John Taylor of Caroline – Continental Army Officer – Virginia


John Taylor (December 19, 1753{spaced ndash}August 21, 1824) usually called John Taylor of Caroline was a politician and writer. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates (1779–81, 1783–85, 1796–1800) and in the United States Senate (1792–94, 1803, 1822–24). He wrote several books on politics and agriculture. He was a Jeffersonian Democrat and his works provided inspiration to the later states’ rights and libertarian movements. Sheldon and Hill (2008) locate Taylor at the intersection of republicanism and classical liberalism. They see his position as a “combination of a concern with Lockean natural rights, freedom, and limited government along with a classical interest in strong citizen participation in rule to prevent concentrated power and wealth, political corruption, and financial manipulation” (p. 224).

Taylor opposed a strong central government. In the creation of the federal government, the states exercised the highest act of sovereignty, and they may, if they please, repeat the proof of their sovereignty, by its annihilation. But the union possesses no innate sovereignty, like the states; it was not self-constituted; it is conventional, and of course subordinate to the sovereignties by which it was formed — John Taylor of Caroline


John Taylor was born in Orange county, Virginia. in 1750. His father was James Taylor, who married Ann Pollard a sister of Sarah Pollard, who married the celebrated Edmund Pendleton, president of the famous convention of May, 1776, that declared for independence. He was of the same distinguished family as General Zachary Taylor. President of the United States. He attended William and Mary College and graduated there in 1770. He studied law and, settling in Caroline county, began the practice in 1774. He entered the army when the revolutionary war began, and was a colonel of cavalry. He served in the house of delegates from 1779 to 1787. being one of the leading members. About this time he gave up the practice of law and devoted his ample time to politics and agriculture. In 1792 he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Richard Henry Lee in the United States senate, and was elected to the term that began March 4, 1793, but resigned, May 11, 1794; presidential elector in 1797 he was a close friend of Mr. Jefferson, and, as member of the house of delegates, offered the resolutions of 1798 condemning the alien and sedition laws; appointed to the senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Stevens Thomson Mason. and served from June 4, 1803, until December 7, 1803, when he resigned; again appointed to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of James Pleasants, Jr., and was elected later to serve the regular term for six years beginning December 18, 1822, but died at his estate in Caroline county, August 20, 1824. Mr. Taylor was a prolific political writer, and was the author of “An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Governmant of the United States,” 1814; “Construction Construed and the Constitution Vindicated.” 1820; “Tyranny Unmasked. 1822; “New Views of the Constitution of the United States.” 1823. He was also a scientific agriculturist, and in 1811 was first president of the Virginia Agricultural Societies, His little books. “Arator,” being a series of agricultural essays, practical and political. 1818, was one of the first American books on agriculture. Taylor county, Kentucky. was named in his honor.


English legal historian M.J.C. Vile views Taylor as “in some ways the most impressive political theorist that America has produced.” Historian Clyde N. Wilson describes Taylor as “the systematic philosopher of Jeffersonian democracy,” and as “representing ‘both a conservative allegiance to local community and inherited ways and a radical-populist suspicion of capitalism, ‘progress,’ government and routine logrolling politics.'” According to historian Adam L. Tate, Taylor was “an agrarian who ‘viewed happiness as possession of family, farm, and leisure,’ had no great love for organized religion, social hierarchy, and other such traditional institutions.” “Taylor took solid liberal ground in holding that men were a mixture of good and evil. Self-interest was the only real constant in human action. . . . . Indeed, while other thinkers, from Thomas Jefferson to Federalist John Adams, agonized over the need for a virtuous citizenry, Taylor took the view that ‘the principles of a society may be virtuous, though the individuals composing it are vicious.'” Taylor’s solution to the effects of factionalism was to “remove the base from under the stock jobbers, the banks, the paper money party, the tariff-supported manufacturers, and so on; destroy the system of patronage by which the executive has corrupted the legislature; bring down the usurped authority of the Supreme Court.” “The more a nation depends for its liberty on the qualities of individuals, the less likely it is to retain it. By expecting publick good from private virtue, we expose ourselves to publick evils from private vices.”


Taylor wrote in defense of slavery, although he admitted it was wrong. “Let it not be supposed that I approve of slavery because I do not aggravate its evils, or prefer a policy which must terminate in a war of extermination.” Rather, he defended the institution because he “thought blacks incapable of liberty.” Taylor feared that widespread emancipation would ultimately, and invariably in his view, lead to the horrific bloodshed witnessed in the French colony of Santo Domingo in 1791, the site of the greatest of all successful slave insurrections, the Haitian Revolution. “Taylor is one with most American thinkers from Washington to Jefferson to Lincoln in doubting that the free Negro could ever be anything but a problem for American politics . . . .” Thus, he advocated the deportation of free African Americans.

“Negro slavery is a misfortune to agriculture, incapable of removal, and only within the reach of palliation.” Taylor criticized Thomas Jefferson’s ambivalence towards slavery in Notes on the State of Virginia. Taylor agreed with Jefferson that the institution was an evil, but took issue with Jefferson’s repeated references to the specific cruelties of slavery, arguing that “slaves are docile, useful and happy, if they are well managed,” and that “the individual is restrained by his property in the slave, and susceptible of humanity . . . . Religion assails him both with her blandishments and terrours. It indissolubly binds his, and his slaves happiness or misery together.” “The possibility that slaveholding may have had the kind of positive effects on a republican society that Taylor believes it often did has been reconsidered recently by Edmund S. Morgan. Taylor’s approach, defending the preservation of slavery under the circumstances and apprehensions of his day, was used to support later and more emphatic defenses of slavery by writers, such as John C. Calhoun, Edmund Ruffin, and George Fitzhugh, who extended the argument by claiming the institution to be a “positive good.”

===States’ rights===

Stromberg, says Taylor’s role in calling for Virginia’s secession in 1798 and his role in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, “show how seriously he took the reserved rights [interposition (nullification) and secession] of these primary political communities [the States].” Taylor was responsible for guiding the Virginia Resolution, written by James Madison, through the Virginia legislature. He wrote: “enormous political power invariably accumulates enormous wealth and enormous wealth invariably accumulates enormous political power.” “Like his radical bourgeois counterparts in England, Taylor would not concede that great extremes of wealth and poverty were natural outcomes of differences in talent; on the contrary they were invariably the result of extra-economic coercion and deceit.” “Along with John Randolph of Roanoke and a few others, Taylor opposed Madison’s War of 1812–his own party’s war–precisely because it was a war for empire.”

Tate (2011) undertakes a literary criticism of Taylor’s book New Views of the Constitution of the United States, arguing it is structured as a forensic historiography modeled on the techniques of 18th-century whig lawyers. Taylor believed that evidence from American history gave proof of state sovereignty within the union against the arguments of nationalists such as U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall.


Taylor’s primary plantation estate, Hazelwood, was located three miles from Port Royal, Virginia and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Taylor County, West Virginia was formed in 1844 and named in Senator Taylor’s honor.

==Writings of John Taylor of Caroline==

* An Enquiry into the Principles and Tendency of Certain Public Measures (Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1794).
* A Definition of Parties: Or the Political Effects of the Paper System Considered (Philadelphia: Francis Bailey, 1794).
* Arator (1818) (first published as a book in 1813 (without attribution) from a collection of sixty-four essays, originally published in a Georgetown newspaper in 1803, which pertain to American agriculture, including some of Taylor’s views on slavery).
* A Defence of the Measures of the Administration of Thomas Jefferson, attributed to “Curtius” (1804).
* A Pamphlet Containing a Series of Letters (Richmond: E. C. Stanard, 1809).
* An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States (1814) – a detailed and elaborate critique of the political-philosophical system developed and defended by John Adams in his Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787).
* Construction Construed and Constitutions Vindicated (Richmond: Shepherd and Pollard, 1820).
* Tyranny Unmasked (Washington: Davis and Force, 1822).
* New Views of the Constitution of the United States (Washington: Way and Gideon, 1823).