Honest Lawyer

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On July 25, 1806, in the Washington City column of the National Intelligencer, and Washington Advertiser[1], there appeared an "Anecdote and letter of George Wythe," by the Reverend M.L. Weems. The article appeared shortly after the announcement of Wythe's death on July 16 in the same paper.[2] The text is an excerpt been taken from a longer article by Weems, which originally appeared in The Times of Charleston, South Carolina, on July 1, 1806.[3]

Of the results of Wythe's letter to Robert Anderson, Weems reported: "Mr. Massey told me, that his friend Bob was resolved, nolus volus to go on with the suit and therefore gave the fifty dollar note to some other gentleman of the law, who pushed the matter for him and exactly with success predicted by the good Mr. Wythe—the loss of his land with all costs."[4]

Article text

Page 1


The Rev. Mr. Weems has laid before the public the following Anecdote and letter of George Wythe, late Chancellor of Virginia. We offer them to our readers under the assurance that, however exalted their opinions may be of this good and great man, they will raise him still higher in their estimation. We hope soon to hear that some pen, worthy of delineating the character of such a man, has undertaken his biography, at once discharging a duty due to the memory of the deceased and to the community of which he was so distinguished an ornament.

"Having been often told, that though the honestest man in Virginia, yet he was not the most orthodox, I felt an ardent wish for an opportunity to learn his real sintiments about religion. That opportunity was soon offered. I fell in with him at Richmond—he invited me to dine with him. Being altogether granivorous himself, he gave me a dinner exactly to his own tooth; rice milk improved with plumbs, sugar, and nutmeg! Choice fare for a Bramin, or an Old Bachelor. It was over this demulcent diet that I let drop expressions which shewed the current of my wishes; he took the hint, and with looks of complacency, and accent sweet as those of his native Mocking Bird, he thus unbosomed himself:—

"Why, sir, as to religion, I have ever considered it as our best and greatest friend. Those glorious views which it gives of our relation to God, and of our destination to heaven, on the easy terms of a good life, unquestionably furnish the best of all motives to virtue; the strongest dissuasives from vice; and the richest cordial under trouble. Thus far, I suppose, we are all agreed; but not, perhaps, so entirely in another opinion which is, that 'in the fight of God, moral character is the main point.' This opinion, very clearly taught by reason, is as fully confirmed by Revelation, which everywhere teaches 'That the tree will be valued only for its good fruit;' and, that in the last day, according to our works of love or of hatred, of mercy, or of cruelty, we shall sing with angels, or weep with devils. In short, the Christian Religion (the sweetest and sublimist in the world) labours, throughout to infix in our hearts this great truth, that God is love—and that in exact proportion as we grow in love, we grow in his likeness; and consequently shall partake of his friendship and felicity forever. While others, therefore, have been beating their heads, or embittering their hearts with disputes about 'forms of baptism,' and modes of faith, it has always, thank God, struck me as my great duty, constantly to think of this—'God is love; and he that walketh in love, walketh in God and God in him."

Robert Alexander, Esq.


The suit wherein you were pleased to do me the honor to engage my services, was last week brought to trial, and has fully satisfied me that you are wrong. Knowing you to be a perfectly honest man, I conclude that you have somehow or other been misled. At any rate I find I have altogether been misled in the affair, and therefore insist on washing my hands of it immediately, in so doing I trust I shall not be charged with any failure of duty to you. As your lawyer 'tis true I owe you every thing—every thing consistent with justice;—against her, nothing; nor ever can owe. For justice is appointed of God, the golden rule of all order throughout the universe, and therefore, as involving the greatest of all possible good to his creatures, it must be of all things the dearest to HIMSELF. He therefore, who knowingly acts against justice, is a rebel against God, and a premeditated murderer of mankind. Of this crime (which worlds could not tempt me to commit) I should certainly be guilty, were I, under my present convictions, to go on with your suit. I hasten therefore to enclose you the fifty dollar note you gave me as a fee, and with it my advice, that you compromise the matter on the best terms you can.

I have just to add, that as conscience will not allow me to say any thing for you, honor forbids that I should say any thing against you. But, by all means, compromise and save the costs. Adieu, wishing you that inward sunshine, which nothing outward can darken,

I remain
Dear sir,


  1. Weems, M.L., National Intelligencer, and Washington Advertiser, July 25, 1806, p. 1.
  2. National Intelligencer, and Washington Advertiser, July 16, 1806, p. 3.
  3. Weems, M.L., "The Honest Lawyer: An Anecdote," The Times (Charleston, S.C.), July 1, 1806. Reprinted in D.R. Anderson, "Chancellor Wythe and Parson Weems," William and Mary Quarterly 25 (July 1916), pp. 13-20.
  4. Anderson, p. 19.