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John Randolph

A member of the powerful Randolph family that contributed to Virginia political life for most of two centuries, John Randolph, also known as John Randolph of Roanoke, was born in Prince George County, Virginia, on June 2, 1773. A great-grandson of William Randolph, the founder of the family in Virginia, he studied at private schools and at three colleges: New Jersey (later Princeton), Columbia, and William and Mary. Elected to Congress in 1799, Randolph became head of the Ways and Means Committee as a supporter of Jefferson. As leader of the House Democratic-Republicans, Randolph was unable to compromise or to tolerate others who did, and eventually split from the main party as one of the "quids." Opposed to the War of 1812, he lost his seat in Congress but returned the following year, and served off-and-on until 1829. In the debate on the Tariff of 1816, he opposed laying "a duty on the cultivator of the soil to encourage exotic manufactures." When Daniel Webster demanded that the United States express its support for the Greek rebellion in 1823, Randolph argued against such a step. "For my part, I would sooner put the shirt of Nessus on my back than sanction these doctrines." He also served briefly in the Senate, and was the United States minister to Russia in 1830. Known for the acid tone of his speeches, Randolph had few friends in Congress. His frequent periods of physical illness, combined with and perhaps contributed to mental instability. He died in Philadelphia on May 24, 1833.