Taylor, John (1753–1824)

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TAYLOR, JOHN (1753–1824)

John Taylor of Caroline read law in the office of his uncle, edmund pendleton. He became involved early in Virginia revolutionary politics and was a delegate to the first continental congress. He served as an Army officer and almost continuously as a member of the House of Delegates (1779–1785). In the legislature he supported a measure to end establishment of religion in Virginia.

As a delegate to the state convention in 1788 Taylor opposed ratification of the constitution, which lacked a bill of rights, gave too much power to the general government, and was insufficiently republican. Even so, he involved himself immediately in the politics of the new government, becoming the foremost publicist of Jeffersonian democracy. Both in the senate (1792–1794) and in the public press he was a leading opponent of the economic policies of alexander hamilton. In the controversy over the alien and sedition acts, Taylor introduced the Virginia Resolutions (written by james madison) inthe state legislature. (See virginia and kentucky resolutions.)

An ardent supporter of thomas jefferson, Taylor returned briefly to the Senate in 1803. He supported the twelfth amendment and defended the constitutionality of the louisiana purchase when even the President doubted it. Taylor broke with the Republican party over the War of 1812 and the renomination of President Madison, but he did not deviate from its principles. In his final term in the Senate (1822–1824) and in his last books Taylor denounced the growing power of the federal judiciary, john marshall's decision in mcculloch v. maryland (1819), and henry clay ' s american system, with its internal improvements and protective tariff. He advocated strict construction of constitutional grants of power to the federal government.

Taylor saw himself as the defender of a liberty in constant danger and a republic in perpetual crisis. He thought that, in every generation, the American people were presented with a choice between the political principles and practice of Thomas Jefferson and those of john adams—the former conducive to, and the latter destructive of, self-government and public happiness. He believed that the civic virtue of farmers, tradesmen, and professional persons was the indispensable basis of free institutions; and for him banks and corporations raised the specter of economic oligarchy, undermining both that virtue and those institutions. Big government was the creature and ally of big business; and bigness was the enemy of liberty and equality. Incongruously, for all his concern with liberty and equality he unqualifiedly supported black slavery. Taylor is probably best known as a theorist of states ' rights : his ideas bridged the gap between the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions and john c. calhoun's doctrine of nullification.

Taylor's most important books are An Enquiry into the Principles and Policies of the Government of the United States (1814), a comprehensive statement of the political theory of agrarian democracy, and Construction Construed and Constitutions Vindicated (1820), an attack on the expansion of federal court jurisdiction and the use of judicial review to reduce the independence of the states.

Dennis J. Mahoney


Hill, Charles W. 1977 The Political Theory of John Taylor of Caroline. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

Lloyd, Thomas Gordon 1973 The Danger Not Yet Over: The Political Thought and Practice of John Taylor of Caroline. Ph.D. dissertation, Claremont Graduate School.

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Taylor, John (1753–1824)

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