Search the Encyclopedia
William Wirt (1772-1834) was Attorney General of the United States under James Monroe and the 1832 anti-Masonic candidate for president. Wirt also served as a Democratic Republican Party lawyer for Thomas Jefferson over the years. Born in Bladensburg, Maryland, he moved to Culpeper, Virginia, in 1792. There he passed the Virginia bar and met his future wife Mildred Gilmer, daughter of Jefferson's close friend George Gilmer.
This Gilmer connection brought Wirt into Jefferson's orbit. Jefferson, evidently appreciating his legal skills, hired Wirt in the case of Cobbs v. Jefferson. After Mildred's death in 1799, Jefferson recommended Wirt to be the clerk of the House of Delegates. During the sedition trial of James Callender, Wirt served as counsel representing Callender, though he lost the case and Callender served time in jail. In 1807, Wirt unsuccessfully prosecuted Aaron Burr for treason. James Madison made him a U.S. attorney before he served for one year as the U.S. Attorney General for James Monroe in 1817.
Jefferson offered Wirt a professorship in law at the University of Virginia, but he turned it down. After Jefferson's death, Wirt eulogized him and John Adams in the House of Representatives on October 19, 1826.
- Bryan Craig, 9/10/08
- Glassner, Gregory. Adopted Son: The Life, Wit & Wisdom of William Wirt, 1772-1834. Madison County, Va.: Kurt-Ketner Publishing Co., 1997.
- William Wirt Papers, 1784-1864, MS.1011. Maryland Historical Society.
- 1. William Wirt, The Lives and Characters of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, Who Both Died on the Fourth of July, 1826 (Washington, D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1826).