Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 109 / Number 4
"'A Loathing of Public Debt, Taxes, and Excises': The Political Economy of John Randolph of Roanoke"
- John F. Devanny, Jr., pp. 386–416
Although John Randolph of Roanoke ranks among the most original political figures America has produced, he is not
well known as the exponent of a coherent political economy. Because Randolph wrote no treatises on the subject, one might
too readily dismiss his contributions. He was among the foremost orators of his day, and he occupied a unique position in
Congress from which to articulate the values of republican political economy and highlight the challenges presented in the early
republic to such values.
The content of John Randolph's political economy reflected the fundamental concerns of the Republican Party in the
South: no public debt, internal taxes, or protective tariffs. Free trade in Randolph’s view was only logical as long as it allowed
the United States to pursue its comparative advantage in agricultural production. This vision of political economy also
preserved the patrimony of liberty, independence, and virtue bequeathed to the nation by the Revolutionary generation.
Of course slavery had an ambiguous relationship to such values. Although Randolph conceded the evils of slavery -- he
believed the institution was an economically losing proposition -- he defended the institution on the grounds of social
necessity. After the War of 1812 Randolph dramatized the ideas of the Republican Party as no other statesman of his
day could, and he argued for them with considerable ability and foresight.