Colonial Hall -- Biographies of America's Founding Fathers

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George Wythe


George Wythe was a native of the county of Elizabeth city, Virginia, where he was born in the year 1726. His father was a respectable farmer, in easy circumstances, and bestowed upon his son a competent patrimony. At a proper age he was placed at school; but the knowledge which he here obtained was extremely limited and superficial, being confined to the English language, and the elementary rules of arithmetic. Fortunately for young Wythe, his mother was a woman of extensive knowledge for those times, and undertook to supply the defect of his scholastic education. By her assistance, the powers of his mind, which were originally strong and active, rapidly unfolded. He became accurately versed in the Latin and Greek languages, and made honorable attainments in several of the solid sciences, and in polite literature.
   Before he became of age, he had the misfortune to lose his excellent mother, whose death was, not long after, followed by that of his father. Being deprived, at this unguarded period of life, of the counsel and example of these natural guardians, he became devoted, for several years, to amusement and dissipation, to which he was strongly enticed by the fortune that had been left him. During this period, his literary pursuits were almost entirely neglected; and there was the greatest reason to fear he would not escape that vortex into which so many young men remedilessly sink. At the age of thirty, the principles which had been instilled into his mind by his virtuous parents, asserted their proper influence over him. He abandoned his youthful follies, applied himself with indefatigable industry to study, and from this date, during a life which was protracted to the uncommon age of eighty years, he maintained a rigid and inflexible integrity of character.
   Devoting himself to the profession of law, he pursued his preparatory studies under the direction of Mr. John Lewis. The courts in Virginia, where he was called to practice, were filled by gentlemen of distinguished ability in their profession. With these he soon held an equal rank, and eventually, by his superior learning, greater industry, and more powerful eloquence, occupied the chief place at the bar.
   The estimation in which he was held by his fellow-citizens, was early manifested in an appointment from his native county to a seat in the house of burgesses. This station he held for several years, even to the dawn of the revolution..In this assembly were found, from time to time, men of distinguished genius and of great attainments. Among these, George Wythe was conspicuous. In 1764, he assisted in preparing a petition to the king, a memorial to the house of lords, and a remonstrance to the house of commons, on the subject of the stamp act, which was then occupying the deliberations of parliament.. The remonstrance to the house of commons was the production of his pen. The tone and language of this paper were both in spirit and style of too independent a character for the times, especially in the estimation of the more timid in the house of burgesses, who required, before it received their sanction, that its asperities should be softened.
   We have had frequent occasion, in the course of these biographical sketches, to allude to the friendly feelings of the Americans, at this time, to the parent country. Few, if any, were to be found whose views or wishes extended to a separation from Great Britain. Hence, the language which was used by the colonies, in setting forth their rights, was generally supplicatory in its style. Their remonstrances were mild and conciliatory. These, however, it was at length found, were in vain, and a loftier tone was adopted.

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Last modified July 2, 2005