Loyal subjects of the king walked among Williamsburg’s revolutionaries. Colonial Williamsburg’s Jack Flintom interprets John Randolph’s allegiance to King George III.
Lloyd Dobyns: Hi! Welcome to Colonial Williamsburg: Past & Present on history.org. As we celebrate the anniversary of America's independence this month, we'll consider the Revolution from the perspective of Virginians from all walks of life.
Today, I'm with Jack Flintom, who interprets John Randolph at Colonial Williamsburg. Jack will be speaking as John Randolph, a loyalist in Virginia's climate of revolution. Loyalist was a backer of the king and the parliament. Were you, in that period?
John Randolph: Yes, I would say, first and foremost, sir, I am a constitutionalist. First, last, and always, a constitutionalist. The English constitution, the English frame of government understanding is the best the world has ever known. Even the French, the reasonable French, would ascribe to that view. I don't assert a complete right of the king, but the king has his place, as do the Commons, as do the aristocracy. All have their place in the English constitution.
Lloyd: As I understand it, some of the patriots, revolutionists – whatever you want to call them – say that they have been denied their place in the English constitution since they moved to the colony.
John: Not so, sir, not so. It is mindless to think that all the blood and treasure expended to establish colonies in this North American continent would be merely for the colonials themselves, and that they would grow up to be rivals to their parent state. No, they were established for the benefit of the mother country. Perhaps, with time, we will see an independency, when there is a sufficient majority. But, sir, I would assert that Massachusetts Bay is not mature, and will never be. Even Virginia is not mature enough to stand alone.
Lloyd: I get confused by "mature." Do you mean a mature government, mature economic base? If you mean a mature economic base, I quite agree with you. How do you mean maturity?
John: I would compare the colonials as so many children, sir, who need – have an absolute requirement of – their parents. Every parent hopes for the maturity of the child, and hopes for a continuing relationship with the child when they have reached maturity. When they bring other children into the world, that being maintained, is a great good.
There might be some measure of independency, some day. That day has not yet come. If Virginia – the oldest, as well the largest, the wealthiest, the most populous, the very prime colony in every way – if Virginia is not yet mature, sir, what can we say of Massachusetts Bay but that Massachusetts Bay is still a sucking child at its mother's breast? No, there is not yet maturity, sir, not in any way.
Lloyd: I don't want to sound like a revolutionist, but I do like argument.
John: Very well, go on.
Lloyd: I would guess that the Massachusetts Bay, and certainly Virginia before, would assert that they are very mature, and that they know what they are doing, and that they have not been treated as they should have been treated under the English constitution.
John: Well, sir, now there is some ground for what you say. Sometimes I tell myself that if we were always treated as the free-born Englishmen we are here, then there would be much less trouble than there now is. Well, there are those at home who see us as merely a source of tax revenue, I suppose. But let us not forsake the very good for the sake of the unattainable perfect. Our lot is not one of perfection. There may be some who view us as less than we are, some who may view us as not on a par with other subjects of the king, across the sea. But let us be mature enough not to so chafe under their disregard that we forsake our place in the greatest empire the world has ever seen. Surely there is much of benefit in being a part of this world-spreading empire. World spreading, my word. I suppose we could be compared to ancient Rome, but that would be to low rate us. For the Rome of the Caesars was never so great as Great Britain is today, planted now in every corner of the globe.
Lloyd: Planted on every corner of the globe – not always happily. There have been some difficulties. How do you see the difficulty in the colonies playing out?
John: I am, candidly, less hopeful today than I was a while ago. Less hopeful for my brother – who I esteem the first man of Virginia in every way, Peyton Randolph – my brother favors this congressional business. I see a congress now as provocative. Not at all a cure for our ills, but only salt in the wounds. No, let us draw away from the precipice before we fall headlong into the abyss. I am less sanguine about the avoidance of further trouble now than I was a while ago. Formerly, I never would have believed that Peyton would favor such a confab, but he does, he does indeed.
Lloyd: Well, you and he have had very similar careers. You both went to England to study law.
John: Indeed, sir. My word, we're products of the same marital union, Susannah Beverly Randolph and Sir John, both educated at William and Mary College, both called to the bar in Middle Temple, both having served in some of the same offices here in Virginia, high and low. You would think that all conspire to have us view the world in the same way. For that reason, perhaps I was blinded by my affection for my brother, blinded to the fact that he could have gone so wrong. How is it that my brother could have taken up with this present infatuation for a congress, and this protest?
Lloyd: I will bet he occasionally asks how his brother could have been so blinded to the needs of the new colony.
John: Oh no, sir, I only speak the truth. Any fault lies in my brother – perhaps it is his digestion.
Lloyd: (Chuckles.) Well, it could be, I suppose.
John: I love my brother, sir, make no mistake. I love my brother, I merely despise his error, and his error takes the form of congress, the most melancholy prospect in my 46 years of existence.
Lloyd: What other avenue might he have if he believes – as do you, to a degree – that the full rights of Englishmen are not granted to those who are in the colonies?
John: Petition, remonstrance, letters, sir. Simple letters. Or, more personally, sending off agents to make a more personal plea. Let agents go across the sea. But to assemble in a congress, sir, this is not good at all.
Lloyd: Well a congress does not have to do anything. They could meet and talk, and break up and come home.
John: I hope, sir, that that will be the case.
Lloyd: But you don't believe it.
John: No, sir. They have met once and they intend to meet again. I fear, sir, that there could be greater trouble. I'm afraid protest has become a fashion, and some men are willing to forsake, I say again, the very good – our present situation as part of this world-spreading empire of Great Britain – some men are willing to sacrifice the very good for the sake of the unattainable perfect. We are men, sir, we are not angels. Our relations, one with the other, our governments, will not be perfect; only very good. I think very good is perhaps good enough at this time. For the sake of our children, our children's children, and generations yet unborn, let us maintain our position as it now is, sir. Let us not be quick to adopt these innovations.
Lloyd: The problem seems to be, as you mentioned, revolution does become something of a style, a fashion. Are you going to be able to change the style, change the fashion, stop the thought and talk of revolution, and freedom, and independence and all those things without some measure from the king, some act of the parliament to make, for want of a better word, Americans feel that they are part of the English empire?
John: Well, sir, I'm afraid what goes forward now may well harden opinion against us. We have some friends at home; we're likely to have fewer of them if we continue this mode of protest. If we will meet in a congress on one day, perhaps on a future day, some will think that some union of colonies is possible, and independency. That, sir, would be a formula for self-murder. I remind you, sir, as king's attorney general for Virginia, that self-murder, suicide, is a felony. Difficult at prosecution, I'll warrant. I freely admit that the successful suicide will not be prosecuted.
But, sir, will men wish for their ruin? Will they not think, if not of themselves, of their children, of those who come up after us? I cannot imagine, sir, that our lot will truly be improved. I cannot imagine that any success can come of any collection of discontented colonials, banded together against that great military might. No, sir, let us lay aside all question of loyalty, of tradition, of English language, of an English church established here in Virginia and in every southern dominion, let us lay aside Shakespeare, let us lay aside everything that combines us and merely speak about power. There is a great deal of power in Great Britain, great indeed, and very little here. I would assert that there is no prospect of success whatever. It would take a miracle, sir, for any collection of Americans to be successful in any struggle involving armed combat with Great Britain. For that to be successful, sir, it would be a miracle indeed.Lloyd: That’s Colonial Williamsburg: Past & Present this time with Jack Flintom portraying John Randolph. Check history.org often, we’ll post more for you to download and hear.