Return Jonathan Meigs, 2nd
Return Jonathan Meigs, 2nd (#191) was born on November 17, 1764 to Return Jonathan (#90) and Joanna (Winborn) in Middletown, Connecticut. Meigs was well educated, being sent to Yale after Public school. He graduated in 1785 at the age of twenty, then studied law and was admitted to the Connecticut Bar.
He followed his father to Ohio in 1789, "but seems not to have stayed very long, for in mid-February, 1790, he was back in Middletown and about to return to Marietta, Ohio." 1 In Marietta he practiced law, kept a store, and engaged in farming. Late in the afternoon on a beautiful June day, in 1792, Meigs and some others were "attacked between Fort Harmar and Campus Martius. They had been down the Muskingum in a canoe, to work upon a lot which Mr. Meigs owned, and when returning to their boat, after the close of working hours, were suddenly confronted in a narrow pathway by two Indians. One of them fired at Meigs, who chanced to move aside just in time to dodge the shot, and it took effect in the shoulder of Joseph Synonds, who accompanied him. Symonds, although wounded quite severely, plunged into the Muskingum and soon swam to a safe distance. A Negro boy, who was the third person in the party, fled along the path toward the tree at the roots of which the canoe was tied, closely followed by the same Indian who had pursued Symonds. The boy made his way into the water, but, being unable to swim, was quickly overtaken. His captor tried to drag him ashore, evidently intending to make him a prisoner; but, as the terrified boy resisted, he struck him with his tomahawk, tore a scalp lock from his head and left him. With blood streaming from his head, the poor black boy sank down in the water, and, when reached a minute or two later...was dead. Meigs, upon the flight of his companions, faced the remaining Indian, who was the one who had fired upon him, and endeavored to intimidate him by presenting his gun and threatening to fire. It happened that the gun had been discharged a few minutes before meeting the Indians, and they were doubtless aware of it, for the Indian who now confronted Meigs only laughed at the weapon which was intended to awe him, and advanced still closer toward it. Meigs recognized the savage as one who had, in 1790, accompanied him through the wilderness to Detroit, and exclaimed, with some astonishment, 'Why! Charley, is that you?' but at the same instant, seeing that his foe was not to be mollified by the recollection of former friendship, clubbed his gun and rushed upon him, striking a powerful blow which the Indian caught upon his musket. As Meigs fled, his old time friendly guide dropped his gun and pursued him, tomahawk in hand. A short, swift race brought them to a small run which Meigs cleared at a single bound, while his pursuer, seeing that he was gaining no ground, and probably fearing that he might be taken by the soldiers who had now come out from the garrison, stopped and threw his hatchet at his intended victim. It missed its mark, and, with a loud yell, expressing his rage, the Indian retreated." 2
Meigs was made first Postmaster of Marietta in November of 1794 3 and in 1798 appointed a Judge of the Territorial Court. With the organization of the Territorial Legislature in 1799, he was elected to represent the Marietta region. Meigs supported statehood, and, upon its creation, was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. 4 In October, 1804, he resigned this position to become commandant of U. S. troops in the St. Charles district of the Louisiana Territory. He attained the rank of Brevet Colonel and retain the command until 1806. In 1805 he was chosen as judge of the Supreme Court of Louisiana and then in 1807, Judge of the United States District Court for the Michigan Territory. He resign when asked to run for Governor of Ohio.
During the early 1800's, the political environment of Ohio had become bitter. The Federalists and Republicans only needed some definite issue to cause open conflict. The occasion came in 1805 when the legislature passed an act that expanded the jurisdiction of the Justices of the Peace to include civil cases that involved no more than $50.00. When several county Judges declared this act unconstitutional, the Republicans promptly introduced a resolution in the legislature that denied the right of the courts to pass upon legislative acts. It did not carry. But, the conflict did carry into the elections of 1806, each party seeking to gain power to insure that there interpretation of the courts power and role would be put forth. In 1807, when an election became necessary for a successor to Governor Tiffin, two Republican candidates were in the running. Nathaniel Massie was the choice of Republicans, and Meigs was the candidate supported by the Federalists. Meigs was, although a Republican, rather conservative and often more closely aligned with the Federalists. The main issue centered around the question noted above, judicial review. 5 Meigs was elected in a heated campaign (5,550 votes to Massie's 4,757), but the election was contested and Meigs was declared to be constitutionally ineligible because of his prolonged absence from the state. This action merely increased the conflict between parties.
John Smith resigned his seat in the U. S. Senate and Meigs was elected to fill it. He then was reelected for another term.
"The election in October, 1810, was to be another round in the struggle between the Anti-court Republicans and the Quid-Federalist combination. The conservatives were determined to elect a governor and if possible to obtain control of the General Assembly in order to repeal both the sweeping resolution and the commissioning act based on it. The contest was bitterly fought, for jobs as well as principles were at stake. Thomas Worthington was early announced as the candidate of the liberal Republicans. Return Jonathan Meigs...was prevailed upon to become a candidate in opposition. As soon as the candidates were definitely known, the newspapers, particularly those in Chillicothe, took up the cudgels in behalf of their favorites and by August, 1810, the charges and countercharges were appearing with typical western intemperance.. The Supporter plainly favored Meigs in opposition to Worthington... The Scioto Gazette.. became the mouthpiece for Worthington. The Independent Republican, another Chillicothe paper, supported Meigs. The Meigs papers repeatedly referred to Worthington as the 'Idol of Tammany' and made the most out of his connection with the society. The people were warned that this secret organization had runners between the principal towns of the state who were furthering the interest of their candidate... The Scioto Gazette led the attack on Meigs. He was charged with favoring 'judicial usurpation' and with having had too many favors from the public already. The Supporter parried these charges and accused the 'Tammany Gazette' with inconsistency, for it could be shown that in other years The Gazette had supported Meigs for office, and that on the charge of the multiplicity of offices, Worthington was fully as guilty as Meigs. As the election approached, Meigs' strength seemed to increase. Jeremiah Morrow, Ohio's perennial congressman, reported to his friend Worthington: 'The support to the pretensions of Judge Meigs in the western part of the state has far exceeded my expectation, yet I am sanguine in the expectation that you will have a very respectable majority in all the western counties except Hamilton and Montgomery...'" 6
On October 9, 1810, Meigs was again elected governor by a good majority. It was during Meigs' administration that a site on the lands of John and Peter Sell, on the west bank of the Scioto River, 4.75 miles west of Worthington, was selected as the permanent seat of Ohio's government.
When the War of 1812 started, Governor Meigs, with promptness, energy and the efficiency which he always displayed, recruited 1500 state militia for delivery to Brigadier General Hull at Dayton. The following is an account of the proceedings published in "Trump of Fame," Volume One, Warden, Ohio, June 24, 1812.
"CAMP MEIGS, WESTERN BANK OF MAD RIVER, MAY 16, 1812.
"The exertions used by Governor Meigs in collecting the corps now assembled in this camp, gives him a just claim to the undivided applause of every man attached to the interest or honor of his country. With unprecedented celerity, he has collected from almost every part of this state, fifteen hundred men, and organized them into three regiments. At first unfurnished with money, and merely holding the executive requisition, he proceeded to arrange and obey the call. The reiterated injuries and insults which our country has received, had awakened the feelings and aroused the indignation of the great body of the people. The public pulse beat high. The spirit of our citizens was raised.
"It did not evaporate in empty declamation, or in idle parade. At the first signal, the young men of our state, men of character and standing, prepared to abandon the security and comforts of domestic life, and to encounter the dangers, privations, and difficulties of an Indian expedition. They prepared to maintain, by arms, the fair inheritance transmitted to them, and to demonstrate that the interminable forests of the west could neither weaken their attachment, nor divide their affection from the government of their country. The duties of the executive then became arduous and important. On him developed the duty of organizing all, of providing for all. To him every application was made. The arms and accouterments, the camp equipage and stores were all to be provided. The public arsenal at Newport was almost empty. There were no rifles, no knapsacks, no blankets, no tents, no bullets nor molds. In fact, nothing but arms and cartridge boxes, many of which were good for nothing. In this situation the Governor made every exertion, and eventually succeeded in placing the detachment in a situation for marching.
"Brigadier General Hull, had been selected by the general government to conduct the expedition. He arrived in Dayton a few days since, and yesterday Governor Meigs surrendered to him the command. The regiments of Cols. Findlay and Cass, were encamped in a prairie three miles from Dayton.
"The corps, after a review of parade, formed a close column, when Governor Meigs addressed them as follows:
"Officers and soldiers of the First Army of Ohio;
"Collected suddenly and rapidly from various parts of the state, you have manifested a zeal worthy the character of a free people. You will soon be completely organized, and I trust that harmony will forever continue. Already you have made considerable advances in discipline, you will improve; it is the soul of discipline; order, safety, and victory are its results. Honour consists in an honourable discharge of duty, whatever may be the rank. Respect each other according to your stations. Officers, be to your men as parents to children. Men, regard your officers as fathers. You will soon march. My heart will always be with you. The prayers of all citizens will attend you.
"By direction of the President of the United States, I have so far organized and marched you; in his name I thank you.
"I feel a great satisfaction in knowing that you are to be placed under the command and guidance of Brigadier General Hull, a distinguished officer, of revolutionary experience; who being superintendent of Indian affairs, and Chief Magistrate of the Territory to which you are destined, was happily selected for the service. His influence and authority there, will enable him to provide for your convenience. I pray that each nay so conduct, that when you return to the embraces of your friends and relations, they may be proud to salute you, as one who had, honourably, belonged to the First Army of Ohio.
"The Second Army is organizing, will follow if necessary. Our frontier must be protected from savage barbarity, our rights maintained and our wrongs avenged.
"Go then. Fear not! Be strong, quit yourselves like men, and may the GOD of ARMIES be your shield and buckler." 7
During March, 1814, as recognition of his vigorous support of the war, Meigs was appointed Postmaster-general by President Madison and reappointed by President Monroe.
In 1812, the United States had 2,610 post offices and 39,378 miles of post roads. Eight years later, the number of post offices had increased to 4,500 and there were 72,491 miles of post roads. In 1819 alone, Meigs installed new mail service on more than 8,000 miles of post roads, and the next year he established 500 post offices. Because of the rapid expansion, he experienced difficulty in maintaining the Post Office department on a self-supporting basis. Occasional deficits and alleged irregularities in the awarding of mail-contracts led to an investigation of the affairs of the department by Congress in 1816 and again in 1821. These investigations of Meigs turned up nothing startling. Members of Congress found no corruption, but they did find inefficiency and carelessness in handling postal finances. The Post Office handled all its own finances, kept its own accounts, wrote its own drafts, and, except for the salaries of the postmaster general and his assistants, paid all expenses from its own revenues. By our current standards, these records were a mess.
Meigs served as Postmaster-general until 1823, when ill health forced him to retire. President Monroe observed at the time of his resignation: "I have never had but one opinion towards you since the commencement of the war, when you were governor, and that was friendship. I believe you to be an honest man and a friend of your country. I wish you to retain your office as long as I remain President. If you resign it must be from considerations purely your own." 8
He returned to Marietta, Ohio, where he died on March 29, 1825. He is buried in Mound Cemetery. He married Sophia Wright in 1788 and they had only one child.
Birth Death No. 366 Mary Sophia 01-01-1793 02-04-1863 FOOTNOTES
1. B. V. Meigs, "One Man In His Time; Return Jonathan Meigs," page 186.
1. B. V. Meigs, "One Man In His Time; Return Jonathan Meigs," page 186.
1. B. V. Meigs, "One Man In His Time; Return Jonathan Meigs," page 186.
Copyright (c) by Rick Meigs