Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Jeffersonian Leader: William Branch Giles


Among the Virginia worthies who as yet have not inspired chronicles of their careers, there is no more conspicuous name than that of William Branch Giles. It is true that no historian narrating the period I790-1830 has failed to give him mention, but no study of his career has been presented to the public. Such knowledge as is generally possessed of his character and achievements has been secured from biographies and histories written, as a rule, from a point of view antagonistic to the famous Virginian. This meagre information has usually been presented in such bitter language as to arouse suspicion of the correctness of the facts and their interpretation.

In Lodge’s Alexander Hamilton, Giles is spoken of as “a rough, brazen, loud-voiced Virginian, fit for any bad work, no matter how des­perate.”[1] But Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge is a worshipper of Hamilton, whom Giles hated, and an exponent of broad con­struction, which Giles bitterly fought. In Adams’s life of John Randolph, he is spoken of as a man “whom no man ever trusted without regret.”[2] And in Morse’s life of John Quincy Adams, it is asserted that “Giles’ memory is now preserved solely by the connection he established with the great and hon­orable statesmen of the Republic by a course of ceaseless at­tacks upon them.”[3] The standard work on the period of Giles’s prominence, Mr. Henry Adams’s History of the United States during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison, hardly mentions the name of Giles without harsh epithets. In reading these accounts, one cannot but remember that Giles was a bitter enemy of John Quincy Adams, Mr. Henry Adams’s grandfather, and that Mr. Morse is the admiring biographer.


  1. Thanks for posting this.
    I really enjoy the excerpts you post from older books, and accounts and links of lesser known people and periods of history.