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Alexander McNair became Governor of Missouri with 72% of the vote

Alexander McNair
Founders Blog

An American politician and frontiersman, Alexander McNair was born on May 5, 1775 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and went on to become Missouri’s first governor. Alexander grew up in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. David McNair, Sr., Alexander’s grandfather, had immigrated to Pennsylvania from Donaghmore, Donegal County, Ireland, sometime around 1722. His father, David McNair, Jr., served in the American Revolution and was with George Washington in the Battle of Trenton during the winter of 1776. David Jr. died in February 1777 prior to Alexander’s second birthday from wounds he received in battle.

When Alexander reached the age he could inherit his father’s property, an agreement was reached with his brothers and mother that a boxing match would determine the successful heir. Alexander’s efforts were unsuccessful, so he enlisted in Pennsylvania’s militia and saw action during the Whiskey Rebellion.

In 1804, McNair felt the urge to go west and moved to the territory now known as Missouri. He was now 30 years old. The acreage had recently been acquired by the United States through the Louisiana Purchase. That same year, he surrendered his bachelorhood to a young lady by the name of Marguerite Suzanne de Reihle de Regal, daughter of a French marquis.

Settling in St. Louis, McNair became a United States Marshall of the Missouri Territory, in addition to a successful businessman and a member of the Board of Trustees for the city of St. Louis during 1808 and 1813. On May 24, 1813, the First Regiment of Mounted Militia, commanded by Colonel Alexander McNair, received a new member, a newly commissioned ensign by the name of Stephen F. Austin, the future Father of Texas. During the war of 1812, McNair served as the adjutant and inspector of the Missouri territorial forces and became a delegate to the Missouri Constitutional Convention.

Alexander McNair became Missouri’s first governor on August 28, 1820. During the election, he received 72% of the vote. William Clark of Louis & Clark fame was his Missouri’s territorial governor at the time, and his opponent. Governor McNair took the oath of office on September 18, 1820 in a ceremony held at the Missouri Hotel. On November 25, 1820, he signed a bill naming St. Charles as the temporary state capital; however, a portion of land in Jefferson City was later set aside for the state’s capitol building. The state’s seal was authorized and a stagecoach line was born.

Beginning on June 4, 1821, state legislators began to meet on the second floor of the buildings adjoining the capitol at 206 Main. At this time, a portion of the first floor was occupied by a dry goods store, owned by Ruluff and Charles Peck. The other second was used by Chauncy Shepard for his carpentry shop.

For the first 10 months of Governor McNair’s administration, Missouri’s government was not officially recognized by the federal government. The state’s first General Assembly, convened in St. Louis, began the process of getting Missouri ready to join the United States.

On August 10, 1821, Missouri became the 24th state as a part of The Missouri Compromise of 1820. Statesman Henry Clay designed the compromise in an effort to keep the number of slave and free states equal. Missouri entered as a slave state and Maine (originally part of Massachusetts) was added as a free state. (The Civil War would later serve to divide Missouri’s citizens with residents fighting on both sides during the war. The Missouri Squadron was composed of ironclad ships built in the state and used by the Union to prevent Confederate troops from relocating or receiving supplies.)

After leaving the governor’s office on November 15, 1824, McNair was active in the Indian Department as a U.S. agent to the Osage. He died on March 18, 1826 of influenza and was buried in St. Louis’s Calvary Cemetery.

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