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Wirt, William 1772-1834

Jurist; born in Bladensburg, Md., Nov. 8, 1772; was left an orphan when he was eight years of age, with a small patrimony, and was reared and educated by an uncle. He began the practice of law at Culpeper Court-house, Va. In 1795 he married a daughter of Dr. George Gilmer, and settled near Charlottesville, Va., where he contracted dissipated habits, from the toils of which, it is said, he was released by hearing a sermon preached by Rev. James Waddell. In 1799 he was chosen clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates, and in 1802 was appointed chancellor of the eastern district of Virginia. Very soon afterwards he resigned the office, and settled in Norfolk in the practice of his profession. He had lately written a series of letters under the title of The British spy, which were published in the Richmond Argus, and gave him a literary reputation. Published in collected form, they have passed through many editions. The next year he published a series of essays in the Richmond Enquirer entitled The rainbow. Wirt settled in Richmond in 1806, and became distinguished the following year as one of the foremost lawyers in the country in the trial of Aaron Burr for treason. In the same year he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and was a prominent advocate of the chief measures of President Jefferson's administration. His chief literary production—Life of Patrick Henry—was first published in 1817, at which time he was United States attorney for the district of Virginia. The same year President Monroe appointed him (Dec. 15) Attorney-General of the United States, which office he held continually until 1829, when he removed to Baltimore. In 1832 he was the candidate of the Anti-Masonic party (q. v.) for the Presidency of the United States. He died in Washington, D. C., Feb. 18, 1834.

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