American Medical Biographies/Alexander, Nathaniel

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Alexander, Nathaniel (1756–1808)

Nathaniel Alexander, physician and ardent patriot, was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, March 5, 1756. His father was Lieutenant-Colonel Moses Alexander, who took part in the Cherokee Boundary Expedition of 1767 and rendered other important military service. Nathaniel Alexander graduated at Princeton University in 1776, then studied medicine; he served as surgeon in the North Carolina Continental Line or Regulars from 1778 until the close of hostilities in 1782. At the end of the War he began to practise at the High Hills of the Santee, South Carolina, then went to Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1797 he became a member of the North Carolina House of Commons; 1801–1802 he was in the State Senate; 1803–1805 he was member of the United States Congress. Here his course met with such approval that he was elected governor of North Carolina and served from 1805 until 1807.

Dr. Alexander was "distinguished in his generation as a friend of public education;" from 1805–1807 he was president of the board of trustees of the University of North Carolina—before a governor of the State became ex-officio president of the board; in his gubernatorial position he labored to impress the legislature with the importance of providing a system of public education.

In his message of 1806 he speaks as follows: "In a government constituted as ours, where the people are everything—where they are the fountain of all power—it becomes infinitely important that they be sufficiently enlightened to realize their interests and to comprehend the best means of advancing them. Indeed, it may be affirmed with truth that, unless they be informed, the duration of their liberties will be precarious, their enemies will seduce them from the pursuit of their true interest, or their prejudices will lead them into fatal dangers. If this be true, and no intelligent man would deny it, how deeply interesting becomes the inquiry whether the citizens of this State are sufficiently enlightened to know and value their own rights, to discern and to provide against the invasions of them, to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority, to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness—to cherish the one and to avoid the other. The inquiry is of vast consequence, and worthy of your serious consideration."

Although so noted as a statesman, he was also not undistinguished in his profession; Toner speaks of him as a "physician of eminence in Mecklenburg."

His wife was a daughter of Colonel Thomas Polk; they had no children. He died at Salisbury, North Carolina, March 8, 1808.

Biographical History of North Carolina, S. A. Ashe, S. B. Weeks. C. L. Van Noppen, Greensboro, N. C., 1905, vol. i, pp. 39–41 (M. De L. Haywood).
Medical Men of the Revolution, J. M. Toner, Phila., 1876.