Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Henry Meigs, 5 April 1820

To Henry Meigs

Monticello Apr. 5. 20.

Th: Jefferson presents his thanks to the honorable mr Meigs for the copy of his speech of Feb. 25. on the Missouri question, his wishes that it may never again be revived, his congratulations in that event, and, under all events, the assurance of his high respect.

PoC (DLC); on verso of reused address cover to TJ; dateline at foot of text; endorsed by TJ as a letter to Meigs “of Congress.”

Henry Meigs (1782–1861), attorney and public official, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of TJ’s correspondent Josiah Meigs. He graduated from Yale College (later Yale University) in 1799, studied law, and started a practice in New York City, where he resided for the remainder of his life. Meigs volunteered for city defense during the War of 1812. In 1818 he served in the lower house of the New York state legislature, and he sat in the United States House of Representatives, 1819–21. Meigs was president of the New York City board of aldermen, 1832–33, a city-court judge, and clerk of the court of general sessions. From 1845 until his death he was recording secretary of the American Institute of the City of New York, and he also served as secretary of the institute’s Farmers Club (Henry B. Meigs, Record of the Descendants of Vincent Meigs, who came from Dorsetshire, England, to America about 1635 [1901], 39, 55–6; William M. Meigs, Life of Josiah Meigs [1887], 98–9, 114; Dexter, Yale Biographies description begins Franklin Bowditch Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College, 1885–1912, 6 vols. description ends , 5:344, 368–9; Meigs to TJ, 25 July 1805 [DLC]; DNA: RG 29, CS, N.Y., New York, 1810–60; New York Evening Post, 20 May 1861).

Meigs’s speech of 25 Jan. 1820 (not feb. 25) opposed restricting slavery in Missouri on its admission as a state and in so doing contradicted the wishes of the New York state legislature. He argued that sectional differences were influencing the debate too heavily and that Missouri should judge for itself whether to be a slave or free state (Speech of Mr. Meigs, of New York, on the Restriction of Slavery in Missouri. Delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States, January 25, 1820 [(Washington, 1820)]).

On 5 Feb. 1820 Meigs moved in the House of Representatives that, inasmuch as “slavery in the United States is an evil of great and increasing magnitude; one which merits the greatest efforts of this nation to remedy,” a committee be established to consider using the sale of public lands to fund the destruction of the slave trade, the emancipation of United States slaves, and their colonization to Africa. John Quincy Adams remarked the same day that “This I suppose is to serve him as an apology to his Constituents for voting against the restriction.” The motion was repeatedly tabled without discussion (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 13:196, 414, 14:238 [5 Feb., 15 Apr. 1820, 15 Feb. 1821]; Adams diary [MHi: Adams Papers]).

Meigs ultimately voted on 2 Mar. 1820 to admit Missouri as a slave state but otherwise prohibit slavery north of the 36° 30′ parallel in land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. (All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. Citations given below are to the edition mounted on the American Memory website of the Library of Congress and give the date of the debate as well as page numbers.) description ends , 16th Cong., 1st sess., 1586–7). He later claimed that he “suffered purgatory for thirty years after my votes on the Missouri question; I lived armed night and day with my heavy pistols each loaded with balls and slugs—threatened with assassination many times a day by anonymous writers” (Life of Josiah Meigs, 128–31).

Index Entries

  • Adams, John Quincy; on H. Meigs’s colonization proposal search
  • Africa; colonization of blacks to search
  • House of Representatives, U.S.; and Missouri question search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; receives works search
  • Meigs, Henry; and Missouri question search
  • Meigs, Henry; identified search
  • Meigs, Henry; letter to search
  • Missouri question; congressional consideration of search
  • Missouri question; speeches on search