Benjamin W. Leigh bigraphy, stories - American politician

Benjamin W. Leigh : biography

June 18, 1781 - February 2, 1849

Benjamin Watkins Leigh (June 18, 1781February 2, 1849) was an American lawyer and politician from Richmond, Virginia. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates and represented Virginia in the United States Senate. Benjamin Watkins Leigh was born in Chesterfield County on June 18, 1781, the son of the Reverend William Leigh and Elizabeth (Watkins) Leigh. He attended the College of William and Mary, studied law, and began practicing in Petersburg in 1802. After representing Dinwiddie County in the Virginia House of Delegates 1811-13, he moved to Richmond where he rose rapidly in his chosen profession. He prepared the revised Code of Virginia in 1819, was a delegate to the Virginia Convention of 1829-30, a reporter of the Virginia Court of Appeals 1829-41, and was again elected to the Virginia legislature, representing Henrico County in the session of 1830-31. Leigh was elected as a Whig to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of William Cabell Rives; he was reelected in 1835.

During Leigh's time in the Senate the controversy over slavery reached new levels of intensity. The House of Representatives passed a "gag rule" tabling all anti-slavery petititions, and a similar measure died in the Senate, though that body approved an alternate method of ignoring such petitions. President Jackson called on the Congress to censor anti-slavery publications from the federal mails, a bill the Senate defeated 25-19. Leigh proposed a statewide boycott of pro-emancipation newspapers, writing that Virginians had the right "to suppress to the utmost of our power what we deem inflammatory, dangerous, mischievous."Dunn, Susan. Dominion of Memories: Jefferson, Madison, & the Decline of Virginia, 195.

Every State had expressed the disapproval of South Carolina's nullification and it was Leigh who was sent to urge South Carolina to desist from carrying matters to extremities. (Source: The Origin of the Late War Traced from the Beginning of the Constitution to the Revolt of the Southern States. By George Lunt New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1866 p. 89) Leigh served until his resignation on July 4, 1836. Thereafter he resumed the practice of law in Richmond. He died there on February 2, 1849, and is buried in Shockoe Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia. *

Leigh was married three times: on December 24, 1802, to Mary Selden Watkins; on November 30, 1813, to Susan Colston; on November 24, 1821, to Julia Wickham; he left numerous descendants. Benjamin Watkins Leigh was a founding member (1831) of the Virginia Historical Society and first chairman of its standing committee.


Dictionary of American Biography; Dunn, Susan. Dominion of Memories: Jefferson, Madison, & the Decline of Virginia. Cambridge: Basic Books, 2007; Hall, Cline Edwin. “The Political Life of Benjamin Watkins Leigh.” Master’s thesis, University of Richmond, 1959; Macfarland, William H. An Address on the Life, Character, and Public Services of the Late Hon. Benjamin Watkins Leigh. Richmond: Macfarlane and Fergusson, 1851. Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Volume II

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