Of all the luminaries of our early Republic, none had a sharper mind than John Randolph of Roanoke. It was his misfortune, and also the misfortune of the nation, that this formidable intellect was given to someone who was also more than a little mad. From the time of his first election to Congress at 26, when the clerk of the House asked him if he was old enough to serve, he quipped, “Ask my constituents.”, his brilliance shone in his writings and speeches, as his madness grew as he aged. But for the madness, I have no doubt that he would be one of the major figures in our history. As it is, we have some immortal phrases to remember him.
“Time is at once the most valuable and the most perishable of all our possessions.”
“I am an aristocrat. I love liberty; I hate equality.”
“A state can no more give up part of her sovereignty than a lady can give up part of her virtue.”
“That most delicious of all privileges – spending other people’s money.”
“Never were abilities so much below mediocrity so well rewarded; no, not when Caligula’s horse was made Consul.”
“Life is not so important as the duties of life.”
“Mean spirits under disappointment, like small beer in a thunderstorm, always turn sour.”
“The surest way to prevent war is not to fear it.”
“We all know our duty better than we discharge it.”
Last but certainly not least is his memorable observation about political opponent Edward Livingston: He is a man of splendid abilities, but utterly corrupt. He shines and stinks like rotten mackerel by moonlight.