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The fascinating William Wirt
January 22, 2009 - Jody Murphy
William Wirt was one of the great, young legal minds of the early 19th century, prominent lawyer, statesman, presidential candidate and the namesake of Wirt County, W.Va.
Been doing some reading on this fellow the last few days and thought enough of him to share.
Most of the stuff, you probably already know about.
Wirt was one of the attorneyás appointed by President Thomas Jefferson to represent the United States in the treason trial of Vice President Aaron Burr.
Wirt was also a U.S. District Attorney of Virginia under President James Monroe.
And he famously, or rather infamously, ran as a failed third-party candidate for President in 1832. Wirt ran as candidate of the American, or Anti-Masonic, Party. He carried only one state. Vermont, in defeat.
He died two years later from complications of a severe cold.
The county that bears his name was created in 1848.
Here a few things you may not know about William Wirt.
In his early years as a trial lawyer, he represented a man who must assuredly was guilty of murder. Wirt and Edmund Randolph successfully defended a man who was accused of poisoning his famed uncle Judge George Wythe. The early American dream team, despite knowing the nephewás guilt, was able to get the man cleared of the charges (see the link).
While Patrick Henry is credited with uttering the famed phrase âGive me Liberty or Give me Death,ã during a stirring speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses. There were no accounts of the speech until 1817 when a biography of Henry was published. It was written by Wirt.
Many historians now believe Henry never uttered the phrase, but thanks to Wirt, Henry is now permanently etched as a early American icon, forever linked to the patriotic phrase.
As for Wirtás run at the American presidency as a member of the Anti-Masonic party? Thatás true, but we're not sure how devoted to the cause Wirt was. Seems he was actually a Freemason.
And finally, 171 years after his death, he was still making news.
In 2005 the skull of William Wirt, which had been taken from the family crypt in the 1970s was returned to its rightful place. Caretakers of the cemetery where the Wirt clan is buried had no idea of the theft, but after a few anonymous tips and some detective work the skull of William Wirt was returned to his body and laid to rest.
RIP William Wirt.
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