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Fundamental Documents of Ohio







1830- 1832

Ohio's eleventh governor was Duncan McArthur. His parents, John and Margaret Campbell MacArthur (Governor McArthur spelled the name without the "a") were both descendants of proud Scottish High- land clans. John MacArthur emigrated to America sometime after 1746 and settled in Dutchess County, New York, where on January 14, 1772, his son Duncan was born. After the death of Duncan's mother when he was three, his father remarried and, in 1780, moved his family to western Pennsylvania. He was extremely poor, and Duncan, as the oldest of several children, had to work hard at home, and while still quite young was hired out on neighboring farms. This fact and the absence of schools on the frontier deprived the boy of formal schooling. He learned, however, to read and write by the age of twelve or thirteen.

As a youth his most exciting adventures were frequent crossings of the hazardous Allegheny trails with pack trains bringing supplies to the new settlements. At the age of eighteen he enrolled for service against the Indians and was in Harmar's disastrous campaign and other expeditions. During the winter of 1792 he was engaged as a salt boiler at Maysville, Kentucky. In the fall of that year he was employed by Nathaniel Massie as a chain carrier in a surveying tour into the Scioto Valley as far north as present Chillicothe, and thus became familiar with a region which he was later to help develop.

For the next two years McArthur was employed by the state of Kentucky as an Indian ranger to patrol the Ohio River. He was fitted for this occupation by physical courage, robust health, and fleetness of foot. In 1795 he was employed by Massie as an assistant surveyor, and early the next year assisted him in plotting the town of Chillicothe. In 1797 McArthur took his wife, the former Nancy McDonald, to his cabin near the newly established town.

Faced with the responsibility of providing for a growing family, McArthur began buying land for himself and locating land warrants for others. He was good judge of land and a shrewd buyer, so that by 1804 he had become one of the wealthiest landholders in the Scioto Valley and eventually was reputed to be one of the richest men in the state. In 1804-5 he built a fine mansion overlooking the Scioto Valley northwest of Chillicothe which came to be known as "Fruit Hill."

Duncan McArthur had a distinguished military career. In 1805 he was elected a colonel of the militia and three years later was com- missioned a major general. He commanded one of the three militia regiments under General Hull in 1812. His troops were included in Hull's surrender, and he was placed on parole. Although McArthur had been elected congressman in 1812 by an almost unanimous vote, he preferred military duty and did not qualify when the time to take office came. On April 5, 1813, after his release from parole, he resigned from the militia and accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the regular army, serving under General Harrison in several important posts. After the latter's resignation in May 1814 McArthur was placed in command of the army in the Northwest.

Before and after the war McArthur was a member of several com- missions for treating with the Indians. With Governor Lewis Cass of Michigan Territory he negotiated the Treaty of the Rapids of the Miami of Lake Erie (September 29, 1817), by which nearly all the remaining Indian lands in Ohio were ceded to the United States.

On the frontier, men of McArthur's prowess and business acumen were generally respected and often elected to places of public trust. McArthur's first important public office was that of representative from Ross County in the Ohio General Assembly, to which he was elected in the fall of 1804. He served one term in the house (1804-5) and was elected in 1805 for the first of four consecutive two-year terms in the state senate (1805-13). He subsequently served in six more assemblies, three in the lower house (1815-16, 1817-18, 1826-27) and three in the upper chamber (1821-23, 1829-30), thus serving in a total of fifteen general assemblies. He was speaker in one session in the house (1817-18) and one in the senate (1809-10).

As a member of the general assembly McArthur varied from liberal to conservative. He acted with the liberal Republicans to impeach supreme court judges George Tod and Calvin Pease, but in opposition to the liberals voted for the removal of the capital to Columbus. He joined the Quid-Federalists in opposing the Tammany societies. A director of the United States Bank at Chillicothe, he bitterly opposed the act to impose a state tax on the branch banks, a course which made him very unpopular with the liberals. He was elected to congress in 1823 as an advocate of the federal bank. In congress he supported also Henry Clay's "American System" for internal improvements and a high tariff. He served one term without special distinction and was defeated for reelection in 1825.

In 1830, after resigning his seat in the state senate, McArthur became a candidate for governor on the National Republican ticket. In an indifferent contest he won over Robert Lucas by a narrow margin of 482 votes. (The vote was McArthur, 49,668; Lucas, 49,186; scattered, 226.)His administration was not marked by events of great importance, but progress was made in revising and recodifying old laws and in amending the tax laws to extend their coverage. Work on the canals progressed, the National Road was completed to Zanesville, and the assembly memorialized congress for another national road from Zanes- ville through Somerset, Lancaster, and Chillicothe to Maysville, Kentucky. Congress passed an act authorizing the road, but the bill was vetoed by President Jackson.

McArthur decided not to run in 1832 for a second term as governor. Instead, he became a candidate again for congress from the seventh district. He was defeated, however, by William Allen, the Jackson party candidate, who won the election by a single vote.

In December 1829, while serving his last term as state senator, McArthur suffered an injury which impaired his health for the remainder of his life. After retirement from public life he was occupied with his agricultural and business interests, but his health failed rapidly and he died in Chillicothe on April 29, 1839. He was survived by five of his eleven children. The Ohio Historical Society


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