William Short

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William Short was born on September 30, 1759, in Surrey County, Virginia.[1] He studied law under George Wythe at the College of William & Mary, where he was a founding member and president of Phi Beta Kappa.[2] Short described his legal education in a letter to his nephew in 1816, mentioning Wythe's lectures, readings, and moot courts:

With respect to the study of the law there is one observation which I will make to you, or rather one caution which I will give you founded on my own experience. Scientific students [of the law] are apt to despise the mere technical and practical past of the business—that is the process or forms of pleading. I had studied with our great Chancellor Wythe, following his course of law lectures for the appointed time. I also studied particularly under the direction of Mr. Jefferson—and had received the applauses of both. I had plead[ed] causes also in a simulated court, where our professor presided, and I was considered able and eloquent, etc. In point of general knowledge I am sure I may say without vanity that I [was] prepared more than most of the Lawyers who then were practicing at the bar. I had read and made copious notes on Coke['s] Lyttleton. I had done so with Blackstone, of course. I had read the best reporters, but I was miserably ignorant of the mere technical forms. These were known to the clerks of courts and to every pettifogger, and I despised them.[3]

Short was related to Thomas Jefferson by marriage, and became a protégé of Jefferson's while still in school.[4] Jefferson would eventually refer to Short as his adopted son, and Short would speak of Jefferson as his "second father."[5] In 1784, when Jefferson became Minister to France, Short served as his secretary, launching Short's career as a diplomat. He continued to look after American interests in France after Jefferson returned to the United States in 1789.[6] Short was named Minister Resident to the Netherlands in 1792[7] and also worked in Spain, where he helped negotiate the Treaty of San Lorenzo.[8] In 1802, he returned to the United States and settled in Philadelphia, often visiting Virginia, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C., where he was a frequent guest at the Jefferson White House.[9] Short was given a recess appointment as Minister to Russia in 1808, but was ultimately not confirmed; the position was later filled by John Quincy Adams.[10] Short settled in Philadelphia and spent his time managing his investments and contributing to philanthropic causes.[11] He died in Philadelphia on December 5, 1849.

See also

Wythe the Teacher


  1. George Green, "Short, William", American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000, accessed November 1, 2013.
  2. Ibid.
  3. William Short to Greenbury William Ridgely, 11 December 1816. Maryland Historical Magazine 64, no. 4 (Winter, 1969), 349-350.
  4. "William Short", Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia (Monticello.org), accessed November 1, 2013.
  5. Marie Goebel Kimball and Alexandre de Liancourt, "William Short, Jefferson's Only 'Son'", The North American Review 223, no. 832 (Sepeptember-November, 1926), 471.
  6. Shackelford, "Short, William."
  7. Kimball and de Liancourt, "William Short, Jefferson's Only 'Son'", 472.
  8. Shackelford, "Short, William."
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.