Nathaniel Macon

Nathaniel Macon (1758-1837), American statesman, was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a senator.

Nathaniel Macon was born in Edgecombe (now Warren) County, N.C., on Dec. 17, 1758. In 1774 he entered the College of New Jersey at Princeton and remained until 1776, when he joined the New Jersey militia. He returned to North Carolina late in 1777 to study law but rejoined the army in 1780 after the British invasion of the South. He served in the North Carolina Senate from 1781 to 1786. He joined the Antifederalists in their opposition to the Constitution in 1788. After serving in the North Carolina Legislature in 1790, Macon was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1791. He served until 1815, when he was elected to the Senate, where he remained until 1828.

From 1791 to 1801 Macon vigorously opposed Federalist policies, especially Alexander Hamilton's financial program, Jay's Treaty, the quasi-war with France, and the Alien and Sedition Acts. In general he opposed any broad constitutional interpretation that expanded Federal power, whether it supported Federalist policies in the 1790s or Democratic-Republican policies after 1801. In opposing the restrictive Sedition Law of 1798, he argued that "the people suspect something is not right when free discussion is feared by government."

When Thomas Jefferson was elected president in 1800 (carrying Congress with him), Macon was chosen Speaker of the House. He held the post until 1807. As Speaker, he appointed all of the House's standing committees and played a notable role in fixing Republican leadership in the House. However, when John Randolph, Macon's appointee as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, broke openly with Jefferson's administration, Macon's influence slipped, and he was removed as Speaker.

This estrangement from the President was temporary, and Macon remained influential. As chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, he supported Jefferson's policy of commercial coercion as an alternative to war with Great Britain or France. Although he finally favored the War of 1812, he opposed taxation to support it or naval construction and manpower conscription to prosecute it.

Macon fought attempts to recharter the Bank of the United States in 1811 and 1816 and consistently opposed protective tariffs and internal improvements. An ardent defender of slavery, he opposed the Missouri Compromise because "to compromise is to acknowledge the right of Congress to interfere" with states' rights. When he reached the age of 70, Macon resigned from the Senate. He presided over the North Carolina constitutional convention (1835) but would not vote for the amended constitution. He died on June 29, 1837.

Further Reading on Nathaniel Macon

Some of Macon's correspondence was edited by Kemp P. Battle in Letters of Nathaniel Macon, John Steele and William Barry Grove (1902). The only biography is by William E. Dodd, The Life of Nathaniel Macon (1903). See also D. H. Gilpatrick, Jeffersonian Democracy in North Carolina, 1789-1816 (1931).