Thomas Jefferson’s teacher and mentor, George Wythe, died in 1806. Wythe was one of our nation’s founding fathers, having signed the Declaration of Independence and having been instrumental—as a lawyer, law professor and judge—in bringing the rule of law to the new republic. His students included Chief Justice John Marshall, James Madison, John Tyler and James Monroe. His friends included George Washington and John Adams. He was called “the Cato of his Country” and “one of the greatest men of the age.”
He was almost certainly murdered by his grandnephew, who was a beneficiary of his will. But there was a problem. The eyewitness was a freed former black slave, and the laws of Virginia precluded any black witness, freed or slave, from testifying against white defendants.
The trial was a sensation, perhaps the most dramatic criminal trial in the young country until the prosecution of Aaron Burr. The lawyers were among the most celebrated in early American history, including Edmund Randolph and William Wirt. The medical experts, who performed the primitive autopsies, were also among the most distinguished in a country with few experienced doctors. Everybody, from President Jefferson on down, knew and loved George Wythe and followed the events in the newspapers.
This edition of the book contains an exclusive introduction by Prof. Alan Dershowitz.