Lives of the Presidents of the United States

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Written by Robert W. Lincoln, this brief biography of George Wythe summarizes earlier sketches of the chancellor's life such as the entry in An American Biographical and Historical Dictionary.[1] Lincoln not only perpetuates the dissipation myth started by The American Gleaner,[2] he also continues several other pieces of misinformation. These include the implication that Wythe inherited directly from his parents instead of from his brother Thomas, the suggestion that Wythe's property problems during the Revolution had nothing to do with his manager, and the claim that Wythe died from illness rather than arsenic poisoning. Following the earlier biographies, Lincoln also fails to note Wythe's work as a law professor.

Lives of the Signers

Page 402

George Wythe was born in the county of Elizabeth city, Virginia, in the year 1726. His mother, who was a woman of superior acquirements, instructed him in the learned languages, and he made considerable progress in several of the solid sciences, and in polite literature. Before he became of age, he was deprived of both his parents; and inheriting considerable property, he became addicted, for several years, to dissipated courses and habits of profligacy. But at the age of thirty, he abandoned entirely his youthful follies, and applied himself with indefatigable industry to study; never relapsing into any indulgence inconsistent with a manly and virtuous character.

Having studied the profession of law, he soon attained a high reputation at the bar, and was appointed from his native county to a seat in the House of Burgesses. He took a conspicuous part in the proceedings of this assembly, and some of the most eloquent state papers of the times were drawn up by him. The remonstrance to the House of Commons, which was of a remarkably fearless and independent tone, was the production of his pen. By his patriotic firmness and zeal, he powerfully contributed to the ultimate success of his country.

In 1775, Mr. Wythe was elected a delegate from Virginia to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He assisted in bringing forward and urging the Declaration of Independence, and affixed his name to that deathless instrument. During this latter year, he was appointed, in connexion with Thomas Jefferson, Edward Pendleton, and others, to revise the laws of the State of Virginia. In the year 1777, Mr. Wythe was chosen speaker of the House of Delegates, and during the same year was made Judge of the High Court of Chancery. On the new organization of the Court of Equity, in a subsequent year, he was appointed sole Chancellor, a station which he filled, with great ability, for more than twenty years.

In the course of the Revolution, Mr. Wythe suffered much in respect to his property. By judicious management, however, he contrived to retrieve his fortune, and preserve his credit unimpaired. Of the Convention of 1787, appointed to revise the Federal Constitution, he was an efficient member. During the debates, he acted for the most part as chairman. He was a warm advocate for the Constitution, and esteemed it the surest guarantee of the peace and prosperity of the country. He died on the 8th of June, 1806, in the eighty-first year of his age, after a short but very excruciating sickness. By his last will and testament, Mr. Wythe bequeathed his valuable library and philosophical apparatus to his friend, Mr. Jefferson, and distributed the remainder of his little property among the grand-children of his sister, and the slaves whom he had set free.

See Also


  1. Robert W. Lincoln, Lives of the Presidents of the United States: With Biographical Notices of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence; Sketches of the Most Remarkable Events in the History of the Country, from Its Discovery to the Present Time; and a General View of Its Present Condition (New York: N. Watson & Company, 1833) 402. The exact biography also appeared in The Political Text Book: Containing the Declaration of Independence, with the Lives of the Signers: The Constitution of the United States; the Inaugural Addresses and First Annual Messages of All the Presidents, from Washington to Tyler; the Farewell Addresses of George Washington and Andrew Jackson; and a Variety of Useful Tables, Etc. by Edward Currier (Worcester, MA: Published by William Blake, 1842), The American's Own Book: Containing the Declaration of Independence, with the Lives of the Signers : the Constitution of the United States : the Inaugural Addresses and First Annual Messages of All the Presidents from Washington to Pierce : the Farewell Addresses of George Washington and Andrew Jackson : with a Portrait and Life of Each President of the United States, to the Present Time (New York: Leavitt & Allen, 1853), and The Youth's Companion (Boston), March 22, 1855, 190, as well as subsequent editions of Lives of the Presidents of the United States.
  2. Allan D. Jones, "The Character and Service of George Wythe," Virginia State Bar Association Reports 44 (1932), 326-328; William Edwin Hemphill, "George Wythe the Colonial Briton: A Biographical Study of the Pre-Revolutionary Era in Virginia" (PhD diss., University of Virginia, 1937), 82-83.

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