Meredith Miles Marmaduke

MEREDITH MILES MARMADUKE (1791–1864)

Meredith Miles Marmaduke, Missouri’s eighth governor, was a native of Westmoreland County, Virginia. He was born on Aug. 28, 1791, to Vincent and Sarah Porter Marmaduke. His chosen profession in civil engineering halted abruptly in 1812 with his selection as colonel of a Virginia frontier-defense regiment during the War of 1812. President James Madison made him a U.S. marshal for the Tidewater District after the war, but following a term as Westmoreland County’s circuit clerk, Marmaduke moved in 1823 to Franklin, Mo., “for health reasons.” 

The newcomer prospered in his adopted state. In Franklin’s lively business atmosphere, Marmaduke enthusiastically exploited the Santa Fe Trail’s commercial opportunities. In 1824, he made the first of several trips to Santa Fe and kept a hand in this venture until the mid-1830s. Meanwhile, on Jan. 4, 1826, he married Lavinia Sappington, the daughter of Arrow Rock’s famed Dr. John S. Sappington. In doing so, he benefited both professionally and politically. Appointed surveyor of Saline County, he platted the town site for Arrow Rock in 1829, and soon after joined Sappington in operating a general store at nearby Jonesboro. 

About 1835, Marmaduke established himself on the large farm five miles west of Arrow Rock where his seven sons and three daughters grew to maturity. Involving himself with the Central Clique that was rising to dominate Missouri’s Democracy, he secured his party’s nomination for lieutenant governor in 1840 and swept into office on a ticket headed by Gov. Thomas Reynolds. Then, on Feb. 9, 1844, Reynolds committed suicide, leaving Marmaduke to finish the final months of his term. 

Marmaduke’s brief tenure was hardly routine. His vigorous advocacy of mental–health care reforms led to early improvements in Missouri’s handling of this problem. He refused to pardon three abolitionists who had assisted in the escape of a slave, fearing the disorderly furor such an act would generate. 

Such conduct was not enough to win Marmaduke the nomination for a full term at the Democratic state convention that year. Instead, the party chose a “unity” candidate, John D. Edwards, who succeeded Marmaduke on Nov. 20, 1844. This did not end Marmaduke’s political career, however. In 1845, he was elected as Saline County’s delegate to a constitutional convention that vainly tried to reform the constitution of 1820. In 1848, as a firm ally of U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton and with Frank Blair as his campaign manager, Marmaduke again sought the gubernatorial nomination. Again he was brushed aside for a compromise candidate, Austin A. King, at a convention torn again by the growing rift between Benton’s “Hard” adherents and those “Soft” elements increasingly offended by Benton’s antislavery inclinations. 

Marmaduke might well thereafter have been content with a role as president of Saline County’s first agricultural society and of the district fair association, but the deadly sectional crisis of 1860 propelled him onto the political stage one last time. His son Vincent stood for election as a “firm Union” man to the Constitutional Convention chosen in early 1861 to debate secession. In the furor following the Camp Jackson affair on May 10, Vincent joined those bolting to the Confederate cause. His brother John Sappington Marmaduke, an 1857 graduate of West Point and future governor of Missouri, rose to major general in the Southern armies, and Vincent became a colonel after Union authorities “deported” him for “treasonous conduct.”

Not so their father, whose judgments faithfully mirrored the complexities of Missouri’s public opinion in that tormented hour. A Bentonite to the end, Marmaduke openly condemned secession. Emulating Gov. Sam Houston of Texas, he warned fellow citizens of the calamities awaiting them in their contemplation of civil strife. The contending parties treated Governor Marmaduke with profound respect, though he frankly and evenhandedly despised “thieving” Unionist militiamen and Confederate partisan “bushwhackers.” By the time of his death on March 26, 1864, at his Saline County farmstead, his friends and neighbors had reason enough to regard him as prophetically “inspired.”

R. Leslie Anders

History of Saline County, Missouri. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Company, 1881. Marmaduke, M. M. Manuscript Collection. Missouri State Historical Society, Columbia.
McCandless, Perry. A History of Missouri: Volume II, 1820 to 1860. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1972.
Napton,William Barclay. Past and Present of Saline County, Missouri. Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen, 1910.

Excerpted from Dictionary of Missouri Biography edited by Lawrence O. Christensen, William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, published by the University of Missouri Press. To order this book, please call (800) 621-2736 or online at http://press.umsystem.edu/Catalog/ProductSearch.aspx?search=Dictionary+of+Missouri+Biography.