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Defeated for Election to Virginia House of Delegates, [24 April] 1777

Defeated for Election to Virginia
House of Delegates

MS (LC: William C. Rives Papers). The statement below, in the hand of JM’s brother-in-law, John C. Payne, is an extract from page 5 of an autobiographical sketch written in the third person and inclosed by JM in his letter to James K. Paulding of January 1832. JM first drafted this brief memoir in 1816 and revised it from time to time during the next sixteen years. No mention of this election in any paper written by or to JM in 1777 is known to exist.

[24 April 1777]

In the election of Delegates to the Legislature for the ensuing year (1777), he was an unsuccessful candidate. Previous to the Revolution the election of the County representatives was as in England, septennial, and it was as there, the usage, for the Candidates to recommend themselves to the voters, not only by personal solicitation, but by the corrupting influence of spirituous liquors, and other treats, having a like tendency. Regarding these as equally inconsistent with the purity of moral and of republican principles; and anxious to promote, by his example, the proper reform, he trusted to the new views of the subject which he hoped would prevail with the people; whilst his competitors adhered to the old practice. The consequence was that the election went against him: his abstinence being represented as the effect of pride or parsimony.1

1On 16 May 1777 the Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held At the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The Journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends records that “A petition of sundry freeholders of the county of Orange, whose names are thereunto subscribed, was presented to the House, and read; setting forth, that Mr. Charles Porter, one of the candidates at the election of delegates for the said county, on the 24th of April last, did, contrary to an ordinance of Convention [Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , IX, 57], make use of bribery and corruption during the said election, and praying that the said election may be set aside.” The next day, Bolling Stark, chairman of the Committee of Privileges and Elections to which this petition had been referred, pointed out that the proper course would be for the memorialists and Porter to examine witnesses before at least two justices of Orange County and return the depositions to the committee. Neither the petition nor evidence that a hearing took place has been found. On 9 June, however, the House of Delegates rejected the plea of the petition for lack of proof to sustain the allegations of bribery and corruption (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held At the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The Journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , May 1777, pp. 14, 18, 67). About two weeks before the House of Delegates took this adverse action, the Orange County Court on 29 May 1777 nominated JM and his father and fourteen other men “Justices of the Peace and also of Oyer & Terminer” (Orange County Minute Book, No. 2, p. 62). JM declined the office. In the mid-1780’s, when JM was a member of the House of Delegates, Porter was the other representative of Orange County. Charles Porter (ca. 1741–1791), a tavern keeper from 1766 to 1772, was the owner of the Tudor Hall plantation in Orange County by the time of the Revolution. At its outset he was a lieutenant of militia but shared in the siege of Yorktown in 1781 as a colonel of militia. He served as a member of the House of Delegates, 1777–1779 and 1784–1789 (Orange County Order Book, No. 7, p. 396; Order Book, No. 8, p. 230, and passim, microfilm in Virginia State Library; Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., Register of the General Assembly, pp. 4, 6, 9, 20, 22, 24; W. W. Scott, History of Orange County, pp. 75, 136). When writing the second sentence of this statement, JM evidently forgot that the British Septennial Act of 1716 did not extend to the province of Virginia. The royal governor, at his pleasure, could dissolve the House of Burgesses and call for a new election.

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