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William Wirt letterbooks

Identifier: MS 1014


This collection contains the outgoing letters relating to the law practice of William Wirt which were copied by clerks or assistants in his law office from 1806-16. The outgoing letters of a business and personal nature were copied by an assistant between 1832 and 1834. The names of correspondents are indexed.


  • 1806-1834


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Public use of this collection is restricted to microfilm.

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Biographical / Historical

William Wirt, widely known as a literary symbol of the Old Dominion, was born November 8, 1772, in the small Maryland village of Bladensburg, near present-day Washington. He was the sixth and last child of Jacob and Henrietta Wirt, of Swiss and German ancestry respectively, who operated a tavern in Bladensburg. Before he was eight years old both his parents had died, so, with the help of a small inheritance, William was reared by his uncle, Jasper Wirt, and a family friend, Peter Carnes, who eventually married William's oldest sister. William was a handsome, vivacious youth whose sparkling blue eyes, musical talents, and bouncy disposition quickly endeared him to potential benefactors. Characteristically he won as a child the applause of weary revolutionary soldiers by his spirited drumming.

After a brief period of schooling in his home village, young William was sent to a classical academy near Georgetown, but after less than a year he transferred to another school in Charles County, Maryland. Not until 1783, when he moved to the Reverend James Hunt's academy in Montgomery County, did he find a congenial place of learning. The kind Hunt opened his modest library to his students and often performed simple scientific experiments for them. He more than anyone else ignited in Wirt a lifelong enthusiasm for literature and learning. Already Wirt showed a happy skill at finding good mentors, a skill which served him well after 1787, when Hunt's school closed. Wirt, then fifteen, his patrimony exhausted, had happened to befriend a younger classmate, Ninian Edwards, who would one day be Governor of Illinois. Ninian, understanding William's homeless plight, showed his father a specimen of William's writing. So impressed was the gentlemanly Benjamin Edwards that he offered William a home under the guise of a tutorship to Ninian. Benjamin Edwards was well read, dignified, and versed in politics, and recognizing unusual promise in William, he showered affection and fatherly advice on the boy. Indeed, Benjamin Edwards was to be the truest father William Wirt ever knew. Mr. Edwards guided his reading, inspired him to study law, and encouraged him to overcome a certain timidity in speaking.

In late 1789, after twenty happy months in the Edwards household, Wirt visited the Carneses, now living in Georgia, for reasons both of family and health. The warm southern winter restored him to vigor; he returned to Maryland in the spring of 1790 determined to enter the bar. After a whirlwind course of study first in Montgomery County with William P. Hunt, the son of his former teacher, and then, moving to Virginia in 1792, a five-month period of reading law in the office of Thomas Swann, William Wirt was ready to enter his chosen profession. Through some combination of competence and bluff he passed the Virginia bar examination despite not meeting the year residency requirement, and consequently opened his legal career in Culpeper County, near Albemarle County. Legend has it that his beginning library consisted of one copy of Blackstone, a two-volume Don Quixote, and an edition of Tristram Shandy, but he brought with him more substantial intellectual baggage. Even though he still had difficulty in public speech, his brilliant personality won friends if not cases.

Piedmont Virginia was a fortuitous location for beginning a career, for this nature-endowed neighborhood claimed a marvelous company of gifted men. Wirt quickly became almost a member of the family of Dr. George Gilmer, an aristocratic gentleman of great learning, humanity, and hospitality. Gilmer introduced Wirt to his library and friends. Thus the young transplanted lawyer soon discussed law and literature with Virginia intelligentsia like Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Dabney Carr. In this choice circle Wirt's talents bloomed. His marriage to Dr. Gilmer's daughter Mildred in 1795 assured his entrance into Virginia society.

Wirt was now on the road to success, the possessor of a quick mind, infectious personality, and good connections. He made friends for life with Dabney Carr, Junior, Francis Walker Gilmer, and Peachy Gilmer. Yet at times his conviviality and the frolicsome company of lawyers riding circuit led him into excess. A carefree attitude overcame his natural sagacity. But this golden era of youthful extravagance was short-lived. In September 1799, his beloved Mildred suddenly died. Wirt's joyful life collapsed around him. To escape sad reminders of happier days he moved to Richmond, where he was soon elected clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates. A new phase of his career was opening.

Richmond was an exciting city, teeming with cultivated lawyers, good bookstores, flashy rhetoric, a lively press, political gossip. The Alien and Sedition Acts had given new importance to politics, and Wirt entered into this relatively cosmopolitan world with zeal. He gained quick local fame by his unusual actions in the celebrated libel case against James Callender; his new-found confidence in his oratory was exhibited on July 4, 1800, when he delivered the anniversary address for the Richmond democratic party. He seemed to lose his sadness in rapid absorption into the city's political and social life. In fact, the rich diversion offered by Richmond society threatened to ruin him in dissipation, and it was with some sense of relief in 1802 that he accepted a unanimous appointment as Chancellor of the Eastern District of Virginia, for the appointment required residence in sedate Williamsburg. Luckily also for his subsequent career, Wirt in September married the eminently sensible daughter of a prominent Richmond merchant, Robert Gamble. With his newly won bride Elizabeth, William Wirt moved to Williamsburg in November of 1802.

The Chancellorship was a distinct honor, but it brought more accolades than money. Because Wirt felt pressed to maintain his bride in the style to which she was accustomed, he seriously considered moving to booming Kentucky where life was more primitive but the rewards sweet. Only the hesitancy of his cultured wife and the offer of a law partnership by talented Littleton Waller Tazewell in prosperous Norfolk convinced Wirt to tie his career to Virginia. A married man again, Wirt worried about assuring his present and future dependents a comfortable life. It was because he worried about his income that he resigned the Chancellorship in May 1803, and accepted Tazewell's offer. For the rest of his life Wirt was bound to the necessity of earning a living. He would never find himself able to retire to a life of writing and thinking. But his mind and pen were too creative to remain confined to legal briefs.

August 1803 found Wirt and his wife in Richmond, escaping the fevers that plagued Norfolk in the summer and awaiting the birth of their first child. To relieve his anxiety, the father-to-be whiled away the hours writing a series of letters as though he were a concealed British spy describing Virginia manners and peccadilloes. Wirt submitted one of his essays to the Virginia Argus almost tongue-in-cheek; no one was more surprised than he when the anonymously printed essay, and its sequels, proved enormously successful. From September through October all Richmond seemed spell-bound by the well written, mildly critical Letters of the British Spy. Essentially a paean to oratory, the essays with their succinct thumbnail critiques of contemporary figures were so popular they were immediately published in book form, quickly going through many editions. Wirt was correctly guessed to be their author, and indeed the ten essays displayed several of his characteristics: skillfully done but not really original; concerned with oratory as a conscious art form; spriteful but a little overdrawn. Wirt correctly gauged their worth while he basked in fame, promptly calculating the merit of additional literary productions. Perhaps, he wondered aloud in a letter to Dabney Carr, Virginians were ripe for an updated Plutarch.

For the next decade and a half Wirt managed to combine a distinguished legal with a promising literary career. In August 1804, another series of anonymous essays began appearing in the Richmond Enquirer. Written by a group of minor literati, The Rainbow Association, of which Wirt was a leader, the first ten were published as a book in late 1804. Like The British Spy, The Rainbow: First Series consisted of essays slightly rationalistic in tone, but the southern mood seemed to be changing, for these never achieved the success of their forerunners. Although sixteen more Rainbow essays appeared in the Enquirer through the spring of 1805, they were never reprinted.

Wirt was already at work searching for material for his prospective biography of Patrick Henry when he moved back to Richmond in mid-1806. His legal fame, aided by a rare gift of eloquence and his literary promise, catapulted him into national prominence in 1807 when the Government chose him to aid in prosecuting the treason indictment of Aaron Burr. Burr possessed an uncanny charisma that almost concealed the boldness of the plot charged against him. The political eyes of the nation were focused on the judicial stage in Richmond, for here was a cast sure to be explosive: Aaron Burr, Luther Martin, the Federal bulldog, William Wirt, John Marshall, and back in the wings, Thomas Jefferson himself. The arguments were tangled and beautiful, and although Burr won his case, Wirt won the crowd. His romanticised fantasy of an Edenic West, the innocent world of a victimized Burr accomplice, Blennerhasset, immediately became a memorized peroration. Even the defense had been captivated by Wirt's words. His future seemed unlimited.

In the midst of a concurrent patriotic outburst following the Chesapeake-Leopard affair of June 22, 1807, Wirt briefly dreamed of military glory, but this escaped him. Yet in 1808, when Jefferson's chosen successor, James Madison, met unexpected resistance in Virginia, Wirt engaged in political warfare. Here he was successful, for his caustic essays in the Enquirer blasted the opposition to Madison. Even Jefferson wanted Wirt to enter the national political arena, but Wirt refused. National politics offered too little money and too much pain; a two-year stint in the Virginia legislature, 1808-1810, only convinced Wirt that politics was not his future. The law and writing were more to his liking. In 1810 he was composing more articles in Madison's defense and planning moral and literary essays to inspire the youth of Virginia. Another series of didactic essays began appearing in the Enquirer, and these, showing a definite shift toward romanticism, were much more popular than The Rainbow. Wirt wrote most of these Old Bachelor essays, and coordinated the writing of the rest. Thirty-three were eventually serialized, 1810-1813, and The Old Bachelor (1814) was into its third edition by 1818.

During these years of happy residence in Richmond, Wirt seemed to find success at everything except his study of Patrick Henry. Wirt's busy legal duties left little time for historical research, and Henry was an enigma at best. To complicate matters, Patrick Henry had left no archival records; because his career was so controversial, his contemporaries gave very contradictory accounts of him. Wirt found truth impossible to recapture and dullness hard to escape. His solution was romanticized history and didactic fustian. Before the vogue of Sir Walter Scott and homegrown plantation novels, Wirt recognized the attractiveness of the romantic view. He portrayed Henry as the perfect hero for present-day youth to emulate. Wirt had written doubtful history but sure myth, and his mythologized Patrick Henry has lived ever since enshrined in the popular American pantheon.

Appropriately the Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry was published the very year, 1817, Wirt reached the apex of his legal career, appointment as Attorney General of the United States. From this date the press of his legal career never permitted him to return to the literary pursuits he dreamed of; from this date financial necessity and official duties kept him bound to the law.

When William Wirt accepted President Monroe's offer of the Attorney Generalship on November 13, 1817, he gained a position that had neither an office, clerks, nor records of previous decisions, and an inadequate salary. William Pinkney had even resigned the position three years earlier when he was asked merely to reside in Washington. To this apparently undistinguished office Wirt brought energy and administrative skill. He immediately began an elaborate system of record keeping, and acquired office space and a clerk. Notwithstanding the limits of his position, Wirt could not have come to Washington at a more auspicious time. The War of 1812 had set into motion developments which matured American law. The conflict produced a number of admiralty and prize cases; the upsurge in home manufactures resulted in the growth of patent law; increased domestic trade gave rise to numerous commercial and contract cases. The law became more important than ever. If this were not enough, 1817 marked the midpoint of the judicial reign of John Marshall. Never again has there been such a magisterial Chief Justice, and perhaps never again would the Supreme Court play such a decisive role in American history. Wirt seized an inconsiderable office at an opportune time, turned it into one of dignity and respect, and took an important part in the whole series of great court decisions which so strengthened the position of the Federal Government.

Every student can name the important cases of this era, the Dartmouth College Case, McCulloch v. Maryland, Gibbons v. Ogden. Wirt participated in every one. In an era of great lawyers, William Pinkney, Littleton Waller Tazewell, and Daniel Webster, Wirt was considered as good as the best. The concept of conflict of interest was then rudimentary, and in view of the small salary of his public office and the expenses of his large family, Wirt maintained a huge and lucrative private practice in addition to his federal one. He regarded the Attorney Generalship as meaning he was retained by the government as its attorney and that, while it had first claim on his time and talents, he was otherwise free to engage in private practice. As a matter of fact, the feasibility of so enhancing his private career was a dominant reason for his acceptance of Monroe's appointment. Wirt insisted on limiting his official duties strictly to the letter of the Judiciary Act of 1789 both because of Jeffersonian principle and because he needed time for his private practice. His prestige and oratorical fame attracted large fees; his ability and even disposition won him the respect and favor of all.

William Wirt arguing a case or delivering an address was a spectacle in an age that appreciated rhetoric. A large man, inclining toward dignified portliness, with a broad forehead, intriguing blue eyes, and sandy hair, Wirt was the physical image of eloquence. Yet his voice was his prize: soft but powerful, of great range, hauntingly melodious. With an artist's feel for sound and metaphor Wirt constructed verbal symphonies. Mixing poetry with law, literature with history, with a dash of wit and a ready smile, Wirt appealed to the intellect and emotions of his hearers. As competent as he was in belles-lettres, Wirt was an extremely hardworking legal scholar. Especially after he began practicing before the Supreme Court, he recognized that his frothy eloquence needed a firm legal foundation. Moreover, because he was regarded as such a decent person (unlike the vain Pinkney and often overbearing Webster), juries and the gallery believed him incapable of a disingenuous argument. Not a legal statesman who made precedents, Wirt instead followed precedents to great effect. In the courtroom he had amazing success and a popular following. But he did not have the impact on constitutional law that Marshall or Webster had.

Two incidents in 1826 exemplify the respect in which Wirt was held. Through an amazing quirk of history, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. William Wirt, of all the superb American orators then living, was chosen to deliver the official eulogy before a joint meeting of Congress. And this Wirt did with a flourish now distasteful but then in demand. Earlier that year Jefferson had offered Wirt both the professorship of law at the University of Virginia and an office created especially for him, the presidency of the university. Wirt declined the honors, and the conditional office of president was not realized until 1904.

Despite many rewards, offers, and requests for speaking and writing, Wirt remained immersed in the practice of law. As Attorney General Wirt considered himself a non-partisan government official. When John Quincy Adams became President in 1825, Wirt quite naturally continued, unruffled by the change in leadership. He was studiously apolitical; sometimes this led him to miss the political significance of legislative and judicial decisions. But by his lights he was serving the Federal Government, not men or regions.

The erstwhile Jeffersonian had unmistakably become a quiet nationalist: John Marshall had worked his subtle magic. Yet the non-partisan Attorney General passionately opposed the rise of Andrew Jackson, who seemed to Wirt hell-bent on devising his own extra-legal definitions of military and then presidential leadership. Wirt had held an unfavorable opinion of the headstrong general since 1818, when he had rashly invaded Florida and almost caused an international incident.

Jackson's actions and techniques in subsequent years only exacerbated Wirt's view. Wirt was a nationalist almost self-consciously of the school of 1776; he believed men of dignity and learning, natural aristocrats, hould rule the nation, and nothing was more distasteful to him than the new political procedures of pandering to the popular whim. A leader should not run for office, but rather the people should somehow bestow the office upon him. Perhaps then there was a hint of the past and of cultural snobbery in Wirt's opposition to Jackson, who in 1824 had begun campaigning for the 1828 election. Nevertheless, the politically naive Wirt briefly considered trying to remain in office in 1829 after Jackson's election. Jackson, of course, a keen practitioner of politics, appointed his own man, John M. Berrien, Attorney General.

A private lawyer again after twelve years in Washington, Wirt moved his large family and huge legal practice to congenial Baltimore. Still his name and fame attracted many cases and high fees. He was popular in the Monumental City, and in mid-1830 there were even some requests that he run for the Baltimore congressional seat. Wirt, however, would hear nothing of it, for he abhorred the idea of campaigning and was weary of the recriminations of national politics. Even his involvement in the politically motivated Peck impeachment trial was painful. Events in the nation were going against Wirt's ideals; demagoguery, he felt, was replacing merit. A melancholic apprehension that had mostly remained submerged in his personality since the day he first conceived his inspirational Patrick Henry biography came almost to dominate him. The death in January 1831 of his favorite daughter Agnes cast a pall over his last years from which he never completely recovered.

Soon after this, in March 1831, Wirt became involved in one of his most touchy cases. Out of a long-time devotion to the cause of Indians, and possibly his dislike of Jackson, Wirt undertook to defend the rights of the Cherokees against Georgia's encroachments. The Jacksonians were committed to a callous expulsion of all Indians to the westward, so in a real sense Wirt was entering a political fracas. Against this background Wirt's career in 1831 took an unexpected turn. The apolitical man almost innocently became the Anti-Masonic candidate for president.

The Anti-Mason Party was a conglomeration of Jackson foes who had congealed around opposition to Masonry after the mysterious murder of one William Morgan for revealing the fraternity's secrets. Many Anti-Masons were also strong nationalists who favored Clay's American System and the Bank of the United States. Assembling in Baltimore on September 26, 1831, as the first national nominating convention, the Anti-Masonic delegates were confident Judge John McLean of Ohio would be their candidate. But McLean refused, and so did John Marshall. Desperately looking around for an honorable candidate who had no obvious liabilities, the convention leaders looked to William Wirt. On September 28 he was offered the nomination, and within several hours he wrote his acceptance.

Wirt knew he was no politician in the Jacksonian sense; he honestly had no ambition for the office. Yet he believed that a good man had to run against Jackson, hoping all the while that the Anti-Masons would sensibly switch their support to Henry Clay, or that the National Republicans would choose another viable candidate the Anti-Masons could accept. Wirt was inept in the thicket of presidential politics: his transitory dreams of potentially being a conciliatory candidate around whom Jackson's defeat could be effected were naive. The National Republicans chose Clay, the Anti-Masons refused to shift to him as Wirt had hoped, and Jackson won in a landslide. Perhaps Wirt had tried to re-enact Patrick Henry's courageous re-entry into politics late in life for conscience' sake. For whatever reason, Wirt vastly miscalculated the political tide. Certainly it seemed to him in late 1832 that the nation had forsaken the republican ideals of the founding fathers and accepted the tyranny of the majority.

More melancholy than ever in his life, Wirt in the midst of the campaign year had resigned himself to Jackson's victory and returned to arguing the cause of the Cherokee Indians. His eloquence moved moralists and John Marshall, but left Old Hickory untouched. It was with a sense of resignation in late 1832 that Wirt returned to conventional law and his beloved family. Surely for him the age of Jackson represented an unhappy revolution; in terms of his ideals, the world was turned upside down. Yet, as he wrote his friends, he had been blessed with more fame and a happier home than he really deserved. His religious interests rekindled as he settled into a comfortable routine in Baltimore. His gracious and gifted wife Elizabeth, with whom he had corresponded so voluminously and candidly during the many years when his practice had carried him away from home; his cultured children, several now married; his devoted friends; all these made Wirt's last months rich and rewarding. His innately sunny disposition once again surfaced; his genuine nobility of character conquered what might have been bitterness. In 1833, in cooperation with one of his sons-in-law, Wirt tried to promote a free-labor German immigrant colony on his Florida lands, but the experiment never proved successful.

Yet even in the face of this final defeat, Wirt in early 1834 in his sixty-second year could reflect on a life far more spectacular than he could have dreamed of half a century before as an obscure Maryland orphan. Content in such reflections, William Wirt died peacefully after a short illness in Washington, where he had been preparing for a case, on February 18, 1834. The Supreme Court, hearing of his death, adjourned, and Marshall himself pronounced a moving eulogy. Impressive burial ceremonies, attended by most of official Washington, were held on February 20. The next morning, as the Speaker called the House of Representatives to order, John Quincy Adams, then a delegate from Massachusetts, arose to pay his respects to Wirt. Dismissing a eulogy, Adams wanted the Journal of the House simply to mention the respect almost universally felt for the late Attorney General. If a mind stored with all the learning appropriate to the profession of the law, he pronounced, and decorated with all the elegance of classical literature; if a spirit imbued with the sensibilities of a lofty patriotism, and chastened by the meditations of a profound philosophy; if a brilliant imagination, a discerning intellect, a sound judgment, an indefatigable capacity, and vigorous energy of application, vivified with an ease and rapidity of elocution, copious without redundance, and select without affectation; if all these, unified with a sportive vein of humor, an inoffensive temper, and an angelic purity of heart;if all these, in their combination, are the qualities suitable for an Attorney General of the United States, in him they were all eminently combined.

Register of Debates in Congress, 23 Cong., 1 Sess., vol. 10, part 2, pp. 2758-59. Adams' judgment of Wirt may have been inflated by his very low opinion of the incumbent Jackson administration. Wirt's had been a life as remarkable and enigmatic in its own way as that of his cultural model, Patrick Henry. And each, perhaps, has been more remembered by later generations for what he said, and how he said it, than for what he did.

Biographical / Historical

Bibliographical Essay

William Wirt was such an important figure in early nineteenth century America that mention of him can be found in a wide range of books and manuscripts. This selective bibliography can mention only a few of the printed sources. The most convenient beginning place is Thomas Perkins Abernethy's sketch in the Dictionary of American Biography, XX, 418-21. Still the only full length study of Wirt is John P. Kennedy's laudatory Memoirs of the Life of William Wirt, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1849; revised ed., 1850), the most valuable feature of which is the publication of many Wirt letters. Another good sample of Wirt's correspondence, this time to Ninian Edwards, may be found in Ninian Wirt Edwards, History of Illinois, from 1778 to 1833; and Life and Times of Ninian Edwards (Chicago, 1870), pp. 404-76. A colorful interpretation of Wirt is given by Vernon L. Parrington, Main Currents in American Thought, 2 vols. (New York, 1927), II, 30-35. William R. Taylor provides a more sophisticated view in his Cavalier and Yankee; the Old South and American National Character (New York, 1961), pp. 67-94.

Several of Wirt's contemporaries published studies of him. The earliest were Francis Walker Gilmer's Sketches of American Orators (Baltimore, 1816), written in the style of Wirt's British Spy, and the more substantial Biographical Sketch of William Wirt, written by Peter Cruse as an introduction to the tenth edition of The Letters of the British Spy (New York, 1832), pp. [9]-91. Another first-person account appears in F. W. Thomas, John Randolph, of Roanoke, and Other Sketches of Character, Including William Wirt (Philadelphia, 1853). For the opinions of a brilliant but biased commentator, see the Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary From 1795 to 1848, ed. Charles Francis Adams, 12 vols. (Philadelphia, 1874-1877). One should also consult two eulogies, John P. Kennedy's Discourse on the Life and Character of William Wirt (Baltimore, 1834), and Samuel L. Southard, A Discourse on the Professional Character and Virtues of the Late William Wirt (Washington, 1834).

Luckily a recent study by Joseph Charles Burke, William Wirt: Attorney General and Constitutional Lawyer (Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1965) puts the legal aspect of Wirt's career in scholarly perspective. Valuable secondary accounts which also discuss Wirt within a wide framework are Charles Warren, A History of the American Bar (Boston, 1911), and his Supreme Court in United States History, 3 vols. (Boston, 1923); and Leonard D. White, The Jeffersonians: A Study in Administrative History, 1801-1829 (New York, 1951). For Wirt's emerging anti-Jackson sentiment, see the recent article by Marvin R. Cain, William Wirt against Andrew Jackson: Reflection on an Era, Mid-America: An Historical Quarterly, 47 (April, 1965), 113-38. The earlier work by Samuel Rhea Gammon, Jr., The Presidential Campaign of 1832 (Baltimore, 1922), is still useful. Of course there is a great abundance of historical literature for this whole period, as the works of Henry Adams, George Dangerfield, and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., indicate.

Perhaps the best starting place for Wirt's literary career is Frank P. Cauble, William Wirt and His Friends: A Study in Southern Culture, 1772-1834, (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina, 1933), which is detailed though not particularly interpretative. Richard Beale Davis in many works has portrayed the whole cultural generation of which Wirt was a part. See, for example, his Francis Walker Gilmer: Life and Learning in Jefferson's Virginia (Richmond, 1939), esp. pp. 41-119; and Intellectual Life in Jefferson's Virginia, 1790-1830 (Chapel Hill, 1964). And one should not miss Jay B. Hubbell's definitive work, The South in American Literature, 1607-1900 (Durham, 1954). There have been specialized essays on Wirt's individual literary efforts. Again see Hubbell, William Wirt and the Familiar Essay in Virginia, William and Mary Quarterly, 2d ser., 23 (January, 1943), 136-52; and Davis's Introduction to the Southern Literary Classics edition of the British Spy (Chapel Hill, 1970), pp. [vii]-xx. Wirt's romanticized biography of Patrick Henry has received two excellent critiques, Bernard Mayo's Myths and Men (Athens, Ga., 1959), and William R. Taylor, William Wirt and the Legend of the Old South, William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 14 (October, 1957), 477-93. There is also an article on Mrs. Wirt's gift volume, Flora's Dictionary: see Sarah P. Stetson, Mrs. Wirt and the Language of Flowers, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 57 (October, 1949), 376-89.

Even with a substantial literature of secondary sources, there has still not been a modern interpretative biography of William Wirt. Perhaps this microfilm publication will contribute toward filling this important gap. Wirt's life certainly has much to reveal about early nineteenth century American culture and politics.


0.42 Linear Feet (1 full Hollinger box)

Language of Materials



The William Wirt letters are bound in two volumes. The correspondents are indexed by surname.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mrs. John M. Cates, May 1952.

Related Materials

MS 1011, William Wirt papers, 1784-1864

Guide to the William Wirt letterbooks
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  • 2019-09-24: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Mallory Herberger.

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States