Richard Dobbs Spaight, Jr. (1796-1850)

Written By North Carolina History Project

A lawyer and the last governor elected by the General Assembly, Richard Dobbs Spaight, Jr., served as the chief executive of North Carolina for one term (1835-1836).  Before then he had served as a state legislator and U.S. Congressman, and afterward he practiced law in New Bern.  Many of his cases were pro bono.  

Son of Governor Richard Dobbs Spaight, Spaight, Jr. was born in New Bern and later graduated from the University of North Carolina with high honors.

 

His political career began shortly after graduation and admittance to the bar.  He served in the House of Commons (1819), as a state Senator (1820-1822) and as a U.S. Congressman (1823-1825).   After his tenure in Washington, D.C., Spaight served as a state Senator.

 

Spaight participated in the state constitutional convention of 1835.  Reflecting the growing democratic tendencies across America, the constitutional delegates voted to start popular gubernatorial elections in 1836.   In 1835, the General Assembly voted one last time for governor.  It chose Spaight.

 

The New Bern lawyer ran for governor in 1836, yet he failed to adapt to the demands of a popular election.  He made few public appearances and declined banquet invitations.  Instead of presenting himself as an honest politician, disinterested in special favors, Spaight was considered to be aloof and even apathetic.  He lost to Edward Dudley.

 

After the 1836 election, Spaight returned to New Bern and practiced law.  Profits from his farms and real estate enabled him to litigate many pro bono cases.  

He died in 1850 and is buried at Clermont Plantation near New Bern.