Taylor, John, American political philosopher

Taylor, John, 1753–1824, American political philosopher. Known as John Taylor of Caroline, he was born in Virginia, probably in Caroline co., where he later lived at “Hazlewood.” Orphaned at 10, he was adopted by his maternal uncle, Edmund Pendleton, who sent him to the College of William and Mary and under whom he studied law. Taylor fought in the American Revolution, rising to the rank of major, and was a member of the Virginia house of delegates (1779–81, 1783–85, 1796–1800) and of the U.S. Senate (1792–94, 1803, 1822–24). The states' rights doctrine (see Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions) was introduced in the Virginia house by Taylor, who became a leading publicist of Jeffersonian democracy, or “agrarianism.” Although a strict constructionist, he defended the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase in A Defense of the Measures of the Administration of Thomas Jefferson (1804). In Thomas Jefferson's second term Taylor was a leader of the Quids, who, disliking James Madison, supported James Monroe for President, but he became a peacemaker between the factions. His greatest work, An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States (1814), was an attack on the growing power of finance capitalism and its harmful effects on agriculture and democracy. In Construction Construed and Constitutions Vindicated (1820), Tyranny Unmasked (1822), and New Views of the Constitution (1823), he opposed John Marshall and the growing power of the federal government. An agrarian liberal, he was much concerned with the economic and political well-being of the farmer, and his Arator (1813) was one of the first analytical treatises on American agriculture and its problems. He is best known, however, as one of the first formulators of the states' rights doctrine.

See biography by H. Simms (1932); study by R. E. Shalhope (1980).

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