Admitted to Virginia bar, 1774. Served with Continental Army. Lieutenant colonel Virginia Militia, 1781.
Member Virginia House of Dels, 1779-1785, 96-1800. Member United States Senate from Virginia, 1792-1794, 1803, 22-24. Introduced “Virginia Resolutions” asserting right of states to interpose authority in case of overextension of federal powers, 1798.
Opposed War of 1812 as expansion of powers of central government. Defended old agrarian order, one of 1st to present well developed states’ rights view. Opposed permanent debt.
Held that Congress had no legitimate right to interfere with institution of slavery established by law. Published Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the United States Government, 1814, refuting John Adams’ defense of constitution and ideas of natural aristocracy. Wrote Construction Construed and Constitutions Vindicated, 1820, argued unlimited right of states to tax within borders.
Wrote Tyranny Unmasked (attack on protective tariff as sectional device), 1820. Described his agricultural theories in The Arator.