R.I.P. John Taylor, Virginia’s “Godfather of Liberty”

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Rare is the man whose devotion to liberty is such that he will never sacrifice his principles for personal gain.  Equally rare is the man who will fight his chosen battles to the end at the cost of making enemies all along the way.  Rarer still is the man who can do both with a combination of intellectual heft and sheer force of personality.

John Taylor, who left us on April 6, was one of those rare people.  Along with his beloved wife and fellow defender of liberty, Lynn, he founded The Virginia Institute for Public Policy in the late 20th century, and later Tertium Quids, from which he launched numerous battles for expanded – or renewed – liberty. OneGen was blessed to count him as a board member for the first six years of our existence.

John was recognized by many, but unrecognized by most because he never sought attention for himself.  But true greatness is not to be measured in a man’s fame so much as his character, and his sheer willingness to fight for causes he recognizes as greater than himself.

As his son Caleb Taylor wrote in tribute, John ”…fought for the freedoms that most Virginians take for granted. He was the man who stood in the gap against the corporatist excess that is so prevalent from both sides of the aisle in postmodern American politics.”

He advanced an extraordinarily ambitious agenda for reform in the areas of private property, the rule of law, and constitutionally limited government.  And John didn’t just fight the good fight, but often won.  He lived to see multiple items for which he battled become law.  He is, for example, credited with changing the trajectory of the Commonwealth-wide debate on eminent domain, and achieving a remarkable result – an amendment to the Virginia Constitution written by James Madison and George Mason.  

His words carried power – for example, he altered the political lexicon by referring to the BPOL tax in its original iteration – the War of 1812 tax – thereby bringing to light the time-tested reality that once the government institutes a tax, it never goes away.

He was always interested in the little guy, the powerless so often victimized by the heavy hand of power-hungry government.

Typical of this commitment was his championing of the cause of Martha Boneta, the small family farmer who became a cause celebre after she was fined thousands of dollars by County apparatchiks in the pockets of Boneta’s wealthy neighbors, for the crimes of hosting a birthday party without a permit, and advertising her homemade pumpkin products.

The efforts of John and like-minded warriors resulted in passage in 2014 of the Boneta Bill benefitting small family farmers.

His Tuesday Morning Group (TMG) meetings became a staple for many years in the grassroots free market community, attracting an impressive roster of speakers and attendees.  One rarely left those meetings without fresh inspiration.

But John was never as fond of winning an intellectual debate as he was in the hard stuff – actually advancing the ball in the ongoing battle to inscribe ever more liberty into the law.  If you wanted windy events designed for policy wonks, John was not your guy.  But if you were interested in specific legislation designed to fix a problem, John was definitely your guy.

He was a purist – a 100% guy. I can remember numerous times when he expressed bitter disappointment about a usually reliable free market advocate who voted the wrong way on a single obscure piece of legislation.  Few others seemed to notice, but he did.

But while John was a purist, he was hardly a dreamer. Quite the contrary.  He was a hard-bitten realist who well understood the need to exert pressure on intransigent politicians.  Indeed, he never underestimated the imperfections and frailties of the political class.  One of his favorite sayings came from his namesake, John Taylor of Caroline, the 18th & 19th century Virginia delegate and US Senator: Adherence to men, is often disloyalty to principles.

John Taylor never allowed us to forget the brilliance of the founders’ vision of a free America.  And what must be done to restore it.

It’s no wonder he was dubbed by one prominent grassroots activist as “Virginia’s Godfather of Liberty.”

The likes of John Taylor will not soon pass this way again.

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