Taylor, John

known as John Taylor of Caroline

born Dec. 19?, 1753, Caroline county, Va.
died Aug. 21, 1824, Caroline county, Va., U.S.

U.S. politician.

He served in the Continental Army (1775–79) and the Virginia militia (1781) in the American Revolution. A strong advocate of states' rights, he opposed ratification of the U.S. Constitution. He was a member of the U.S. Senate (1792–94, 1803, 1822–24), and he introduced the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in the Virginia legislature (1798). A supporter of Thomas Jefferson, he wrote essays on the importance of maintaining an agrarian democracy as a defense against the development of an overly powerful central government.

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▪ American politician and philosopher
byname  John Taylor of Caroline  
born Dec. 19?, 1753, Caroline county, Virginia
died Aug. 21, 1824, Caroline county, Va., U.S.

      one of the leading American philosophers of the liberal agrarian political movement—commonly known as Jeffersonian democracy—during the early national period.

      Orphaned as a child, Taylor grew up in the home of his uncle, Edmund Pendleton. He received his education from private tutors, a private academy, and the College of William and Mary. Early in the 1770s he began studying law in Pendleton's office, and in 1774 Taylor received his license to practice.

      At the outbreak of the American Revolution, Taylor joined the Continental Army. He served until resigning in 1779, after which he fought with the Virginia militia. Elected in 1779 to the Virginia House of Delegates, Taylor emerged as a leader in the movement for religious disestablishment, broader voting rights, and more equitable representation. He served in the House of Delegates from 1779 to 1781 and again from 1783 to 1785.

      Taylor was dismayed at the prospect of a strong central government and opposed the ratification of the Constitution. From 1796 to 1800, he was again in the Virginia House of Delegates after filling an unexpired U.S. Senate term from 1792 to 1794. It was while in the Virginia legislature in 1798 that he introduced James Madison's Virginia Resolutions (Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions), the states' rights document drawn up in reaction to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Taylor was a vigorous backer of President Thomas Jefferson. He again filled an unexpired Senate term in 1803.

      Except for filling yet another unexpired Senate term, from 1822 to 1824, Taylor devoted the remainder of his life to political writing. An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States (1814) and Construction Construed and Constitutions Vindicated (1820) were highly prolix works but important as defenses of agrarian democracy against the assaults of a too-powerful central government and the monied mercantile classes. Taylor attacked the notion that the Supreme Court could negate state actions and that Congress could restrict the expansion of slavery into the territories. Like most of his fellow Southern critics of centralization, he provided slavery's defenders with an arsenal of high-minded abstractions to invoke.

      Taylor's other writings dealt with his experiments in scientific agriculture, and in 1813 he published a collection of his essays under the title The Arator. He always thought of himself as a farmer, and he spent most of his life on his plantation—“Hazelwood”—in Caroline county.

▪ British writer
born Aug. 24, 1580, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, Eng.
died December 1653, London
 minor English poet, pamphleteer, and journalist who called himself “the Water Poet.”

      The son of a surgeon, Taylor was sent to a grammar school but became, as he said, “mired in Latin accidence” and was apprenticed to a Thames boatman. He served in the navy and saw action at Cádiz (1596) and Flores (1597). Returning to London, he worked as a waterman transporting passengers up and down the River Thames and also held a semiofficial post at the Tower of London for several years. Taylor won fame by making a series of whimsical journeys that he described in lively, rollicking verse and prose. For example, he journeyed from London to Queenborough, Kent, in a paper boat with two stockfish tied to canes for oars and nearly drowned in the attempt. He made other water journeys between London, York, and Salisbury, and The Pennyles Pilgrimage. . . (1618) describes a trip he made on foot from London to Edinburgh without money. In 1620 he journeyed to Prague, where he was received by the queen of Bohemia. His humorous accounts of his journeys won the patronage of Ben Jonson, among others. Taylor also amused the court and the public in his paper war with another eccentric traveler, Thomas Coryate. In 1630 he published 63 pieces in All the Works of John Taylor the Water Poet, although he continued to publish prolifically afterward.

      When the English Civil Wars began Taylor moved to Oxford, where he wrote royalist pamphlets. After the city surrendered (1645), he returned to London and kept a public house, “The Crown” (later “The Poet's Head”), until his death.

Additional Reading
Bernard Capp, The World of John Taylor the Water-Poet, 1578–1653 (1994).

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Universalium. 2010.

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