The True George Washington: Enemies: Edmund Randolph

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

Edmund Randolph

A third Virginian who was almost as closely associated was Edmund Randolph. There had been a friendship with his father, until he turned Tory and went to England, when, according to Washington's belief, he wrote the "forged letters" which gave Washington so much trouble. For the sake of the old friendship, however, he gave the son a position on his staff, and from that time was his friend and correspondent. In the first administration he was made Attorney-General, and when Jefferson retired from office he became Secretary of State. In this position he was charged with political dishonesty. Washington gave him a chance to explain, but instead he resigned from office and published what he called "a vindication," in which he charged the President with "prejudging," "concealment," and "want of generosity." Continuing, he said, "never ... could I have believed that in addressing you ... I should use any other language than that of a friend. From my early period of life, I was taught to esteem you?as I advanced in years, I was habituated to revere you:?you strengthened my prepossessions by marks of attention." And in another place he acknowledged the weakness of his attack by saying, "still however, those very objections, the very reputation which you have acquired, will cause it to be asked, why you should be suspected of acting towards me, in any other manner, than deliberately, justly and even kindly?"

In the preparation of this pamphlet Randolph wrote the President a letter which the latter asserted was "full of innuendoes," and one statement in the pamphlet he denounced as being "as impudent and insolent an assertion as it is false." And his irritation at this treatment from one he had always befriended gave rise to an incident, narrated by James Ross, at a breakfast at the President's, when "after a little while the Secretary of War came in, and said to Washington, 'Have you seen Mr. Randolph's pamphlet?' 'I have,' said Washington, 'and, by the eternal God, he is the damnedest liar on the face of the earth!' and as he spoke he brought his fist down upon the table with all his strength, and with a violence which made the cups and plates start from their places." Fortunately, the attack was ineffective; indeed, Hamilton wrote that "I consider it as amounting to a confession of guilt; and I am persuaded this will be the universal opinion. His attempts against you are viewed by all whom I have seen, as base. They will certainly fail of their aim, and will do good rather than harm, to the public cause and to yourself. It appears to me that, by you, no notice can be, or ought to be, taken of the publication. It contains its own antidote."

Not content with this double giving up of what to any man of honor was confidential, Randolph, a little later, rested under Washington's suspicions of a third time breaking the seal of official secrecy by sending a Cabinet paper to the newspapers for no other purpose than to stir up feeling against Washington. But after his former patron's death regret came, and Randolph wrote to Bushrod Washington, "If I could now present myself before your venerated uncle it would be my pride to confess my contrition that I suffered my irritation, be the cause what it might, to use some of those expressions respecting him which, at this moment ... I wish to recall as being inconsistent with my subsequent convictions."

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