After the death of Frances Tucker in 1788, the family moved to Williamsburg, and biographers have commented on the change of setting as perhaps important to Beverley Tucker's future worldview. "While Matoax was a kind of Eden that gripped his consciousness," Robert J. Brugger has written, "Williamsburg represented the Fall." In the city, Tucker resisted his father's strict regime—the elder Tucker referred to their home as "Fort St. George"—and began to idealize plantation life, finding in it a source of republican virtue.
On October 1, 1810, Tucker was appointed commonwealth's attorney for Charlotte County. In March 1812 he was commissioned a lieutenant in the county militia and later was promoted to captain. During the War of 1812 he served with an infantry company in Charlotte County, on garrison duty in Norfolk, and as assistant adjutant general under John Pegram in Petersburg.
In January 1819, Tucker located bottomland between Dardenne and Peruque creeks, near the town of Saint Charles, as a settlement site for slaveholders from Virginia and South Carolina. At a time when the future of slavery in Missouri and other territories was being fiercely debated locally and in Washington, D.C., Tucker sought to create what he described in a letter to his father as a "true Virginia settlement" with slavery at its core. He defended the spread of slavery in five essays published from April to June 1819 in the Missouri Gazette under the pseudonym Hampden. On December 11 of that year, the Richmond Enquirer excerpted an unsigned letter by "a Virginian" in Missouri that nevertheless was widely understood to have been written by Tucker. The next month the Missouri Gazette attacked the letter, which defended Tucker's settlement, as pompous, condescending, and elitist.
Although Tucker's influence temporarily waned, he remained a public figure. In July 1820 he attended Missouri's statehood convention in Saint Louis as an observer. Then in December 1820 he became a judge of the Third Judicial Circuit. During an economic downturn in 1822, Tucker issued judicial decisions that invalidated relief efforts by the state, resulting in a backlash against the judiciary. Candidates sympathetic to Tucker's position won elections that autumn, however, and the judge's influence began to wax again.
Over the next few years Tucker became a leading defender of states' rights against the power of the federal government, especially when it came to the regulation of slavery. From August to December 1830 he published a series of pseudonymous essays on the subject in the Western Monitor newspaper. Tucker often employed extreme rhetoric, referring, for instance, to "Northern grandees" as "bloated vampyres sucking at the heart's blood." This time, however, his writing won him political friends, and on March 6, 1832, he announced a run for Congress. He withdrew the next summer. On December 26, 1832, in the midst of the nullification crisis in South Carolina, he published an essay in the Saint Louis Free Press arguing that secession, not nullification, was the proper response to the states'-rights crisis.
Law and Slavery
In June 1833 Tucker and his family returned to Virginia permanently. On March 10, 1834, states'-rights supporters in Buckingham County nominated him to run for his recently deceased half-brother's seat in Congress, representing the Fifth District. Five days later James Wood Bouldin, a Jackson supporter, defeated Tucker by a vote of 1,038 to 737.
On December 2, 1834, Beverley Tucker delivered a lecture on slavery that was published a month later in the Southern Literary Messenger. Responding to Blackstone's arguments against the institution in Commentaries, Tucker reasoned that black men, women, and children were actually better off enslaved, and that slavery, in turn, was crucial to the American republic because a citizen who kept himself well informed could not be expected also to perform hard labor. Freedom was a privilege, not a right, Tucker argued, and those fit only for labor would, if allowed to participate, ruin free government. As such, slavery did not contradict freedom but was necessary for its proper exercise.
Tucker became an increasingly outspoken and radical proslavery secessionist. Early in the 1840s he wrote letters to President John Tyler, a fellow Virginian, attempting to advise him on issues from banking to the annexation of Texas. The latter issue helped lead Tucker away from a reliance on constitutionalism, which he believed had been abandoned by northern abolitionists. This was in contrast to his brother, Henry St. George Tucker, who began teaching law at the University of Virginia in 1841 and who still thought compromise on slavery could be secured through the U.S. Constitution. Beverley Tucker continued to publish, including several books: Discourse on the Importance of the Study of Political Science as a Branch of Academic Education in the United States (1840), Lectures Intended to Prepare the Student for the Study of the Constitution of the United States (1845), and Principles of Pleading(1846).
In 1836, Tucker published two novels, George Balcombe and The Partisan Leader; a Tale of the Future, both without his name attached. In George Balcombe a Virginian named William Napier travels to Missouri to recover his grandfather's lost will and to thwart attempts to steal his inheritance. (For his plot, Tucker likely borrowed from his own experiences with the will of John Randolph of Roanoke.) The title character assists Napier in obtaining justice and serves, for Tucker, as an idealized hero—the sort of virtuous southern leader Tucker sought but failed to find in Andrew Jackson and others. In a review published in the January 1837 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger, Edgar Allan Poe wrote that he was "induced to regard it, upon the whole, as the best American novel." He noted that the anonymous author could be none other than Beverley Tucker and that it was odd that the book didn't carry his name.
Tucker published a final piece of fiction, Gertrude, in serial form in the Southern Literary Messenger. Appearing in 1844–1845, the romance centers on the title character, who leaves her impoverished family in Virginia in order to find a new life in the city. Setting Gertrude against the machinations of her mother, Tucker painted archetypes of virtue and villainy he may have wanted his readers to apply to the political sphere. His subplots also gave him the means to comment on pressing issues such as banking and womanhood. Unlike his other fiction, Gertrude was popular with readers but was never published as a book.
Tucker wrote his will on May 23, 1850, leaving everything to his wife. He died on August 26, 1851, at the Winchester home of his late brother. He was buried at Bruton Parish Episcopal Church Cemetery in Williamsburg.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Wolfe, B. Beverley Tucker (1784–1851). (2019, June 17). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Tucker_Beverley_1784-1851.
- MLA Citation:
Wolfe, Brendan. "Beverley Tucker (1784–1851)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 17 Jun. 2019. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: June 13, 2019 | Last modified: June 17, 2019
Contributed by Brendan Wolfe, former editor of Encyclopedia Virginia (2008–2019).