A former U.S. Senator who became governor of North Carolina, Montfort Stokes was born in 1762 in Virginia. During his political career, he befriended Andrew Jackson and supported the seventh President’s politics, including denouncing nullification as detrimental to the Union. As a state legislator and governor, Stokes worked harder than most previous governors to further the interests of western North Carolina (Piedmont and the mountains).
As a lad—thirteen years old—Stokes volunteered for the Continental navy, and he moved and lived in North Carolina after the conflict. In Salisbury, he practiced law and befriended future President Andrew Jackson. This friendship would soon have political benefits.
Throughout his life, Stokes held numerous military and political positions. He served as assistant clerk of the state senate (1786-1790) and clerk of the state senate (1799-1816). During the War of 1812, Stokes once again answered the patriot’s call, and this time served in the state militia as a major general. After the war, the North Carolina Senate elected Stokes to a vacated position in the U.S. Senate. He represented the state in this capacity until 1823. During his tenure in the Senate, Stokes opposed Nathaniel Macon’s views regarding slavery and the Missouri Compromise.
In 1824, Stokes lost a gubernatorial election to Hutchins Gordon Burton. He later served as a state legislator and state senator for Wilkes County. In 1830, he won the gubernatorial election.
During his administration, Stokes earned a reputation as being a friend of western North Carolina. He promoted economic and transportation legislation that would become parts of the Whig platform—internal improvements and a sound banking system, to name two examples. As governor, he criticized Calhoun’s nullification doctrines and supported Andrew Jackson’s efforts.
He resigned from the governor’s office when Jackson offered him a chairmanship of a national commission to resettle the Indians from southeastern U.S. Stokes died while fulfilling his duties for this post. He is buried at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma.
Michael Hill, ed., The Governors of North Carolina (Raleigh, 2007); William S. Powell, North Carolina Through Four Centuries (Chapel Hill, 1989); Milton Ready, The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina (Columbia, 2006).