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Edmund Randolph

Edmund Randolph

Edmund Randolph: A Founding Father’s Journey

Edmund Jennings Randolph (1753-1813) was a prominent American attorney, politician, and statesman. He is best known for his pivotal role in shaping the early history of the United States as a Founding Father. He served as the first Attorney General of the United States and the seventh Governor of Virginia. Edmund Randolph was a gifted legal mind and a skillful politician. This article examines his life, his career, and his contribution to American history.

Early Life and Career

Edmund Randolph was born on August 10, 1753, in Williamsburg, Virginia, to a prominent family with a long tradition of public service. His father, John Randolph, was a wealthy planter, lawyer, and Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses. His mother was Susanna Beverley Randolph.

After receiving his early education from tutors, Edmund Randolph attended the College of William and Mary, where he studied law and graduated in 1775. He quickly established himself as one of the most capable and prominent attorneys in Virginia, and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1779.

He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1782, where he helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War. His talents as a diplomat and his reputation as a skilled negotiator quickly brought him to the attention of the Founding Fathers, and he was called upon to serve in various high-level positions in both Virginia and the federal government.

Political Career

Randolph’s political career began in 1779 when he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. He served as the Attorney General of Virginia from 1786 until 1788 when he was selected by his home state to represent it at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

At the Convention, Randolph played a significant role in the drafting of the United States Constitution. He authored the Virginia Plan, which served as the basis for much of the Constitution and laid the groundwork for the creation of a strong national government. Randolph’s proposals emphasized both a strong central government and the protection of individual rights.

In 1789, George Washington appointed Randolph as the first Attorney General of the United States. In that role, Randolph worked closely with Congress and the President on key issues such as the establishment of the federal judicial system and the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Randolph resigned his position as Attorney General in 1794 and returned to Virginia to resume his law practice.

In 1799, Randolph was elected the Governor of Virginia, succeeding James Wood. As Governor, he was instrumental in the establishment of the University of Virginia, which was to become one of the most prestigious universities in the nation.


Edmund Randolph is widely recognized as one of the most influential Founding Fathers of the United States. His vision of a strong central government and the protection of individual rights played a significant role in shaping the United States Constitution, which is still the foundation of American democracy today.

Randolph’s life and career spanned a critical period in American history, from the Revolution to the early days of the American republic. He was not only one of the most important figures of his time but also helped shape the future of the United States, as his contributions laid the groundwork for the nation’s political and legal system.


Edmund Randolph was a visionary leader, a gifted attorney, and a skilled politician who played a pivotal role in shaping American history. Perhaps his greatest legacy is his contribution to the drafting of the United States Constitution. His ideas and proposals helped create a strong central government that was still flexible enough to protect the individual liberties of the American people.

As a Founding Father, Randolph was a critical voice in the establishment of the young nation, and his work has been remembered and celebrated for over two centuries. His legacy has influenced countless leaders who have followed in his footsteps, and his vision and ideas continue to guide the United States towards a brighter future.

Founding Fathers: Edmund Randolph

Randolph was born into a well-established Virginia family on August 10, 1753, in Williamsburg, Virginia. Edmund Randolph was tutored and later attended the College of William and Mary. After graduating, Edmund Randolph studied law under his father John Randolph, and his Uncle Peyton. He then passed the Virginia bar and started practicing law in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Once the American Revolution broke out, John Randolph kept his position as a Loyalist and returned to England with the royal governor, Lord Dunmore in 1775. Edmund Randolph stayed in America where he lived with his uncle Peyton Randolph, who was a prominent member of Virginia politics. During the Revolutionary War, Edmund Randolph showed his support by acting as an aide-de-camp to General George Washington.

After returning to Virginia after hearing about the death of his uncle, Edmund Randolph was elected to the Virginia Convention of 1776. This was the convention that established the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first constitution. During this time, Edmund Randolph was only 23 years old, making him the youngest member at the convention. Randolph married Elizabeth Nicholas in 1776.

Edmund Randolph was also elected as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first Attorney General as well as the Mayor of the city of Williamsburg in 1776. Afterward, Edmund Randolph was elected to be a delegate for Virginia for the Continental Congress both in 1779 and 1881. During this time, he maintained his law practice, handling many issues for important politicians including George Washington. In 1786, Edmund Randolph was elected Governor of Virginia.

Constitutional Convention

he following year, Edmund Randolph was a delegate from Virginia for the Constitutional Convention. Here, he introduced the Virginia Plan as a foundation for a new government for the country. Edmund Randolph argued against the importation of slaves and was in favor of the new government having a strong central government. He also supported a plan that had three chief executives from different areas of the country.

The Virginia Plan also suggested two houses, wherein both of these houses delegates were picked based on the state population. Edmund Randolph additionally suggested and was supported with unanimous approval by the Constitutional Convention’s delegates, that having a national judiciary branch should be necessary. Article III of the United States Constitution created the federal court system, which did not exist under the Articles of Confederation.

Edmund Randolph was also a part of the Committee of Detail. This committee had the responsibility of converting the 15 resolutions of the Virginia Plan into the very first draft of the federal Constitution. While Edmund Randolph supported independence, he refused to sign the final version of the Constitution, because he felt that it did not have enough checks and balances placed.

He published an account of his objections to the Constitution in October 1787. Despite this stance, he nevertheless changed his position in 1788 at the Virginia Ratifying Convention and voted for ratification of the Constitution since eight other states already ratified the Constitution, and he did not want Virginia to be left out of the new government.

President Washington’s Cabinet

Edmund Randolph became the first United States Attorney General in September 1789 under President Washington, where he maintained a sense of neutrality between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. When Thomas Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State in 1793, Edmund Randolph succeeded him.

The major diplomatic action of this term was in 1794 during the Jay Treaty with Britain, but it was actually Alexander Hamilton who created the plan and drafted the instructions, leaving Edmund Randolph the formal role of signing the papers. Edmund Randolph was hostile to the resulting treaty. At the end of his term as the Secretary of State, negotiations for the treaty were finalized.

As Secretary of State, Edmund Randolph faced many of the challenges that his predecessor, Thomas Jefferson, had tried to address during his term. Edmund Randolph managed the Citizen Genêt Affair’s settlement. Edmund Randolph also prompted the resumption of talks with Spain and also helped in the negotiations of the Treaty of San Lorenzo of 1795, which resulted in the opening of the Mississippi River to the United States navigation and also adjusted the boundaries between the United States and Spanish possessions.

Resignation from the Cabinet

A scandal that involved an intercepted French message resulted in Edmund Randolph’s resignation in August 1795. A correspondence was intercepted by the British Navy from the French minister, Joseph Fauchet, to the United States which was turned over to President Washington. Washington was disappointed that the letters showed contempt for the United States and that Edmund Randolph was mainly responsible for it.

The letters suggested that Randolph had revealed the inner arguments in the cabinet to the French government and suggested that the United States Administration was hostile to France. President Washington immediately overruled Edmund Randolph’s negative advice about the Jay Treaty. A few days later President Washington, in the presence of the full cabinet, handed the minister’s letter to Edmund Randolph and demanded that he explain it.

Randolph was absolutely speechless and resigned immediately. It was concluded that Edmund Randolph was not bribed by the French but rather, he was rather a pitiable figure who sometimes lacked good sense. However, Edmund Randolph’s own published Vindication showed his concerns regarding both private and public perceptions of his character, which were concerns that had great value during the 18th century. After leaving the President’s cabinet, Edmund Randolph returned to Virginia to continue his practice. During this time, his most famous case was one where he defended Aaron Burr for treason in 1807.

During his retirement from politics, Edmund Randolph wrote a history of Virginia. On September 12, 1813, Randolph passed away at the age of 60. He was buried in a graveyard at a nearby chapel.

Fun Facts about Edmund Randolph

• Edmund Randolph practiced the law until his death.

• The only proof of any tension between him and his father about the Revolution was in one letter where he was worried about his father’s actions would affect his reputation.

• Because of the generosity of his relatives, he avoided poverty in his old age.