Return J. Meigs, Jr

From Ohio History Central
Meigs, Return J. (1).jpg
Governors portrait of Return Jonathan Meigs that hangs in the Ohio Statehouse. He was elected United States Senator from Ohio in 1808 to fill a vacant seat. In 1810 he was elected the fourth governor of Ohio. Meigs served two, two-year terms as governor and left office in 1814.

Return Jonathan Meigs, Jr. was a legislator, jurist and the fourth Governor of Ohio.

Meigs was born in Middletown, Connecticut, on November 17, 1765. He attended Yale College. After graduating in 1785, he studied law and joined the Connecticut bar. In 1788, Meigs moved to Marietta, Ohio, as one of the town's first residents.

Thanks to his legal background, Meigs was appointed to a number of governmental positions. The first office he held was as a judge in the Northwest Territory. He assisted Winthrop Sargent and John Gilman in amending Maxwell's Code in 1798. In 1799, he served in the territorial legislature. He actively supported Ohio statehood, and in 1803, he became the first chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. He resigned his seat in October 1804 and accepted a position as the commander of American soldiers and militia forces in the St. Charles District of the Louisiana Territory. He also served as a judge in the Louisiana Territory. Meigs returned to Ohio in 1806 but he soon was appointed to the United States District Court of the Michigan Territory.

Meigs returned to Ohio in 1808 and ran for governor. Politically Meigs had supported the Federalist Party for some time, but he changed his allegiance to the Democratic-Republican Party. He may have done this because most Ohioans during the early 1800s favored the Democratic-Republicans. Meigs still favored many Federalist policies. He favored the funding of internal improvements and a more diversified economy. Meigs defeated Nathaniel Massie in the race for governor in 1808. However, the state legislature declared that he was not eligible for the office because he had not lived long enough in Ohio. Meigs then was appointed to one of Ohio's United States Senate seats after John Smith resigned his position. In 1809, Meigs won the senate seat, but he resigned the next year to run for governor.

In 1810, Meigs ran against Thomas Worthington. People who had migrated to Ohio from Virginia, Kentucky, and other Southern states favored Worthington, while those from Northeastern states voted for Meigs. Meigs won the election. As governor, Meigs played a major role in the War of 1812. In 1812, he recruited more than one thousand men to attack the British in Canada as well as the villages of Native Americans loyal to Britain. He placed William Hull in command of the soldiers.

In August 1812, Hull surrendered his entire army of 2,500 men to the British. Despite this setback, Ohio voters reelected Meigs in 1812. He continued to provide the armies of the United States with men and supplies. Fort Meigs near Maumee, Ohio was named for him during the War of 1812.

In March 1814, President James Madison selected Meigs to be the Postmaster General of the United States. Meigs resigned as Ohio's governor and accepted the appointment. During his tenure, he almost doubled the number of post offices in the United States. Due to this tremendous growth, the Postal Service experienced some difficult financial times. On two separate occasions, Congress investigated Meigs. The Congress exonerated him both times. He retired in 1823 due to poor health. He returned to Marietta and died there on March 29, 1824.

Fort Meigs has been rebuilt on its original site by the Ohio History Connection. It is the largest restored fort of its kind in the eastern United States.

See Also


  1. Brown, Jeffrey P. "The Ohio Federalists, 1803-1815." Journal of the Early Republic 2 (1982): 261-282.  
  2. Cayton, Andrew R.L. Frontier Republic: Ideology and Politics in the Ohio Country, 1780-1825. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1986.  
  3. Fess, Simeon D., ed. Ohio: A Four-Volume Reference Library on the History of a Great State. Chicago, IL: Lewis Publishing Company, 1937 
  4. Sears, Alfred Byron. Thomas Worthington: Father of Ohio Statehood. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 1958.  
  5. Utter, William T. The Frontier State: 1803-1825. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1942.