Nathaniel Macon was a spokesman for the Quids, the Old Republican faction of the Jeffersonian-Republican Party, that wanted to strictly limit the United States federal government. Macon was born on December 17, 1757, near Warrenton, North Carolina, and attended the College of New Jersey and served briefly in the Revolutionary War. He was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1791 to 1815; from 1801 to 1807 he was Speaker of the House. He served in the Senate from December, 1815, until his resignation in 1828. He was president of the North Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1835.
Portrait of Nathaniel Macon, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, circa 1820, Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
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. 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 second charter 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.
Macon was for 37 years the most prominent nay-sayer in Congress—a “negative radical”. It was said of him that during the entire term of his service no ten other members cast so many negative votes. “Negation was his ward 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”.
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.
Nathaniel Macon was the son of Maj. Gideon Hunt Macon (1715–1761) and Priscilla Jones (1718 – March 1802). Gideon Hunt 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 Hunt 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 of land and 25–30 slaves. 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 Macon 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. Three of the four boys (Nathaniel counted among them) continued on to further their education at the “College of New Jersey” at Princeton.
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, 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.
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”. It was about 12 miles north of Warrenton, near Roanoke, on land which Nathaniel had inherited from his father.
Macon’s “Buck Spring” home near Warrenton, North Carolina.
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 – ?)
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 because Nathaniel believed that no one would want to go to the trouble of removing all of the flint in order to use the land, thereby preserving the burial site.
Stones heaped on Nathaniel Macon’s grave at Buck Spring Cemetery in Warren County, North Carolina.
Nathaniel Macon is the great-grandfather of Congressman Charles Martin, the uncle of Willis Alston and Micajah Thomas Hawkins, great-uncle of Matt Whitaker Ransom, Robert Ransom and Thomas Jefferson Green, great-great-uncle of Wharton Jackson Green, John Pegram, William Ransom Johnson Pegram, and David Harrison Macon, great-great-great-great-uncle of Claude Kitchin and William Walton Kitchin, and the great-great-great-great-great-uncle of Alvin Paul Kitchin.
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 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.
- Wellman 2002, pp. 58-59
- Hamilton 1933
- C. J. Ingersoll, quoted Hamilton 1933
- Dodd, William Edward (1903). The Life of Nathaniel Macon. Edwards & Broughton. OCLC 10971454., pp. 1–4; 41-44
- William E. Dodd, “The Place of Nathaniel Macon in Southern History,” American Historical Review, Vol. 7, No. 4 (July, 1902), pp. 663-675 online at JSTOR
- Hamilton, J. G. de Roulhac. “Macon, Nathaniel” in Dictionary of American Biography, Volume 6 (1933)
- Wellman, Manly Wade (2002). The County of Warren, North Carolina, 1586-1917. University of North Carolina Press ISBN 978-0-8078-5472-3