Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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GENTRY, Meredith Poindexter, statesman, born in Rockingham County, North Carolina, 15 September, 1809; died near Nashville, Tennessee, 2 November, 1866. In 1813 his father, a wealthy planter, removed to Williamson County, Tennessee, where the facilities for education were limited. Meredith's school-days ended at the age of fourteen, when he had acquired little more than the rudiments. He, however, supplemented these Willie working on his father's plantation by reading the standard English authors. He also took great delight in perusing the congressional debates. He early conceived a fancy for military life, and joined a militia company, of which he was soon elected captain, and subsequently promoted colonel of the regiment. He became Known as a popular orator, and in 1835 was chosen to a seat in the legislature, which he retained until 1839, when he was elected to congress, taking his seat, 2 December 1839, and at once joining Messrs, Clay, Webster, and Calhoun in their efforts to stem the tide of what they held to be the dangerous encroachments of the executive. Mr. Gentry was an original Whig, and remained such until the party ceased to exist. His first speech, which attracted universal attention, was in favor of the reception of petitions praying for the abolition of slavery. Although himself a large slave-holder, and maintaining that the Federal government had no right to interfere with slavery in individual states, he urged that the petitions, although asking what could not be constitutionally granted, should nevertheless be received and considered. His second speech, on the bill to secure freedom of elections and restrict executive patronage, was one of the ablest of that congress, and became an effective campaign document in the presidential canvass of 1840. Mr. Gentry was re-elected to the 27th, known as the "Whig congress," but, on account of the death of his first wife, refused to be a candidate for election to the 28th. He was, however, returned to the 29th, and was also elected to the 30th, 31st, and 32d. Mr. Gentry's first speech, after his return to congress in December, 1845, was in reply to the charge of President Polk that the Whigs were giving aid and comfort to the enemy through their opposition to the Mexican war. Mr. Gentry, in behalf of himself and his political friends, indignantly repelled the aspersions of the president. As a result of the speech, a resolution was introduced by the Whigs declaring that, while patriotism required that the armies should be sustained, yet the war should be waged only for the purpose of obtaining an honorable peace, and not with any view to conquest. On leaving congress Mr. Gentry retired to his plantation in Tennessee, and after the election of Mr. Lincoln became a secessionist. He was elected to the Confederate congress in 1862, and again in 1863. He did not approve, however, of the policy of the authorities at Richmond. He advocated secession only as a temporary expedient. "There were very few men in the House of Representatives," said Alexander H. Stephens, " who could compare with Mr. Gentry in political knowledge, and in the readiness with which he brought this knowledge to bear on any point in running debate. His eulogy on Clay, delivered without premeditation, was apt, powerful, and pathetic. Socially he was urbane and genial, and was possessed of high conversational powers, with a fund of humor and anecdote."
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