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William Wirt Passes Away

Today in Masonic History William Wirt passes away in 1834.

William Wirt was an American lawyer and statesman.

Wirt was born on November 8th, 1772 in Bladensburg, Maryland. Both his parents passed away before he was eight and he was raised by his uncle. He attended various schools starting at the age of 7. At the age of 11 he attended a school in Montgomery County, Maryland. The school closed when Wirt was 15. The father of one of Wirt's classmates saw potential in the young Wirt and invited Wirt to live at his home and tutor his son and nephews. The man also gave Wirt full access to the families extensive library allowing his continued education. He continued his classical studies and studied for the bar.

Wirt was admitted to the bar in 1792. Sometime after 1795 he moved to Charlottesville and made the acquaintance of Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. Jefferson and Monroe enjoyed Wirt's company. Wirt often enjoyed their hospitality despite the class difference between them. Although easy to see Wirt as an ambitious attorney looking to make in roads with prominent men, most saw him as a fascinating companion with a love for life.

In 1799, after his first wife passed away, Wirt moved to Richmond. From there he moved from Richmond to Norfolk before returning to Richmond where his practice was far more successful.

In 1807, Thomas Jefferson asked Wirt to be the prosecuting attorney in Aaron Burr's treason trial. Working as the prosecutor he delivered a four hour eloquent opening statement which further his fame. Because of the speech Wirt was nicknamed by enemies as a "Whip Syllabub Genius" for his over the top oratory skills.

In 1817, President James Monroe named Wirt the ninth Attorney General of the United States. He held the position for twelve years, through the administration of John Quincy Adams in 1829.

In 1830, Wirt argued before the United States Supreme Court for the Cherokee Nation. In dispute was the state of Georgia's right to remove people from Cherokee land. Wirt argued because the Cherokee Nation was a foreign nation and not under the rules of the Constitution, the state of Georgia had no right to remove them from their lands. The Supreme Court declined to rule on the case, although they left the door open for another case to be used to confirm Wirt's assertion. The case came in 1831 and Wirt was vindicated in his argument.

In 1832, Wirt became the Presidential Candidate for the Anti-Masonic Party. Wirt himself had been a mason and wrote to the nominating convention, the first of it's kind in the United States, he found Freemasonry unobjectionable and in his experience many Masons were "intelligent men of high and honourable character" who never chose Freemasonry above "their duties to their God and country." In the election Wirt carried Vermont and it's seven electoral votes becoming the first organized third party candidate to carry a state.

Wirt passed away on February 18th, 1834.

Wirt only received his Entered Apprentice Degree and Fellow Craft Degree in Jerusalem Lodge No. 54 in Richmond, Virginia. It is not clear if he withdrew or if the events of the Morgan Affair caused him to halt his progress in the fraternity.

This article provided by Brother Eric C. Steele.