Asa Biggs (1811 – 1878)

Written By Jonathan Martin

Born on February 1, 1811 in Williamston, North Carolina, Asa Biggs was the son of a Baptist preacher and merchant, Joseph Biggs, and his wife, Chloe Daniel. Asa studied at the local academy and at fifteen years of age, he followed his father’s work when he became a merchant clerk. By the early 1830s, Biggs had sufficiently studied law to be admitted to the state bar in 1831, later to become a prominent lawyer in his hometown.

Biggs, as an influential attorney in eastern North Carolina, was appointed to represent the University of North Carolina from 1839 until 1851 in cases involving shares left to the institution by citizens and their estates. Governor John W. Ellis appointed Bartholomew F. Moore and Asa Biggs to codify (organize) the laws of North Carolina. The code, finished in 1854, served as North Carolina’s base legal system until Reconstruction.

The young lawyer’s first step into politics occurred when he was elected in 1840 to the House of Commons. Although an original Whig party member, Biggs became a lifelong Democrat upon his reelection to the House of Commons in 1842. Biggs continued his political career and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1845 when he beat out candidate David Outlaw. Outlaw triumphed over Biggs during the 1847 reelection, but this occasion remained the only loss Biggs endured during his political career.

After his time as an elector for the 1848 Cass-Butler presidential campaign, Asa Biggs was elected to the Senate in 1854. Yet, Biggs time in the Senate was a short venture. Serving from March 4, 1855, to May 5, 1858, Biggs decided to resign to serve as a federal district court judge upon his appointment to the position by President James Buchanan. Throughout his career as a judge, Asa Biggs remained a proponent of state rights and slavery, and he later left the federal courts to become a judge for the Confederacy from 1861 until 1865.

After the war, Asa Biggs moved to Tarboro in 1869 to practice law, later to move again to Norfolk, Virginia. Biggs passed away on March 6, 1878, in Norfolk. Biggs’s home in Martin County remains an important historic venue in that area. The house was built in 1835, making it the oldest home in Martin County and its mix between the Federal and Greek Revival architecture styles attracts tourists to the region.