||RETURN J. MEIGS, JR.
The fourth governor of Ohio was Return Jonathan Meigs, Jr. He was of English ancestry, being a descendant of Vincent Meigs, who emigrated from Weymouth, England, to Weymouth, Massachusetts, about 1634. His father, Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs, won distinction during the Revolution at the battle of Sag Harbor. The latter was appointed a surveyor for the Ohio Company of Associates and arrived at Marietta in 1788 with the earliest immigrants.
R. J. Meigs, Jr., was born at Middletown, Connecticut, on November 17, 1764. Like his predecessor, Governor Huntington, he graduated from Yale in 1785, studied law, and was admitted to the Connecticut bar. In 1788 he married Sophia Wright and the same year followed his father to Marietta. There he practiced law, kept a store, engaged in farming, and served in numerous public offices.
When the first court was organized at Marietta in 1788, he was appointed clerk. In 1794 he was made the first postmaster at Marietta, and in 1798 he was appointed a judge of the territorial court. The following year he was elected to the territorial legislature, and in 1803 he was appointed chief justice of the newly organized state supreme court. He resigned from the court in October of the same year he was appointed in order to accept appointment as commandant of the United States troops and militia in the St. Charles district of Louisiana Territory. The next year he was appointed a judge in Louisiana, but in 1807 he requested and received an appointment as judge in Michigan Territory. He resigned, however, before assuming the post to become a candidate for governor of Ohio.
He received a slight majority of the popular vote, but the general assembly declared him ineligible because of his residence outside the state during the four years preceding his election. The same legislature, however, appointed him to fill the vacancy in the United States Senate created by the resignation of John Smith. He was reelected to the senate for the next term but served only until May 1, 1810, when he resigned to run again for governor.
The issue of the campaign, as in 1808, was the power of the courts to declare legislative acts unconstitutional. Meigs, a conservative Re- publican, had the support of the Federalists and Quids and was elected. He was reelected for a second term in 1812 over Thomas Scott by a vote of 11,859 to 7,903. The result indicated an anti-Tammany trend in state politics.
It was during Meigs's first term that the general assembly located the permanent capital on the "high bank of the Scioto" opposite Franklinton and created a commission to plan for the construction of a statehouse and penitentiary. Meigs has the distinction of being the first governor on record to recommend the construction of a state prison. Although the power of the early governors of Ohio was strictly limited, Governor Meigs gave real leadership in the war of 1812 by recruiting 1,200 state militia in time for Hull's rendezvous at Dayton. At the time of Hull's surrender Meigs came in for severe criticism, but this was proved unjust and may have reacted in his favor in the 1812 campaign.
In recognition of his war services President Madison appointed him postmaster general in 1814 and he resigned the governorship. He served as postmaster general until forced to retire in 1823 because of ill health. The rapid growth of the postal system made its administration extremely difficult, and this gave rise to charges of mismanagement. Two con- gressional investigations were held, but the gravest charge which could be proved was inefficiency.
After resigning as postmaster general, Meigs returned to Marietta, where he died March 29, 1825. He is buried in Mound Cemetery, where his grave is marked by a monument bearing a long inscription reciting his public services and family devotion. He was survived by his wife and his only child, Mary.
Governor Meigs was striking in personal appearance. He was tall, erect, and well proportioned. He had a high forehead, an aquiline nose, and penetrating black eyes under dark arched brows. His expression was intelligent and benign in keeping with his character. In his various offices he proved himself a worthy public servant who made a notable con- tribution to the early history of his state and the nation. Fort Meigs and Meigs County, Ohio, were named in his honor. The Ohio Historical Society
S. WINIFRED SMITH
Ohio History Center 800 E. 17th Ave. Columbus, OH 43211 © 1996-2012 All Rights Reserved.