John Randolph of Roanoke was everything the modern conservative might despise: aristocratic, sexually ambiguous, occasionally irreligious, anti-party, and the sworn enemy of military adventurism. His personality suggests he might have had more in common with the late Gore Vidal than Sarah Palin. Yet Randolph still stands out as one of the most important conservative thinkers of the generation after the Founding Fathers. David Johnson’s fine new biography of the Virginia gentleman is a timely reminder that conservatives come in all shapes and sizes—and often disagree.Randolph is one of those figures from early American history who really should be studied more. A fierce partisan in favor of the early Jeffersonian Republican Party, Randolph broke with Jefferson during the latter's presidency. Randolph viewed Jefferson's expansive view of executive power and his loose adherence to the limitations of the Constitution as mortal threats to constitutional republicanism. As a result, Randolph founded a "party within a party" -- the so-called Tertium Quids -- and worked to build coalitions with the remnants of the despised Federalist Party, all in order to preserve the notions of limited government and federalism under the Constitution of 1789. Eventually, the alliance between the Tertium Quids and the Federalists would give birth first to the National Republicans, then to the Whigs, and finally to the current Republican Party in 1856.
Stanley's essay on Randolph is a good little introduction to this early American politician and thinker. A good read both to learn about this foundational conservative statesman, and also to learn about the traditional diversity of conservative thought. As Razib Khan notes over at the Secular Right blog, Stanley's article is a good reminder that "conservatism is not a thing but a way," and that "not all conservatives are created in the same image." Amen to that, Mr. Khan -- if you don't mind me saying "amen"!