The remarkably uncommon sentinel, Taylor died on August 21, 1824

John Taylor, a common sentinel devoted to awakening an army

By —— Bio and Archives--March 13, 2019

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John Taylor, a common sentinel devoted to awakening an armyJohn Taylor of Caroline County, Virginia (b. 1753) is not among the Pantheon of American Founders, but he merits remembering.

Multiple exchanges of correspondence between Taylor and George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are found in their Papers. Scholarly books by Garrett Sheldon and C. William Hill, Jr., document Taylor’s role in early American political history.

In his 70 years, Taylor was many things: a lawyer who graduated from William and Mary College in 1770; a Colonel of Calvary in the American Army during the Revolutionary War; a farmer and published agriculturalist; a politician serving on-and-off in the U.S. Senate representing Virginia; a lifelong reader that included Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli; a husband and father of three. Somehow, amongst all that, he found time to write.


Taylor wrote six books between 1794 and 1823, the last coming the year before he died. Citations from three of those books are below. Taylor anticipated what could go wrong in the new Republic and addressed these issues of current relevance: corruption in national politics; the legislature’s role in self-government; government debt passed on to future generations; the consequences of legislative patronage; federal government and judicial overreach; the role of impeachment; government redistribution of wealth; and, the meaning of the American Revolution.

Here are samples of his thinking, with highlighting added for emphasis, and most original punctuation retained.

1. An Enquiry into the Principles and Tendency of Certain Public Measures, 92 pp., 1794

“The state of politics, at all times, ought to attract the attention of a nation, jealous of its liberty, lately purchased at the expense of much blood and treasure. To what more important subject can a portion of our attention and enquiries be applied? Private immorality, is often confined to the destruction of an individual, whilst political immorality will ruin a nation. When the honest and unsuspicious are falling into the snares of the selfish and cunning, it behooves all possessed of a single sympathetic spark, to sound the alarm, and when an alarm is sounded temerity and folly only will have to deplore the want of prudence and caution.” (Section 1.—No free government or the blessings of liberty can be preserved to any people, but by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles, p. 1)

“From the collision of parties truth flashes forth, and the community is the great arbiter between them. Parties are counsel on opposite sides, capable, by argument and reasoning, of enlightening, or by buffoonery, sophisms and perplexity, of insulting the judge. A song in the place of an explanation, or farcical newspaper ebullitions, instead of definitions and illustrations, must awaken the idea of a merry Andrew [a public clown], entertaining a mob by his tricks and grimace, whilst his accomplishes are picking their pockets.” (Section 15.—The present state of parties considered, p. 85)

2. An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States, 562 pp., 1814

The last refuge of self-government is the legislature, in the purity of which resides its solitary hope of existence.” (Section 3. The Evil Moral Principles of the Government of the United States, p. 181)

The people were supposed to be the only source for altering the constitution, according to our policy, but it is exposed to a power of construction, not responsible to the people. Legislative, executive and judicial power shall be separate and distinct; yet the judges can abolish or make law by precedent.” (p. 197)

“Impeachment is in practice more frequently a weapon with which factions assail each other, than the avenger of crimes.” (p. 199)

”[T]he error of an opinion, that one age can seize upon the wealth of another by anticipation, is no less ruinous to nations and enriching to individuals and orders or separate interests, than the errors which have supported idolatry, monarchy, aristocracy and crusaded.” (Section 4, Funding, p. 233)

If legislative patronage enriches a portion of society, that portion is necessarily converted into an order, possessing the qualities of an aristocracy. It is placed between the government and the nation. It receives wealth from the one, and takes it from the other. This ties it to the government by the passion of avarice, and separates it from the nation by the passion of fear. And these two passions, annexed to any separate interest, have unexceptionably converted it into a political order, and forced it into the ranks of despotism.” (pp. 260-261)


3. Construction Construed and Constitutions Vindicated, 344 pp., 1820

A love of wealth fostered by honest industry is an ally both of moral rectitude and national happiness because it can only be gratified by increasing the fund for national subsistence, comfort, strength and prosperity; but a love of wealth, fostered by partial laws for enriching corporations and individuals, is allied to immorality and oppression, because it is gratified at the expense of industry, and diminishes its ability to work out national blessings. Look for a moment at Congress as a power for creating pecuniary inequalities, or for striking balances between favors to states, combinations and individuals. If it could even distribute wealth and poverty, by some just scale, which has never yet been discovered, justice itself beget discontent, and sow among its medley of courtiers a mass of discord, not more propitious to the safety of the union than to the happiness of the people.” (Section 1. The Principles of Our Revolution, p. 11)

The difference between the right of self-government, and the sovereignty of governments, is very material. Under one principle the people bestow limited powers; under the other, they receive limited franchises. The sovereigns of England sparingly and partially bestowed rights upon the people, and retained all the power they did not surrender. Here the people or the states retain all the powers they have not bestowed.” (Section 3. Sovereignty, p.37)

”[T]he natural right of self-government, and the consequent rights of dividing and limiting power, might have slept forever in theory, except for the American revolution; which seems to have been designed by Providence for the great purpose of demonstrating its practicability and effects. We seem to have been propelled by necessity and commanded by fate, to stride beyond the principles of absolute sovereignty in a government, and absolute subordination in the people; and beyond the ineffectual project of mixing monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy together; quite up the sound political doctrines of limitation, restriction, and division of power.” (Section 5. Division and Limitation of Power, p. 52)


“Is our system of government founded in the principle of co-ordinate political departments, intended as checks upon each other, only invested with defined and limited powers, and subjected to the sovereignty, supremacy, paramount power, superintendence and control of the people; or in the principle of a supremacy in the federal legislature or judges, with its concomitant control over the state legislative and judicial department?” (Section 9. The Bank Decision.—Supremacy, p. 139)

At the end of his Foreword to “An Inquiry into The Principles and Policy of the Government of The United States,” Taylor modestly referred to himself in the third person:

“The author has only to add, that he has nothing to plead in excuse of the imperfections of these essays, but his incapacity, and that a common sentinel may awaken an army.” (p. 34)

The remarkably uncommon sentinel, Taylor died on August 21, 1824. Today, a marker locates the site of his plantation, “Hazelwood,” three miles from Port Royal, Virginia. And a small flat stone marks his grave at Hazelwood Farm Cemetery, where his wife, Lucy, and two of their three children are also buried.


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Lee Cary -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Since November 2007, Lee Cary has written hundreds of articles for several websites including the American Thinker, and Breitbart’s Big Journalism and Big Government (as “Archy Cary”).  His work has been quoted on national television (Sean Hannity) and on nationally syndicated radio (Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin).  He is quoted in Jerome Corsi’s book “The Obama Nation,” in Mark Levin’s “Liberty and Tyranny.”  His pieces have posted on the Drudge Report and on the website Real Clear Politics.  Cary holds a B.S. in Economics from Northern Illinois University, and a Masters and a Doctorate in Theology from the Methodist seminary at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.  He served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army in Military Intelligence. Cary lives in Texas.

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