Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thomas W. Veazey (1774-1842)
MSA SC 3520-1455

Governor of Maryland, 1836-1839

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of Records Commission, 1970), 111-115.

"BEST REMEMBERED for the courageous role he played and the action he took in order to render the crisis bloodless and to carry the reform movement of the first half of the 19th Century to its successful conclusion, Thomas Ward Veazey was born at 'Cherry Grove,' in Cecil County, on January 31, 1774, the son of Edward and Elizabeth (DeCausey) Veazey. During the colonial period, the Veazeys had become a prominent family on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The immigrant ancestor was John Veazey, who originally lived in Essex County, England, and who had come to America and had settled in Cecil County, where he had purchased 'Cherry Grove' in 1687. Edward Veazey, a Cecil County planter, who served as High Sheriff of Cecil County from 1751 to 1753, died when Thomas was very young. Thomas’ mother also died before Thomas reached manhood, so the governor was orphaned at an early age.

"Veazey received his early education in Cecil County, but later he went to Washington College, where he was graduated in 1795. After he left college, he returned home to become a planter. He soon took an active part in the public affairs and in 1808 and again in 1812, he was a presidential elector for James Madison. In 1811, he was elected a member of the House of Delegates from Cecil County and in the following year he was re-elected. During the second war with England, however, he relinquished his seat in the General Assembly to participate in that conflict, and was in command of the forces which defended Fredericktown in Cecil County, when the British attacked and burned the town. He served later as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Forty-Ninth Maryland Regiment. After the war’s end, he returned to his farm where he remained until 1833, when he was chosen as a member of the Governor’s Council. He was re-elected as a member of the Council in 1834.

"At the close of Governor Thomas’ administration in 1835, the Whigs in the Legislature nominated Veazey as their candidate for governor. He received fifty-three out of the seventy-six ballots cast, the remaining twenty-three votes being blanks, and be was sworn into office on .January 14, 1836. The first impression made by the Veazey administration was favorable. The eight-million-dollar bill, introduced in the Legislature in [p. 112] 1835 was passed at a special session of the legislature in June of 1836 for internal improvements. Upon its passage the people, almost oblivious to this lavish expenditure of public money, engaged in a wild celebration. The governor was feted and toasted, lint the people failed to realize that the $8,000,000 appropriated was not in the Treasury, paving the way for the reckless irresponsibility which nearly bankrupted the State.

"Just three days thereafter, or on June 6, 1836, the so-called Reform Convention met in Baltimore to discuss the necessity of amending the Constitution of 1776. The reformers demanded the direct election of the Governor and the Senate, the elimination of the Governor’s Council and the reapportionment of the House of Delegates. Among the resolutions passed was one recommending that the people of the counties and cities friendly to amending the constitution elect delegates who were pledged to introduce and support a bill to provide for taking the sense of the people on the question of such reform. A majority of the people desired this change, but whether they would be able to secure it was questionable. As a result of an inequitable distribution, a majority of the least populous counties of the state 'could secure a majority of the seats in the lower house and, through the peculiarities of the senatorial electoral college, all of the seats in the Senate.' Finally, the malapportioned Legislature also chose the Governor as well as the Governor’s Council. The agitation for reform, begun some twenty years previously, reached its climax when the Democrats began to secure control of the heavily populated areas in the northern and the western sections of the State. Even though the Reform Convention did not result in the amendment to the Constitution, the stage was now set for the constitutional crisis of 1837.

"In the election of 1836, twenty-one Whigs and nineteen Democrats were chosen as senatorial electors. The twenty-one Whigs represented 85,179 constituents, while the nineteen Democratic electors represented 205,922. Thus the representatives of a little more than one-fourth of the people had a majority of the electors. The Whigs, however, lacked enough votes to have absolute control, as at least twenty-four electors were needed to constitute a quorum. Frederick County had instructed its electors that unless they could get the Whig members to agree to name at least eight Senators who were favorable to constitutional reform, they should refuse to go into session, provided, of course, they could get the other Democratic members to act with them. The Whigs refused to concur in this demand with the result that the Democrats returned to their homes without having gone into session, believing as they did, that they had prevented the creation of a General Assembly and hoping by some general convention to oust the Whigs from power. Governor Veazey then announced that since the electoral college had failed to elect a new Senate, the old Senate still constituted the Senate of Maryland, and that it would continue to act until the next Senate was lawfully elected. At the same time he instructed the old State Senators to assemble at Annapolis to discharge their duties until their successors would have been elected.

[p. 113] "This act was Governor Veazey’s masterstroke, in that he won a moral victory by his action. Public meetings were held throughout the State and the Whigs, capitalizing upon public opinion, won control of the Legislature in the election which followed. Realizing that they had blundered, the bolting Democrats returned to Annapolis. The Electoral College went into session and elected a new State Senate. At this postponed election, Veazey made his second masterstroke when he himself advocated a change in the Constitution. He suggested that representation in the House of Delegates be based upon population with a limitation placed upon the number the larger counties might have, 'and by a minimum for the smaller counties and the City of Annapolis, and that a Senator be allowed to each county and the City of Baltimore.'2

"Veazey’s theory of government was expressed in the answer to the question 'What are the ends of Government?' To him, 'the security of life, liberty and prosperity, may be the brief but comprehensive answer and we state with honest pride, and in the fullest confidence, that in no community have these ends been more effectually provided for.' He went on to say that 'public liberty has never been endangered or even threatened here save by the rash or misguided men and their abettors, whose conduct is now under review.' But, he noted with pride, our Constitution 'has provided more amply for its amendment.' Even though the document needed changes 'in the lapse of sixty years,' the rights, interests and wishes 'of the more populous sections of the State ... can and will be obtained in the Constitutional manner and with general consent.'3

"Veazey’s Whig Party, as the result, strengthened its hold on the Legislature. At the annual gubernatorial election on January 2, 1837, his name was the only one presented. Of the eighty-one votes cast, he received seventy. There were two votes recorded as 'scattered' and nine blanks cast. During the second year of his administration, however, the Democrats registered significant gains and although Governor Veazey was re-elected in 1838, he received only fifty-two of the eighty-one votes, while twenty-four members of the Legislature cast blank ballots amid five votes were scattered. The gubernatorial election in 1838 marked the last time the General Assembly was to elect a governor. After 1838, he would now be chosen directly by the people. The State Senate was also reorganized by awarding one Senator to each county amid one to Baltimore City. The people would choose them directly while both the old Senatorial Electoral College and the Governor’s Council were abolished in accordance with his recommendations.

"Governor Veazey vehemently and firmly believed in slavery. In his annual message of December 1836, he refused to believe that the Federal government would infringe upon the rights of the states in which slavery then existed. He went on to state that measures by the 'General Government, upon this subject . . . cannot be effected but in violation of the rights and privileges of both, for it is a matter with which that Govern- [p. 114] ment has nothing to do amid with which it can, in no manner, interfere, without overstepping the bounds of authority and trespassing upon the rights and assuming powers never conceded to it.'4

"Veazey, like so many others who have occupied Government House, felt keenly the importance of education. 'We regard the present as a most auspicious crisis, for the establishment of a general system of education throughout the State which we think may amid should be so modelled so that no one need forego its beneficial influences,' he reported to the Legislature in 1836.5

"Veazey further expressed a great deal of interest and concern over the matter of internal improvements. He termed it the characteristic of the age. Maryland, he felt, was the one state which was more dependent upon internal improvement and one which had great advantages. 'The territory of the State, lying for a long distance on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay, encloses its head waters, and gradually narrowing, extends where it again widens, so as to embrace one of the richest mineral districts of the United States. . . . Two of the principal works in which the State is interested, will not only answer the most important purpose of connecting the Emporium of the State with the vast country beyond the Alleghanies in the closest bonds of commercial intercourse, but at the same time, they will develop to their utmost extent, resources, whose value to the State must far exceed the entire sum that she can be called upon to contribute.'6

"Near the close of his term, Veazey appointed registers of voters in Baltimore which afforded 'lofty evidence of their just appreciation of the value and importance of the elective franchise.' He hailed the right to vote as the foundation of our republican government and expressed the viewpoint that neither bribery nor coercion would threaten our institutions. He hoped that the Legislature would seriously consider the establishment of registries throughout the State which would 'secure and limit the exercise of this invaluable privilege to those upon whom the constitution and the laws intended to bestow it.'7

"Veazey had no use for abolitionists, whom he termed 'misguided and fanatical individuals.' He looked down upon their emancipation efforts and felt 'confident that many of the most intemperate and noisy declaimers upon the subject, are influenced by very different motives.'8  Instead, he felt that Maryland’s colonization plan 'appears to be that which is best suited to the constitution of the slaveholding States of the Union. It repudiates all foreign and unsolicited interference, whether by the General Government, societies and individuals, with the subject of Slavery within the limits of the States where it exists and leaves it to such State, exclusively, to adopt such measures in regard to it, as are suited to its peculiar [p. 115] circumstances. The plan has been so far successfully pursued, . . . that there is now in prosperous existence on the coast of Africa, under the separate control of the State Colonization Society, appropriated to the use of emigrants from Maryland and are now capable of receiving any number that may be prepared to emigrate.'9

"Governor Veazey’s term ended in January 1839, when he was succeeded by William Grason. As the result of the successful solution to the reapportionment crisis, his administration was characterized by wise and progressive legislation which had far-reaching effects. Veazey, then, can be remembered as one of Maryland’s better governors.

"He retired to his Cecil County plantation, where he passed the closing years of his life. He had been married three times, and had a large family. His first wife to whom he was married in 1794 was Sarah Worrell, of Kent County, who died in the following year, leaving a daughter. His second wife was Mary Veazey, his first cousin. She died in 1810, leaving a family of five children. On September 24, 1812, Veazey married Mary Wallace of Elkton, by whom he was the father of five additional children. He died on July 1, 1842, and was buried in the family cemetery at ‘Cherry Grove,” near Earleville in Cecil County. Had he lived longer he would doubtless have played an increasingly important part in the anti-slavery controversy, for he was a large slaveholder, owning twenty-seven Negroes at the time of his death, an uncompromising foe of abolition and an ardent supporter of the doctrine of states’ rights.10

Notes on sources

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