GLR September-October 2022

years his sole intimate companions were his two Black body servants, John and Juba. Upon his death he freed all of his en slaved workers, and as reparations he pro vided them with land of their own to farm as free persons of color—something Wash ington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and

ailments and was invariably drunk or drugged. His associates in Congress looked upon him with pity and regret, but never ceased to be impressed by his dazzling eru dition, nor to fear his caustic tongue. “At times he is the most entertaining and amus ing man alive,” wrote a congressman from Massachusetts, “with manners most pleas ant and agreeable; and at other times he is sour, morose, crabbed, ill-natured, and sar castic, rude in manners, and repulsive to everybody. Indeed, I think he is partially deranged, and seldom in the full possession of his reason.” Perhaps the saddest descrip tion of Randolph came from a contempo rary who witnessed the bitter, grotesque creature he had evolved into: “a flowing gargoyle of vituperation.” When John Randolph died, Dr. Francis West conducted a postmortem examination and reported that the “scrotum was scarcely

Hamilton could have done but did not. Randolph was a fervent acolyte of Jef ferson—until his fellow Virginian began to waver in his anti-Federalist opposition to a strong central government. In time Ran dolph’s party (and the nation) moved on and he was left behind, defending a staunchly conservative position that be came more and more untenable as the country expanded westward. Feeling he could support neither the Democratic-Re publicans nor the Federalists, Randolph formed his own party, which he called the Tertium Quid (the Third Thing)—a curious choice of name for a man who had been denigrated throughout his life for not being convincingly male or female. Randolph was elected to the House of Representatives seven times, served two years in the Senate, and was briefly the U.S. ambassador to Russia, but as he aged his political conservatism calcified into a curmudgeonly opposition to anything that vaguely smacked of progress. He was wracked with physical

With a caption that reads: “John Randolph. Engraving by John Sartain after the original from life by Catlin taken during the sitting of the Virginia State Convention in 1831.”

at all developed” and that he possessed only a right testicle, which was “the size of a small bean.” West was severely criti cized for releasing the results of the autopsy, and thereafter de clined to give more details. A recent biographer argues convincingly that Randolph was born with Klinefelter Syn drome, a condition in which an individual possesses one Y and two X chromosomes, inhibiting him from developing secondary male characteristics. In 2020 a cisgender, straight-acting, openly gay man was appointed to the President’s cabinet, and the nation applauded or grumbled. But it is worth noting that in the early years of the Republic (before the Victorian straitjackets of gender were strapped into place), a non-binary politician who self-identi fied as mixed-race became one of the most powerful men in Washington. Throughout his years in Congress, Randolph al ternated between highly skillful behind-the-scenes maneuver ing to press his party’s legislative agenda, and an intentionally provocative brandishing of his effeminacy. He astonished with his intellect, intimidated with his sharp tongue, and entertained an entire nation of newspaper readers with his undeniable star quality. Whatever the cause of his gender ambiguity, Randolph used his eccentricities of dress and behavior to lean into what could have been an insurmountable handicap for any politician. When the gentleman from Virginia swept onto the floor of Con gress (his high-heel boots clicking, his frocked coat twirling around him), slapped down his whip, whisked off his bandana to tie back his long, flowing hair, and then proceeded to savage his foes in the piping falsetto of a prepubescent boy, John Ran dolph of Roanoke was proclaiming himself to be his own spe cial creation. R EFERENCES Dawidoff, Robert. The Education of John Randolph. W.W. Norton & Co., 1979. Johnson, David. John Randolph of Roanoke (Southern Biography Se ries). LSU Press, 2012. Kierner, Cynthia A. Scandal at Bizarre: Rumor and Reputation in Jef ferson’s America. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

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