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William Cabell Rives

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Cabell Rives
Member of the Confederate Congress from Virginia's 7th district
In office
May 2, 1864 – March 2, 1865
Preceded byJames Philemon Holcombe
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Delegate from Virginia to the Provisional Confederate Congress
In office
February 4, 1861 – February 17, 1862
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
United States Minister to France
In office
Appointed byZachary Taylor
Preceded byRichard Rush
Succeeded byJohn Y. Mason
In office
Appointed byAndrew Jackson
Preceded byJames Brown
Succeeded byLevett Harris
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
January 18, 1841 – March 3, 1845
Preceded byHimself
Succeeded byIsaac S. Pennybacker
In office
March 4, 1836 – March 3, 1839
Preceded byJohn Tyler, Jr.
Succeeded byHimself
In office
December 10, 1832 – February 22, 1834
Preceded byLittleton W. Tazewell
Succeeded byBenjamin W. Leigh
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 10th district
In office
March 4, 1823 – 1829
Preceded byThomas L. Moore
Succeeded byWilliam F. Gordon
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Albemarle County
In office
Alongside William F. Gordon
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Nelson County
In office
Alongside Thomas McCleland, John Cobbs and Joseph Shelton
Personal details
Born(1793-05-04)May 4, 1793
Amherst County, Virginia
DiedApril 25, 1868(1868-04-25) (aged 74)
Charlottesville, Virginia
Political partyDemocratic,

William Cabell Rives (May 4, 1793 – April 25, 1868) was an American lawyer, politician and diplomat from Albemarle County, Virginia. He represented Virginia as a Jackson Democrat in both the U.S. House and Senate. He served two terms as U.S. Minister to France. As minister during the Andrew Jackson administration, he negotiated a treaty whereby the French agreed to pay the U.S. for spoliation claims from the Napoleonic Wars. During the American Civil War, Rives served as a Delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress and as a member of the Confederate House of Representatives.

Early life

Rives was born at "Union Hill", the estate of his grandfather, Col. William Cabell, in Amherst County, Virginia. It was located on the James River in what is now Nelson County. His parents were Robert (1764–1845) and Margaret Cabell (c. 1770–1815) Rives, and his brothers included Alexander Rives. He was a great-uncle of Alexander Brown, author of books on the early history of Virginia and a family history, The Cabells and their Kin.[1]

After private tutoring, Rives attended Hampden-Sydney College, followed by the College of William and Mary.

He left Williamsburg to study law with Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, and in 1814 was admitted to the bar at Richmond. Rives began his law practice in Nelson County, but after marrying Judith Page Walker (1802–1882), the daughter of Francis Walker, in 1819, he moved to her estate Castle Hill, near Cobham in Albemarle County. This was his home for the remainder of his life.

Political career

William Cabell Rives
William Cabell Rives

Rives's political career began by serving in the state constitutional convention of 1816. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1817–19 for Nelson County, and again in 1822 for Albemarle County. In 1823 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives and served from 1823 to 1829. In 1829 he was appointed by Andrew Jackson as Minister to France.

When Rives took office, compensation demands for the capture of American ships and sailors, dating from the Napoleonic era, caused strained relations between the American and French governments. The French Navy had captured and sent American ships to Spanish ports while holding their crews captive forcing them to labor without any charges or judicial rules. According to Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, relations between the U.S. and France were "hopeless."[2] Yet, Rives was able to convince the French government to sign a reparations treaty on July 4, 1831, that would award the U.S. ₣ 25,000,000 ($5,000,000) in damages.[3] The French government became delinquent in payment due to internal financial and political difficulties, but after firm insistence from the United States, payments were finally made in February 1836.[2]

Rives was presented as a candidate for the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1835, but the nomination went to Richard M. Johnson, in spite of having been presidential nominee Martin Van Buren's preferred candidate.

On his return from France, Rives was elected to the United States Senate. He would serve three terms, the last as a member of the Whig Party. He served on the Board of Visitors for the University of Virginia from 1834 to 1849, and was for many years the president of the Virginia Historical Society. In 1849, Rives was once more appointed Minister to France. He served until 1853. In 1860, he endorsed the call for a Constitutional Union Party Convention, where he received most of Virginia's first ballot votes for President.

Rives was a delegate to the February 1861 Peace Conference in Washington, which sought to prevent the American Civil War. He spoke out against secession but was loyal to Virginia when it seceded.[4] He served in the Provisional Confederate Congress from 1861 to 1862 and the Second Confederate Congress from 1864 to 1865.

Later life

Rives wrote several books, the most important being his Life and Times of James Madison (3 vols., Boston, 1859–68).[4] He died at Castle Hill in 1868 and was buried in the family cemetery.


His son, Alfred Landon Rives, was a prominent engineer, and his granddaughter Amélie Rives was a novelist, best known for The Quick or the Dead? (1888).[4]

His second son William Cabell Rives, Jr., (1825–1890) owned Cobham Park Estate.[5] It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.[6] His son, also William Cabell Rives (1850–1938) donated the Peace Cross and supported building the Washington National Cathedral.[7]


Rives is the namesake of the town of Rivesville, West Virginia.[8]


  1. ^ Brown, Alexander (1939). The Cabells and Their Kin. Richmond: Garrett and Massie.
  2. ^ a b Latner 2002, pp. 119–20.
  3. ^ Cunningham, Hugo S. (1999). "Gold and Silver Standards France". Archived from the original on August 18, 2014. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Rives, William Cabell" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 23 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 386–387.
  5. ^ Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (December 1973). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Cobham Park" (PDF).
  6. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  7. ^ inscription to the right of the Great Choir.
  8. ^ Kenny, Hamill (1945). West Virginia Place Names: Their Origin and Meaning, Including the Nomenclature of the Streams and Mountains. Piedmont, WV: The Place Name Press. p. 533.


External links

Further reading

  • McCoy, Drew R. The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 323–369.
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Thomas L. Moore
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 10th congressional district

Succeeded by
William F. Gordon
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Littleton W. Tazewell
 U.S. senator (Class 2) from Virginia
Served alongside: John Tyler, Jr.
Succeeded by
Benjamin W. Leigh
Preceded by
John Tyler, Jr.
 U.S. senator (Class 1) from Virginia
Served alongside: Richard E. Parker, William H. Roane
Succeeded by
Preceded by
 U.S. senator (Class 1) from Virginia
Served alongside: William S. Archer
Succeeded by
Isaac S. Pennybacker
Political offices
Preceded by
New creation
Delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress from Virginia
April 29, 1861 – February 16, 1862
Succeeded by
Office abolished
Confederate States House of Representatives
Preceded by
James P. Holcombe
Member of the C.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 7th congressional district

February 17, 1864 – March 7, 1865
Succeeded by
Office abolished
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
James Brown
Minister to France
Succeeded by
Edward Livingston
Preceded by
Richard Rush
Minister to France
Succeeded by
John Y. Mason
This page was last edited on 5 September 2020, at 11:24
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