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Grigsby, Hugh Blair / Discourse of the Life and Character of the Hon. Littleton Waller Tazewell


Life and Character







ON THE 29th DAY OF JUNE, 1860,










When the sad event occurred which has drawn us together this morning,
you met in your accustomed hall, and expressed the feelings which such
an event might well inspire. You then adjourned to assist in performing
the last solemn rites over the bier of your departed friend. Clad in
mourning, you attended his remains from his residence to the steamer,
and, embarking with them, transported them over the waters of that noble
bay which our venerable friend had crossed so often, and of which he was
so justly proud as the Mediterranean of the Commonwealth; and, in the
deepening shadows of the night which had overtaken you, and which were
rendered yet deeper by the glare of the solitary candles flickering in
the wind, more touching by the ceremonies of religion, by the grief of
his slaves, and by the smothered wailing of his children and
grandchildren, and more imposing by the sorrowing faces and bent forms
of some of our aged and most eminent citizens, you deposited the honored
dust in its simple grave; there to repose--with two seas sounding their
ceaseless requiem above it--till the trump of the Archangel shall smite
the ear of the dead, and the tomb shall unveil its bosom, and the old
and the young, the rich and the poor, the statesman who ruled the
destinies of empires, and the peasant whose thoughts never strayed
beyond his daily walk, shall rise together on the Morn of the

But you rightly deemed that your duty to the memory of your illustrious
brother did not cease at his grave. You knew that, whatever may be the
estimate of the value of the life and services of LITTLETON WALLER
TAZEWELL, it was never denied by his contemporaries that he was endowed
with an extraordinary intellect, and that in popular assemblies, at the
Bar, in the House of Delegates, and in the Senate of the United States,
if he did not--as it was long the common faith in Virginia to believe
that he did--bear away the palm from every competitor, he had few
equals, and hardly in any department in which he chose to appear, a
superior. And you thought that such a life, so intimately connected with
your profession, deserved a special commemoration; that its leading
facts should be recalled to the public mind; and that you might thus not
only refresh your own recollections by the lessons presented by so
remarkable a career, but hand down, if possible, whatever of instruction
and encouragement and delight those lessons may contain, for the eye of
those who are to succeed you. Your only error--and I speak from the
heart--is in the hands to which you have confided the task.

The time for performing this duty has arrived; and I rejoice to see
associated with you the Mayor and the Recorder of the City, the
gentlemen of the Common and Select Councils, the officers of the army
and navy, the President, Professors, and Students of William and Mary
College, his venerable _alma mater_, and various public bodies
distinguished by their useful and benevolent purposes. It is meet that
it should be so. At the call of your fathers, gentlemen, he was ever
prompt to render any service in his power; and on two occasions
especially, when important interests affecting Norfolk were in jeopardy,
at great pecuniary sacrifices on his part, he was sent abroad to protect
them. On another occasion, when a foreign fleet was in our waters, he
undertook the errand of your fathers, and performed it with unequalled
success. It was in the service of your fathers that he won his great
reputation as a lawyer; and to them and to you, disregarding the obvious
dictates of personal interest and ambition, he clung for almost
two-thirds of a century, as to his friends and neighbors, and to your
city as the abode of his brilliant manhood, and the home of his
declining years; and he has left his children and grandchildren, those
dear objects of his love on whom his eyes rested in the dying hour, to
live and to die among you. Indeed, so intimately connected was his name
with the name of your city for sixty years, the first words that rose on
the lips of travelled men in our own country and in England, were
inquiries respecting Mr. Tazewell. The generation of men who smiled at
his wit, whose tears flowed at his bidding, who relished his wonderful
colloquial powers, who regarded with a sense of personal triumph his
marvellous displays at the Bar and in the public councils, and who
looked up to him in the hour of danger as their bulwark and defence,
have, with here and there a solitary exception, long preceded him to the
tomb. Those men were your fathers. He performed the last sad rites at
their graves, as, one by one, year after year, they passed away; and
you, their sons and successors, and, I rejoice to add, their daughters
and granddaughters, have now met to pay a tribute to his memory. To
honor the illustrious dead is a noble and a double office. It speaks
with one accord and in a language not to be mistaken, the worth of those
who have gone before us, and the worth of those who yet survive.

In contemplating a human life which is older than the Commonwealth in
which we live--a life stretching almost from century to century, and
that century embracing the American Revolution, and sweeping yet onward
with its unexpired term beyond the present moment--even if the humblest
figure filled the canvas, the review of its history would far exceed the
time allotted for my present office; but if that figure be prominent, if
he made his mark upon some of the great events of his age, or influenced
the opinions of masses of men, or moved before them in any remarkable
attitude of genius, of massive intellect, or of public service, the task
is proportionably enlarged. And the only method that is left us is to
point out the striking traits of the general portraiture, and to let the
minor incidents take care of themselves. It is in such a spirit I shall
treat the theme you have assigned me.

It appears to me that the life of Mr. Tazewell may be divided into three
striking periods: The first, extending from his birth to his settlement
in Norfolk in 1802; the second, from the settlement in Norfolk to the
close of his term as Governor of the Commonwealth; and the third, thence
to his death.

It is common to associate the birth of an eminent man with the
memorable events that were contemporaneous with it, and to dwell upon
the influence which those events may be supposed to have exerted upon
his life and character. In this respect the life of Mr. Tazewell was
remarkable. Four months before the seventeenth day of December, 1774,
when he was born, his father had been present at the August Convention
of 1774, the first of our early conventions, which deputed Peyton
Randolph, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Edward Pendleton, Benjamin
Harrison, and Richard Henry Lee to the first Congress which met in
Carpenter's Hall, Philadelphia, and but two months had elapsed since the
adjournment of the Congress; and while the infant was in the nurse's
arms, his father was drawing, probably in the same room with him, a
reply to the conciliatory propositions of Lord North, to be offered in
the House of Burgesses. His youthful ears were stunned by the firing of
the guns of the Virginia regiments drawn up in Waller's Grove, when the
news of the passage by Congress of the Declaration of Independence of
the Fourth of July, 1776, reached Williamsburgh; and, as he was
beginning to walk, he was startled by the roar of cannon when the
victory of Saratoga was celebrated with every demonstration of joy
throughout the land. As a boy of seven he heard the booming of the
distant artillery at Yorktown; and he might have seen the faces of the
old and the young brightening with hope, when the Articles of
Confederation, which preceded the present Federal Constitution, having
been ratified at last by all the States, became the first written
charter of the American Union. In his ninth year the treaty of peace
with Great Britain, which acknowledged the independence of the United
States, was ratified by Congress; and in his fourteenth, when he
remembered with distinctness current events of a political nature, the
Commonwealth of Virginia adopted the present Federal Constitution.

The first of the Tazewells, who emigrated to the colony of Virginia, was
William, a lawyer by profession, who came over in 1715, and settled in
Accomack. He was the son of James Tazewell, of Somersetshire, England,
and was born at Lymington in that county, and baptized, as appears from
an extract from the register of that parish in my possession, on the
17th day of July, 1690; and was twenty-five years old on his arrival in
the colony. Wills of wealthy persons, which are still preserved in his
handwriting, attest his early employment; and his name soon appears in
the records of Accomack, on one or the other side of every case in
court. Within the precincts of Lymington church, whose antique tower and
rude structure, typifying in the graphic picture struck off by the
Camden society what the old church at Jamestown probably was, may be
seen the tomb of a Tazewell, who died in 1706, on which is engraved the
coat of arms of the family,--a lion rampant, bearing a helmet with a
vizor closed on his back; an escutcheon, which is evidently of Norman
origin, and won by some daring feat of arms, and which could only have
been held by one of the conquering race. A wing of the present
manor-house of Lymington, built by James Tazewell, the father of
William, who died in 1683, is still standing.

The orthography of Tazewell, like that of the earlier Norman names which
were forced to float for centuries on the breath of the unpolished
Anglo-Saxon, has been spelt at various times in various ways by members
of the same family, and in various ways in the same writing; as the name
of Shakspeare, though a plain Anglo-Saxon name, was spelt in four
different ways in his will. Thus, in the parish register of Buckland
Newton, in the county of Dorset, the name is spelt in four different
ways; and one of the spellings, which is still popular in England, is
Tanswell, and opens up to us the true original of the name in
Tankersville, the name of one of the knights who came over with William
the Norman, and whose name is inscribed on the roll of Battle Abbey. The
process was evidently Tankersville, which, contracted, and marked by the
apostrophe, became Tan'sville; and, as the Norman blood became, in the
course of centuries, more intimately commingled with the ruder but
steadier Anglo-Saxon stream, the Norman _ville_ gave way to the Saxon
_well_, and Tan'sville took the form of Tanswell; and Tanswell and
Tazewell, variously spelt, have been used indifferently by father and
son of the same family for more than three hundred years, and are so
used at the present day.[1] The late Mr. Tazewell thought that his name
was originally spelt Tazouille, and that the ancestor emigrated from
France to England before the revocation of the edict of Nantes, and I
leaned to this opinion on another occasion; but, apart from the absence
of all evidence to sustain this opinion, it is now certain, from the
autobiography of the Rev. William Tazewell, translated from the original
Latin by his grandson, the Rev. Henry Tazewell, Vicar of Marden,
Herefordshire, and published by the Camden Society in 1852, that the
family of Tazewell flourished in England at least a century before
religious disputes drew to a head in the reign of Louis the Fourteenth.
I have been particular in stating these facts, as they illustrate the
history of races, especially of those races which composed the people of
Virginia at the date of the Revolution; and it is something to know,
that a descendant of one of those men, who, under William the Conqueror,
wrested the empire of England from the successor of Alfred, and trod
down beneath their iron hoofs the Anglo-Saxon people, aided in rescuing
the colony of Virginia from the tyranny of George the Third, the
inheritor of the blood as well as of the crown of the Norman robber.

Soon after the arrival of William Tazewell in Virginia, he married
Sophia, daughter of Henry Harmanson and Gertrude Littleton, who was a
daughter of Col. Southey Littleton, and the son of that marriage was
called Littleton, after the surname of his grandfather. This Littleton
was brought up in the secretary's office, under Secretary Nelson, and
married Mary Gray, daughter of Col. Joseph Gray, of Southampton. With a
view of being near the relations of his wife, he sold his estate in
Accomack, which has long been the property of his grandson, Littleton
Waller, and purchased land in Brunswick, of which county he became clerk
of the court, dying at the early age of thirty-three. The son of this
marriage was Henry, the father of our departed townsman, who also
studied law, became a judge of the general court, a judge of the court
of appeals, a senator of the United States, and twice president of the

The mother of Mr. Tazewell was Dorothea Elizabeth Waller, a daughter of
Judge Benjamin Waller, of Williamsburg. We are told by Dr. Johnson, in
the Lives of the Poets, that Benjamin, the eldest son of the poet
Waller, was disinherited by his father as wanting common understanding,
and sent to New Jersey. It was not, however, from this Benjamin--a name
still popular in the family--that the Virginia Wallers derive their
origin. The first person of the name in Virginia was Edmund Waller, who
bore the name of the poet, and was probably his grandson, and who came
over in the beginning of the eighteenth century. His son Benjamin, the
future judge, was born in 1716, was probably educated at William and
Mary, and entered a clerk's office, in the duties of which he was
profoundly versed. He was appointed clerk of the general court before
the revolution, and attained to such distinction as a judge of law, that
he was frequently consulted by the court, and is said to have given more
opinions as chamber counsel, than all the lawyers of the colony united.
He was appointed chief of three commissioners of admiralty under the
republic, and as such was a member of the first court of appeals. It is
said that his decisions were always sound law, but that he would never
assign reasons for them. On the subject of the law of admiralty, his
opinions were equally conclusive with the court and with clients. He
died in 1786, at the age of 70. His influence, after the death of his
daughter, on the mind of his grandson, will presently be seen.

Dorothea, the mother of our Littleton, was a lovely girl. Her name,
which, from the ugly abbreviation of Dolly, has gone out of vogue, was
popular with our fathers. It was borne by the brides of Patrick Henry,
of James Madison, and of Henry Tazewell. It was honored in the strains
of Spenser, in the sparkling prose of Sir Philip Sidney, and in the
flowing verse of Waller; and finely shadows forth what a true woman
ought to be and is--the gift of God. It was a favorite name in England,
and evoked the sweetest measures of the poet Waller; and has ever been,
probably from this circumstance, a family name among the Wallers of
Virginia. A sweet portrait of Dorothea Waller, one of the finest
productions of the elder Peale, always adorned the parlour of her
distinguished son. In less than three years after the birth of
Littleton, she died suddenly, and Mr. Tazewell had no recollection of
his mother. It has often occurred to me that the true secret of the
early retirement of Mr. Tazewell from the bar, might be found in the
shortness of the lives of his progenitors. His grandfather Littleton
died at the age of thirty-three, and his mother at the age of
twenty-three; and when Mr. Tazewell retired from the bar, vigorous as
he was, he was some years older than his father was at the time of his
decease. It is believed that this same conviction was an element in that
love of retirement which was the characteristic of Washington.

In a long, low wooden house, which may still be seen with its roof of
red shingles, at the head of Woodpecker street, on the south side, in
the city of Williamsburg, the residence of Judge Waller, and still owned
by his grandson Dr. Robert Page Waller, and in a small room up stairs,
at the north-east corner, looking on the street, in which his mother was
born before him, on the seventeenth day of December, 1774, Littleton
Waller Tazewell first saw the light. He was a healthy child, and, like
all the children who were born about that time between the waters of the
York and the James, was destined to frequent locomotion to avoid the
marauding parties of the British, who for several years afterwards
infested that region. As his mother died when he was in his third year,
and as his father, who was engaged during the youth of Littleton in the
Conventions, in the House of Delegates, or on the bench, was rarely at
one place for any length of time, he lived, excepting a short interval
in Greensville, with his grandfather Waller, who regarded with intense
affection the beautiful orphan boy, preparing a trundle-bed for him in
his own chamber, and watching him with parental solicitude. Until 1786
he lived with his grandfather, who taught him the rudiments of English
and Latin, and superintended his studies at the school of Walker Murray;
and when in that year the judge was on his death-bed, he sent for his
old friend Mr. Wythe, and committed his grandson, then in his twelfth
year, to his care; and with Mr. Wythe young Tazewell lived until that
gentleman removed to Richmond, when he resided with Bishop Madison
during his college course. The love which the child bore to his
affectionate grandfather has been commemorated by a single fact. When
Littleton came home from school and learned the old gentleman was dead,
he was inconsolable, and finding that, in the painful anxieties of such
a time, he was comparatively overlooked, he left the house, and went out
into Col. Bassett's woods, where he had well-nigh perished. When he was
missed, search was made for him, and he was found and brought home, but
not until the funeral was over.

The following extract of a letter, addressed by Mr. Tazewell, in 1839
to William F. Wickham, Esq., the son and executor of the celebrated John
Wickham of Richmond, and written on the death of that eminent lawyer,
presents a sketch of his own early youth, not the less attractive as it
embraces an interesting period of the youth of Mr. Wickham also:

"So much of my life," writes Mr. Tazewell, "was spent in the freest
intercourse with your dear father, and during this intercourse mere time
effected changes in our relations so gradually and imperceptibly, that,
until they were matured into their last state, I was often at a loss to
determine what was their true character. We first met in the year 1780,
at the house of your grandfather, in Greensville county, (who was also
the paternal grandfather of Mr. Tazewell), to which I had been sent to
get me out of the way of the British army, then invading Virginia. I was
a child not six years old, and he was a youth of about seventeen. Here
he became my tutor; and during the course of about two years, he taught
me first to read English better than I could do before; next, the
rudiments of Latin, and lastly, to write. During this period I
contracted for him that respect which children naturally feel for their
seniors, and the ignorant for those much better informed than
themselves; while he regarded me with the affection usually bestowed by
a patron upon his protegè, who manifests no bad propensities, and a
disposition, at least, to profit by instruction and advice.

"In 1782 we parted; and well do I remember the tears we both shed at our
separation. In the winter of 1785-6 we again met at Williamsburg, at the
house of my father, who then resided there. Here our intercourse was
renewed upon a footing somewhat different than it had been maintained
before, but with greater pleasure to both. He became a student of law in
my father's office, and I was a boy in the first class of a celebrated
grammar-school. To the careful instruction of my excellent
grandfather.[2] I had been indebted for greater proficiency in my
classical learning than is usually acquired by boys of my time of life.
My grandfather died within a very short period after the return of your
father to Virginia. Of the distress which I suffered at this
deprivation, he was the sole comforter; and he immediately took upon
himself the tasks which my poor old grandfather had been so delighted in
performing for me. He heard and corrected my recitations--availed
himself of every opportunity they offered to improve my taste and to
inspire me with the wish of acquiring more information concerning the
subjects to which they related. For all the pleasure which I have since
derived from classical learning, I am indebted to his judicious
instruction and advice.

"In 1787 your father commenced the practice of the law in Williamsburg,
and mine shortly after removed from thence to Kingsmill, leaving me in
Williamsburg under the care of your father to complete my education.
Under his kind and useful advice, my rapid advance in my studies, both
at school and in college, and my increased age, began to qualify me as a
companion for him. By confiding to my discretion matters not often
entrusted to those so young as I was, he taught me prudence; and, by his
excellent precepts and example, he contributed much to the improvement
of both my mind and manners."

As a boy of quick parts, Littleton doubtless observed with more or less
attention the events that were passing around him. One proof of his
recollection at an early age may be found in that shadowy notion which
he carried to his grave, of the personal appearance of the venerable old
treasurer, Robert Carter Nicholas, whom, as he died in 1780, he could
only have seen when he was six years old. His father, as before
observed, was constantly engaged in public life; and it is certain that
young Tazewell had frequent opportunities of seeing the statesmen of
that era. I well remember hearing him describe a visit he made to
Patrick Henry, when the orator lived at Venable's Ford in Prince Edward,
and his finding him in the shade of an oak playing the fiddle for the
amusement of a group of girls and boys.

His first regular teacher was Walker Murray, with whom he prosecuted the
study of Latin. At this school he began his intimacy with John Randolph.
They were in the same class, and studied Cordery together; and here they
formed a friendship which lasted without abatement until it was ended by
the death of that eloquent but eccentric man. At parting--for Randolph
went over to Bermuda--the young friends, who had no other property
under their control, exchanged Corderys with each other; and nearly half
a century afterwards, when one of them had become a Senator of the
United States, and the other Minister Plenipotentiary to Russia.
Randolph stated at a public dinner in Norfolk, that he still possessed
the Cordery of Tazewell. I have heard Mr. Tazewell say that Randolph was
very idle at school, that he was flogged regularly every Monday morning
and two or three times during the week, and that he was the most
beautiful boy at this period he ever beheld.

Young Tazewell at an early age entered the college of William and Mary,
then under the presidency of Bishop Madison, and was, as may be presumed
from his own statement, and as we learn from other sources, a diligent
and accurate scholar. He was probably stimulated to exertion by the
presence of several young men who were members of the institution at
various times during his college course. Among these were James Barbour,
of Orange, afterwards the colleague of Tazewell in the House of
Delegates and in the Senate of the United States, Governor of Virginia,
Secretary of War, and Minister to England, and renowned for his splendid
eloquence and glowing patriotism; William Henry Cabell, also the
colleague of Tazewell in the House of Delegates, Governor, and President
of the Court of Appeals; George Keith Taylor, another colleague in the
House of Delegates, a lawyer almost unrivalled at the bar, a patriot
without fear and without reproach, who went down to an early grave;
Robert Barraud Taylor, then in the flush of his brilliant youth, whom
Tazewell was to meet at a memorable session on the floor of the House of
Delegates, and who was to be his able and accomplished rival at the bar
throughout his whole forensic career; John Randolph, and John Thompson.

Of John Thompson I have heard him say, in his latter years, that he was
an extraordinary young man--the most wonderful he had ever seen.
Thompson died young, at an age not exceeding twenty-three, and now lives
only in the letters of Curtius. Mr. Tazewell always recounted in a
tender tone his last interview with Thompson, who lived in Petersburg,
but hearing that Tazewell was in Richmond, came over to see him, with a
determination to return in the stage which left Richmond at twelve at
night. He arrived at dusk, called on Tazewell, and told him that he had
only from that time till midnight to talk with him; and in a few moments
the friends were lost in pleasant converse. The night was dark and cold;
and when the stage was announced, Thompson, who was thinly clad, bade
his friend adieu. He took cold on his return, and died after a short

Tazewell took the degree of Bachelor of Arts on the 31st day of July,
1792, though it is probable that he attended some of the classes at a
later period. His diploma, written on a sheet of foolscap, and signed by
Bishop Madison, Judge St. George Tucker, and others, is still preserved
in his family. It speaks well for his attention and regularity, that of
all his classmates he alone took a degree at the appointed time. Having
finished his college course, he began the study of the law in Richmond
under the auspices of Mr. Wickham,[3] living in his house as a member of
his family, and of his father, who was then a Judge of the Circuit
Court, but was soon after transferred to the Court of Appeals. That he
entered with great zeal into the study of his profession, his subsequent
familiarity with all the philosophy as well as the practice of the law
fully shows. While engaged in the study, he regularly attended the
courts of Richmond in which Wythe presided as sole chancellor, and
Pendleton as the president of the Court of Appeals. The bar of the
metropolis, which consisted mainly of men who had served during the
Revolution, and subsequently, in camp and in council, was large in
numbers and abounding in talents. Alexander Campbell, whose voice, says
Wirt, "had all the softness and melody of the harp; whose mind was at
once an orchard and a flower garden, loaded with the best fruits, and
smiling in the many-colored bloom of spring; whose delivery, action,
style, and manner, were perfectly Ciceronian," and who, I am grieved to
say, was shortly to fall by his own hand; Munford, known to the
profession by his Reports, and to scholars for the skill and elegance
with which he has invested Homer in an English dress; Warden, the theme
of many a joke, a sturdy lawyer of the old school, his name perpetually
occurring in the early Reports; Call, whose aged form might occasionally
be seen in Richmond in my early days, and familiar by his Reports; Hay,
afterwards a judge of the federal district court, which he held in this
city thirty-five or forty years ago, but better known as the prosecuting
attorney in the trial of Burr; and besides and above these were Edmund
Randolph, who, having filled the most prominent posts in our own and in
the federal government, and with whom it is believed Mr. Tazewell
studied for a short time in Philadelphia, was to return to the bar,
where he had the largest practice, according to Wirt, of any lawyer of
his time; Wickham, then holding at or near his meridian as he did at his
setting, the front rank; and John Marshall, a name that spoke for itself
then, speaks for itself now, and will speak forever. These and such men
composed the Richmond bar of that day.

An able bar is the best school of law. If the leaders be strong, they
will be apt to have worthy successors; for of all lessons for a student,
the contests of able men with each other in the practical game of life
are the best. In such a school Tazewell applied himself closely; and in
truth he had rare advantages. In a physical view he is said by one who
knew him at this period of his life, to have been the most elegant and
brilliant young man of his age. His tall stature, which reached six
feet, his light and graceful figure, his blue, wide, intellectual eye,
his features noble and prominent, though not yet developed to the
sterner mould of latter years, those auburn ringlets, which curled about
his head in childhood, which he shook at midnoon in the stress of some
high argument, and which, turned to a silver hue, flowed down his marble
neck in his shroud,--and a winning address, which, though slightly and
insensibly tinged with hauteur on a first acquaintance, grew urgent and
cordial, fascinated every beholder; while his intellectual faculties,
which even thus early his habitual study of the severer sciences had
sharpened, and which impelled him to venture fearlessly even with
experts on vexed questions in law and morals, and his truly generous
nature, made him the delight of the social circle, and endeared him to
all. Then, as at a later day, he was not averse from manly sports, was
fond of the gun, and was a fearless horseman. One of his youthful feats
was to ride his horse to the second story of the Raleigh Tavern; and
when his income from the Norfolk bar reached thousands, and his dicta
were deemed the infallible utterances of Themis, he has been known in a
country frolic to leap from a horse's back into a carriage in full
motion; and at a later day, when the country sprang to arms to avenge
the insult upon the Chesapeake, and he might have taken what civil or
military post he pleased, he chose the command of a troop of cavalry. He
understood at this early day, however, the art of sacrificing pleasure
at the shrine of duty; and he preserved his youth pure from those
flattering vices which please for the present, but which bring disgrace,
disease, and death in their train.

His position gave him decided advantages of observation and improvement.
His father, who was a prominent politician, and long a judge of the
General Court, was now a judge of the Court of Appeals, and was soon
elected to the Senate of the United States. In his society he saw
Pendleton, Carrington, Roane, Fleming, and Lyons, who composed the Court
of Appeals at that day, and all of whom I heard him recall in living
colors a few months before his death. It was the custom of the judges of
the Court of Appeals to put up at the Swan, where they might easily
consult with Pendleton, their chief, whose injured limb prevented him
for the last thirty years of his life from going abroad. It was at the
Swan the judges kept their black cloth suits during the recess of the
courts; for in those days there were no public conveyances; and all the
judges, except Pendleton, who drove into Richmond from Caroline in a
slow lumbering vehicle, nicknamed, after the wild driver of the coursers
of the sun, a Phaeton, came into town on horseback, and were often clad
in the cloth of their own looms. I mention these details of the early
times of Mr. Tazewell, as they may serve to explain that stern
simplicity of manners, of taste, and of general living, to which he
resolutely adhered through life. Although fond of agriculture, and the
owner of large landed estates, as he did not reside on them he did not
require vehicles for the use of his family; and, at his residence in
Norfolk, I think I may say that, for the last forty years at least, he
never kept a carriage above the dignity of a gig, and I have doubts
whether during that time he even kept a gig. The last time I saw him
riding, some ten or twelve years ago, he was on horseback, accompanied
by his son. I well remember when to take a drive in a carriage, or to
use an umbrella, was deemed effeminate by some of the wealthiest
planters in Virginia.

It was on the 14th day of May, 1796, that he received his license to
practice law. The license, written in a bold hand on paper, was signed
by judges Peter Lyons, Edmund Winston, and Joseph Jones, and is
preserved by his children as a family relic. His first fee was derived
from a warrant trying, in which a Mr. Taliaferro, who was his landlord,
was a party, and was fifteen shillings, which helped to pay the rent of
his office. His first important criminal case was the defence of a man
on a charge of murder. Whether his client was innocent or guilty, I know
not; but Tazewell got him clear of the law; and the man was so thankful
for his services, that half a century afterwards he confessed his
gratitude to a daughter of Mr. Tazewell, whom he chanced to see in the
streets of a neighboring town.

The keen eye of John Marshall saw at once the caste of Tazewell's mind,
and pronounced him an extraordinary young man. And I may say here, that
the subdued manner and tone in which Mr. Tazewell spoke of Judge
Marshall would convey a stronger impression of the character of the
judge than any mere words of eulogy could well do. For his person and
abilities he cherished the most profound respect and admiration. Even of
the Life of Washington, which it was the fashion of the young democrats
of my day to laugh at for the grammatical blunders and inverted English
that marred the first edition of that work, Tazewell, who, though never
eminent in elegant composition, always wrote good English, and saw all
the faults of the work, still put a high value upon it as I certainly
now do myself; and within a year of his death, when he was told an
author was about to publish a history of the administration of
Washington, he observed: "What can _he_ tell that Judge Marshall has not
told a great deal better already?" Yet, from the beginning of Mr.
Tazewell's career to its close, they differed from each other on most of
the great constitutional questions of their times. Candor compels me to
say, however, that the decisions of the judge in the case of Maculloch
against the Bank of Maryland, and in the case of Cohens against the
State of Virginia, greatly disappointed him; and after their
promulgation, though he still entertained feelings of high respect for
his abilities, he would hardly have offered in honor of the judge that
famous sentiment which he proposed at the Decatur dinner, and which
elicited so much remark at the time.

But it was probably in his association with Chancellor Wythe, who loved
and petted the promising boy, the son of his old neighbor in
Williamsburg, whom he had taken from the dying bedside of another old
neighbor, that Tazewell formed his taste for profound research, and his
determination to master the law as a science. Wythe, above all our early
statesmen, was deeply learned in the law, had traced all its doctrines
to their fountain-heads, delighted in the year-books from doomsday down;
had Glanville, Bracton, Britton, and Fleta bound in collects; had all
the British statutes at full length, and was writing elaborate decisions
every day, in which, to the amazement of county court lawyers, Horace
and Aulus Gellius were sometimes quoted as authorities. And it is worthy
of note, that Tazewell, affectionately attached as he was to Wythe, did
not adopt his prejudices or antipathies, nor those peculiarities of
punctuation and the disuse of capital letters at the beginning of
sentences, which even Mr. Jefferson copied from his old master, but
cherished a proper and becoming admiration for Pendleton, as will
presently appear, between whom and Wythe there had been a life-long
rivalry, and more recently some sharp judicial passages at arms, which
we could wish were blotted out forever, but which, embodied in
ever-during type, posterity must read and deplore. And, although he was
in every material respect the architect of his own reputation, it has
occurred to me that it was in memory of his affectionate relations with
Wythe and Wickham, and with a view of paying the debt which he owed
them, as well as from the natural goodness of his heart, that Tazewell
was fond of the society of young men, and was ever ready to advise them
in their studies, or to argue with them a difficult head in the law, and
freely to assist them in other respects. An eminent counsel still
living, though among the seniors of the Virginia bar, told me that once,
when he was young, Mr. Tazewell, who had not opened a law book for
years, explained to him the law respecting fine and recovery, and
springing uses, so fully and with such ability as filled him with
wonder; and that his discourse, could it have been transferred to paper,
would be an invaluable guide on that topic of the law. And many other
young men have the same story to tell of his generous teachings on
difficult questions. If all his personal attentions to the students of
law were forgotten, the four letters which he prepared with infinite
skill as a code of legal morals, and of the philosophical study of the
law, would attest his sympathy and affection for his youthful friends.

While young Tazewell was gradually making his way at the bar, practising
in James City, and in all the neighboring courts, he was called upon to
take his stand in politics at one of the most tempestuous epochs in our
annals. His father was one of that illustrious band of patriots,
consisting of Patrick Henry, George Mason, William Grayson, Richard
Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, John Tyler, and others, who believed that
the General Federal Convention, which had been summoned merely to amend
the Articles of Confederation, had exceeded their powers in framing an
entirely new instrument, the present federal constitution, and they
warmly opposed its ratification by Virginia. When the new system was
adopted, they watched its operations with a jealous eye, and opposed
some of the leading measures of the administration of Washington. When
it was foreseen that a new treaty would be negotiated with England, it
was determined by them that, unless that measure made those concessions
and amendments of the treaty of 1783, which Virginia had striven so hard
to obtain, it should be opposed at every hazard; and John Taylor of
Caroline, happening to resign his seat in the Senate just at that time
(1795), Henry Tazewell, then on the bench of the Court of Appeals, was
elected to fill his place; and the first movement he made on taking his
seat in the Senate was to offer a series of resolutions pointing out the
defects of the new treaty with England, which had been negotiated by Mr.
Jay. It was natural that young Tazewell should embrace the doctrines of
the party in which his father held almost the chief place; and his
inclination in this respect was probably strengthened by the opinions of
Judge Pendleton and Chancellor Wythe, both of whom had voted for the
ratification of the federal constitution by Virginia, but who now sided
with his father. On the other hand, his friends Marshall and Wickham
were ranged on the federal side; and though Wickham at no time of his
life took an active part in politics, Marshall, in the House of
Delegates, and by popular addresses, was most active in the cause, and
was reputed the leader of the federal party in the State.

In the spring of 1796, when he had attained his one-and-twentieth year,
he was returned to the House of Delegates from the county of James City,
and continued a member of the body until the close of the century. In
that interval were discussed in the Assembly the leading measures of the
administrations of Washington and the elder Adams; and a better school
for a young politician cannot well be imagined.

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Main -> Grigsby, Hugh Blair -> Discourse of the Life and Character of the Hon. Littleton Waller Tazewell