Deceased Senators & Opposition To President Washington

As Errington has noted, Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming died yesterday. This got me to wondering about who was the first United States Senator to die in office.The answer is William Grayson of Virginia who died on March 12, 1790. This was just over a year after the very first meeting of the Senate.

In the Congressional Quarterly Press Guide To U.S. Elections, Volume II, Grayson is listed as an anti-Federalist. This means he generally opposed the policies of President Washington.

It might seem odd that a Senator from George Washington’s home state would oppose Washington. However, the leading early figure of Congressional opposition to President Washington was none other than Representative James Madison of Virginia.

Anti-Federalists, as we call them now, opposed what they saw as the centralizing tendencies under a Federal administration run by Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. This centralizing impulse stood in contrast to a belief that more power should be held by the individual states.

A difference between Grayson and Madison is that Grayson opposed the Constitution from the start while Madison was an architect of the Constitution. (Some saw the Constitution as placing too much authority in the Federal government.) Both, however, found common ground to work against Washington and, probably more so, Hamilton.

Grayson’s views were more consistent and more narrow than Madison’s. Madison was the better thinker and the more realistic in understanding the necessity of a functional central government. Consistency is not always a virtue.

As for Senator Thomas—May he rest in peace.