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Nathaniel Macon (December 17, 1757 – June 29, 1837) was an American politician who represented North Carolina in both houses of Congress. He was the fifth Speaker of the House, serving from 1801 to 1807. During his political career he was spokesman for the Old Republican faction of the Democratic-Republican Party that wanted to strictly limit the United States federal government.

Nathaniel Macon
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
May 20, 1826 – December 2, 1827
Preceded by John Gaillard
Succeeded by Samuel Smith
5th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
December 7, 1801 – March 4, 1807
Preceded by Theodore Sedgwick
Succeeded by Joseph B. Varnum
United States Senator
from North Carolina
In office
December 5, 1815 – November 14, 1828
Preceded by Francis Locke Jr.
Succeeded by James Iredell Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 6th district
In office
March 4, 1803 – December 13, 1815
Preceded by William H. Hill
Succeeded by Weldon N. Edwards
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1793 – March 4, 1803
Preceded by William B. Grove
Succeeded by James Gillespie
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1791 – March 4, 1793
Preceded by Hugh Williamson
Succeeded by Matthew Locke
Personal details
Born (1757-12-17)December 17, 1757
Warrenton, North Carolina, British America
Died June 29, 1837(1837-06-29) (aged 79)
Warrenton, North Carolina, U.S.
Political party Anti-Administration (Before 1792)
Democratic-Republican (1792–1828)
Education Princeton University

Macon was born near Warrenton, North Carolina, and attended the College of New Jersey, serving briefly in the American Revolutionary War. He opposed ratification of the United States Constitution as well as the Federalist economic policies of Alexander Hamilton. He was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1791 to 1815 and a member of the United States Senate from 1815 to 1828. He also served as president of the 1835 North Carolina constitutional convention. In the 1824 presidential election, he received several electoral votes for vice president.

Along with fellow Old Republicans John Randolph and John Taylor, Macon frequently opposed various domestic policy proposals. He opposed the recharter of the United States Bank, uniformly voted against any form of protective tariff, and generally opposed the internal improvements promoted by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. An earnest defender of slavery, he voted against the Missouri Compromise. After leaving public office, he served as a trustee for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and protested President Andrew Jackson's threat to use force during the Nullification Crisis.


Early lifeEdit

Nathaniel Macon was the son of Maj. Gideon Macon (1715–1761) and Priscilla Jones (1718 – March 1802). Gideon Macon was born in Virginia, but moved to North Carolina in the early 1740s. He and Priscilla were married in North Carolina in 1744.

Gideon Macon built "Macon Manor" and became a prosperous tobacco planter. Nathaniel, born at Macon Manor, was the sixth child of Gideon and Priscilla, and he was only two when his father died in 1761. Upon his death, Gideon possessed 3,000 acres (12 km2) of land and 25–30 slaves.[1][2] Nathaniel was bequeathed two parcels of land and all of his father’s blacksmithing tools. Gideon also left his son three slaves: George, Robb, and Lucy.

In 1766, Priscilla (Jones) Macon, now the wife of Col. James Ransom,[1] arranged for the education of two of her sons, Nathaniel and John, along with the two sons of her neighbor Philemon Hawkins. For this purpose, they engaged Mr. Charles Pettigrew who later became the Principal of the Academy of Edenton in 1733. The two brothers and their neighbors, Joseph and Benjamin Hawkins, were instructed by him from 1766–1773.[3] Three of the four boys (Nathaniel among them) continued on to further their education at the "College of New Jersey" at Princeton.


Nathaniel’s father’s parents were John Macon (December 17, 1695 – March 31, 1752) and Ann Hunt (1697 – February 15, 1725), both of Virginia. Nathaniel’s paternal great-grandparents were Col. Gideon Macon (c. 1648 – February 1701 or 1702) and Martha Woodward (1665–1723). Gideon and Martha Woodward Macon were also the great-grandparents of Martha Dandridge who married George Washington and became First Lady of the United States of America. Therefore, Nathaniel Macon was the second cousin of Martha Dandridge Washington.

Nathaniel's mother's parents were Col. Edward Jones (1700 – October 7, 1751) and Abigail Shugan (1701 – October 16, 1791), also both originally from Virginia. They arrive in North Carolina in the 1730s. Edward was a colonel in the militia and the justices of the first court of the newly formed Granville County met in his house on September 3, 1746. Abigail was said to be the first white woman to cross Shocco Creek in North Carolina. She had later married Thomas Cook, and was known as "Grandmother Cook". The North Carolina Museum of History has a silver pipe, made by her grandson-in-law John Early, and engraved "A. Jones".[4]

Marriage and familyEdit

Nathaniel met Hannah Plummer in 1782 in Warrenton, North Carolina. Her parents were Virginians, as were Nathaniel's, and they were "well connected". Nathaniel was a tall man, over 6 feet (1.8 m), and considered attractive, but he was not the only man who was pursuing Miss Plummer. However, after a number of months of courtship, Hannah and Nathaniel decided to marry.

One story often told of Hannah's courtship involves Nathaniel challenging an unnamed potential suitor to a card game, with Hannah as the prize. The offer was accepted, and Nathaniel lost the card game. Upon losing, he turned to Hannah and exclaimed "notwithstanding I have lost you fairly—love is superior to honesty—I cannot give you up." This won her favor, with he and Hannah marrying soon afterwards.[5]

Their wedding took place on October 9, 1783, and their marriage was an affectionate one. They made their home on Hubquarter Creek on their plantation known as "Buck Spring Plantation". It was about 12 miles (19 km) north of Warrenton, near Roanoke, on land which Nathaniel had inherited from his father. His plantation grew to 2,000 acres, served by 70 slaves, with whom he often worked together in the fields, as well as serving as justice of the peace and a trustee of the Warrenton Academy. He raised thoroughbred race horses and had a pack of fox hounds, in 1819 hosting President Monroe for a hunt.

Gravesite of Sen. Nathaniel Macon at Buck Spring Plantation near Vaughan, North Carolina in March 2018. It remains covered in stones, per his request.

According to Bible records, the Macons had three children:

  • Betsy Kemp Macon (September 12, 1784 – November 10, 1829) married William John Martin (March 6, 1781 – December 11, 1828)
  • Plummer Macon (April 14, 1786 – July 26, 1792)
  • Seignora Macon (November 15, 1787 – August 16, 1825) married William Eaton

Nathaniel's wife, Hannah, died on July 11, 1790 when she was just 29 years old. Although Nathaniel was only 32 at the time of her death, he never remarried. It is said that he was devoted to his wife, and his long unmarried life following her early death would suggest that he was faithful to her memory. Her remains were buried not far from their home on the borders of their yard. Their only son died just over a year after Hannah and was buried beside her. When Nathaniel died July 29, 1837, at age 78, he was laid to rest next to his wife and son. As he requested, the site of their graves was covered with a great heap of flint stones so that the land would be left uncultivated; Nathaniel believed that no one would go to the trouble of removing all of the flint in order to use the land, thereby preserving the burial site.

Political lifeEdit

Macon opposed the Constitution and spent his four decades in Congress making sure the national government would remain weak. He was especially hostile to a navy, fearing the expense would create a financial interest. Macon detested Alexander Hamilton and the Federalist program. He bitterly opposed the Jay Treaty in 1795, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, and the movement for war with France in 1798–99. He supported Jefferson's purchase of Louisiana in 1803 and tried to get Jefferson to purchase Florida as well. He supported all of the foreign policies of Jefferson and Madison from 1801 to 1817, including the Louisiana Purchase. During the Jefferson administration, Macon was offered the post of postmaster general at least twice, but he declined. In 1808, Macon was considered a potential candidate for the vice presidency but did not run. In 1809 he chaired the foreign relations committee and reported successively the two bills that bear his name, although he was the author of neither and was definitely opposed to the second.

Macon Bill No. 1 attacked British shipping, but was defeated. In May 1810, Macon's Bill No. 2 was passed, giving the president power to suspend trade with either Great Britain or France if the other should cease to interfere with United States commerce. Macon supported Madison in declaring the War of 1812; he opposed conscription to build the army and opposed higher taxes. He opposed the recharter of the United States Bank in 1811 and in 1816, uniformly voted against any form of protective tariff; he did favor some road construction by the federal government, but generally opposed the policy of internal improvements promoted by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. In the Missouri debate of 1820 he voted against the compromise brokered by Clay. He was always an earnest defender of slavery. Macon was also considered a potential candidate for the presidency in 1824 but declined. Macon won 24 electoral votes for vice president as the stand-in running-mate for William Harris Crawford. Macon was asked to run for the vice presidency again in 1828 but declined.

Nathaniel Macon's home, in Warrenton, North Carolina (built c. 1781[6]). Photogr. by Thomas Waterman, 1940.[7]

Macon was for 37 years the most prominent nay-sayer in Congress—a "negative radical".[8] It was said of him that during the entire term of his service no other members cast so many negative votes. "Negation was his word and arm." He was rural and local-minded, and economy was the passion of his public career. "His economy of the public money was the severest, sharpest, most stringent and constant refusal of almost any grant that could be proposed." With him, "not only was ... parsimony the best subsidy—but ... the only one".[9]

Macon collaborated with John Randolph and John Taylor as part of the Quids or Old Republicans, a faction of the Jeffersonian Republican Party that rejected the Tariff Bill, growth in power of the United States Supreme Court, and other aspects of Neo-Federalism.

After retiring from the Senate, he served as President of the 1835 convention to amend and reform the North Carolina Constitution. The resulting amendments to the state constitution mostly related to political reform and greater democracy (although free African-Americans were disfranchised). He was largely opposed to the amendments that were adopted.[10][11][12]

Among his other public acts in retirement were writing a letter in 1832 to President Jackson protesting the threatened use of military action to quell the South Carolina nullifiers, and his service as a trustee of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Places named after Nathaniel MaconEdit


  1. ^ a b Dodd (1903), p. 3
  2. ^
  3. ^ Dodd (1903), p. 4
  4. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  5. ^ Cotten (1840) p. 55-56
  6. ^ Wellman 2002, p. 58-59
  7. ^ "Nathaniel Macon House, Warrenton, Warren County, NC". Library of Congress. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 
  8. ^ Hamilton 1933.
  9. ^ C. J. Ingersoll, quoted Hamilton 1933.
  10. ^ North Carolina History Project
  11. ^ NCpedia entry on Convention of 1835
  12. ^ NCpedia entry on Macon

External linksEdit

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Hugh Williamson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Matthew Locke
Preceded by
William B. Grove
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
James Gillespie
Preceded by
William H. Hill
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 6th congressional district

Succeeded by
Weldon N. Edwards
Honorary titles
Preceded by
George Thatcher
Dean of the House
Served alongside: William Barry Grove, Andrew Gregg
Succeeded by
Richard Stanford
Political offices
Preceded by
Theodore Sedgwick
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Joseph B. Varnum
Preceded by
John Gaillard
President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate
Succeeded by
Samuel Smith
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Francis Locke Jr.
United States Senator (Class 3) from North Carolina
Served alongside: James Turner, Montfort Stokes, John Branch
Succeeded by
James Iredell Jr.
Preceded by
James Barbour
Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Succeeded by
James Brown
Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Succeeded by
Nathan Sanford
Preceded by
Nathan Sanford
Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Succeeded by
Littleton Tazewell
Party political offices
Preceded by
Albert Gallatin
Democratic-Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States¹
Served alongside: John C. Calhoun, Nathan Sanford
Position abolished
Notes and references
1. The Democratic-Republican Party split in the 1824 election, fielding four separate candidates.