By Grant Pattison

Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on, The James Madison Institute’s website devoted to Florida’s history and culture.

There’s a certain aura about our country’s antebellum heroes that grants them an immortal presence. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, for example, is lionized by historians and biographers as “The Great Compromiser” and more than a dozen counties across the country bear his name, from “Clay County, Minnesota” to “Clay County, Florida.” William P. DuVal, on the other hand, has largely fallen into obscurity, a situation that Florida Southern College Professor James M. Denham seeks to correct in his latest book, “Florida Founder William P. DuVal: Frontier Bon Vivant.”

Over the course of two decades, Denham pieced together an unprecedented account of the life of DuVal, a man who was aptly described in this excerpt from the Florida Journal, dated 1841: “[His] appearance, whether waking or sleeping… indicates the cheerful, contented, happy man… Few are his superiors in the persuasive eloquence before a jury… He is the most popular man in the country… As a Statesman he is practical and shrewd – as a debater ready and strong.” Denham notes, however, that DuVal’s “sunny hues” would be taxed throughout his life as he orchestrated the development and statehood of the Florida Territory.

DuVal grew up in Richmond, Virginia, son of a Revolutionary War hero, Major William DuVal. For his service, Major DuVal received vast land grants in Kentucky, land that his sons would eventually call home and where a young William P. DuVal would make a name for himself as a brilliant lawyer. DuVal realized his political ambitions early, seizing the opportunity to run for one of Kentucky’s four congressional seats in 1812. DuVal won the race unopposed, but by this time war with England was all but certain. After the formal declaration of war, DuVal was appointed captain of the Eighth Regiment of Volunteers, also known as the “Yellow Jackets,” leading subsequent campaigns throughout Indiana to push back Indian forces supported by the British.

Eventually finding his way to Washington, D.C., DuVal began his first Congressional session May 24, 1813, along with more than 50 percent of the other first-time delegates. In his first session, DuVal used his charm to network with some of the nation’s greatest leaders, like the “brilliant, stern, taciturn, and inflexible South Carolinian” John C. Calhoun. The duo quickly made a name for themselves in the House, at one point opposing President James Madison and his proposed embargo against Britain. He took a stand even though the measure was popular among Kentuckians, including fellow native and political-heavyweight Henry Clay. DuVal and Calhoun would lose the embargo vote, but they did gain an important victory by pushing much-needed draft legislation through the House. The bill called on “80,000 men” to join the war effort, but before they could be commissioned, the fledgling Congress was granted a miracle.

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Grant Pattison is a graduate of Florida State University and former intern with The James Madison Institute.