. The House selected Peyton Randolph to represent their cause to Crown authorities in London. In his role as attorney general, though, he was responsible for defending actions taken by the governor. Randolph left for London, over the objections of Governor Dinwiddie, and was replaced for a short time as attorney general by George Wythe. Randolph resumed his post on his return at the behest of Wythe as well as officials in London, who also recommended the Governor drop the new fee.

In 1765 Randolph found himself at odds with a freshman burgess, Patrick Henry, over the matter of a response to the Stamp Act. The House appointed Randolph to draft objections to the act, but his more conservative plan was trumped when Henry obtained passage of five of his seven Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions. This was accomplished at a meeting of the House in which most of the members were absent, and over which Randolph was presiding in the absence of the Speaker.

Randolph resigned as king's attorney (attorney general) in 1766, as fellow Burgesses elected him as their Speaker upon the death of his relative, the powerful Speaker John Robinson. Sitting as the General Court, they also appointed Randolph one of the executors (with George Wythe and Edmund Pendleton) of the former speaker's estate, which was a major financial scandal. As friction between Britain and the colonies progressed, Randolph grew to favor independence. In 1769 the House of Burgesses was dissolved by the Governor in response to its actions against the Townshend Acts. Randolph was thus its last Speaker. Afterwards, Randolph chaired meetings of a group of former House members, principally at a Williamsburg tavern, which worked toward responses to the unwelcome tax measures imposed by the British government. In 1773, he chaired the Virginia committee of correspondence, and on March 21, 1775 he chaired a meeting in Richmond that debated independence (the site of Patrick Henry's famous "give me liberty" speech). A few months later, Randolph negotiated with Lord Dunmore for gunpowder removed from the Williamsburg arsenal.

Virginia selected Randolph as one of its delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774 and 1775. Fellow delegates elected him their President (Speaker) of both the First Continental Congress (which requested that King George III repeal the Coercive Acts) as well as Second Continental Congress (which extended the Olive Branch Petition as a final attempt at reconciliation). However, Randolph fell ill during each term. Henry Middleton of South Carolina succeeded him as President from his resignation on October 22, 1774 until his return on May 10, 1775. Randolph suffered a fit of apoplexy and died in Philadelphia on October 22, eventually succeeded by John Hancock of Massachusetts as President of the Continental Congress.

Death and legacy

His remains were returned to Williamsburg and were interred at the chapel of the College of William and Mary.[8] Because the Continental Congress assumed governmental duties for the American colonies as a whole, such as appointing ambassadors, some consider Randolph to have been the first President of the United States, even though he died before the Declaration of Independence.[9]

The Continental Congress honored Randolph by naming one of the first frigates as the Randolph, as well as a fort at the junction of the Ohio and Kanawa Rivers (Fort Randolph (West Virginia)). Randolph County, North Carolina and Randolph County, Indiana were named to honor the colonial statesman.

During World War II, the early Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Randolph (CV-15) was named for him. Furthermore, the Peyton Randolph House in Colonial Williamsburg was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

Notable relatives


Further reading

  • Reardon, John (1981). Peyton Randolph, 1721–1775: One Who Presided. Carolina University Press. ISBN 0-89089-201-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Political offices
New creation President of the First Continental Congress
September 5, 1774 – October 21, 1774
Succeeded by
Henry Middleton
Preceded by
Henry Middleton
(as President of the First Continental Congress)
President of the Second Continental Congress
May 10, 1775 – May 24, 1775
Succeeded by
John Hancock