William Wheeler

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William A. Wheeler
William A. Wheeler, photo portrait.jpg
19th Vice President of the United States
From: March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881
President Rutherford B. Hayes
Predecessor Henry Wilson
Successor Chester A. Arthur
Former U.S. Representative from New York's 17th, 18th, and 19th Congressional District
From: March 4, 1869 – March 3, 1877
Predecessor Calvin T. Hulburd
Successor Amaziah B. James
Former U.S. Representative from New York's 16th Congressional District
From: March 4, 1861 – March 3, 1863
Predecessor George Palmer
Successor Orlando Kellogg
Former State Senator from New York's 17th District
From: January 1, 1858 – December 31, 1859
Predecessor Joseph H. Ramsey
Successor Charles C. Montgomery
Former State Representative from New York (Franklin County)
From: January 1, 1850 – December 31, 1851
Predecessor George Gove
Successor Darius Lawrence
Party Whig (until 1850s)
Republican (since 1850s)
Spouse(s) Mary King Wheeler
Religion Presbyterian[1]

William Almon Wheeler (June 30, 1819 – June 4, 1887) was Vice President for Rutherford B. Hayes from 1877–81.[2] Prior to his Vice-Presidency he was in the state legislature and then in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Wheeler aligned with the congressional Half-Breed faction that promoted civil service reform,[3] a policy that came at the expense of blacks who conservative Stalwarts valiantly fought to prevent from being discriminated against.[4] His role in ending Reconstruction consequentially led to the rise of Southern Jim Crow, constituting a vain betrayal of the party's pro-civil rights roots.

Political career

Wheeler's rise to politics began as a Whig, under such party affiliation serving as Franklin County's district attorney in the late 1840s.[5] He was later elected to the state legislature, and joined the newly formed Republican Party in the 1850s.

U.S. House of Representatives

Wheeler was first elected to the U.S. House in the 1860 elections from New York's 16th congressional district, handily defeating Democrat Augustus C. Hand by a margin of nearly twenty points.[6] He did not run for Congress again until the 1868 midterms, where he emerged victorious and was subsequently re-elected three times.[7]

During his congressional tenure, Wheeler was regarded as a "quiet" member and notably refused to involve himself in railroad stocks, even resigning from being chair of the Committee on Pacific Railroads to prevent temptations.[5]

William wheeler.jpg

Considering himself a person of integrity opposed to corruption, Wheeler refused to associate with the powerful New York political machine run by Sen. Roscoe Conkling,[5] a Radical Republican and Stalwart leader who adamantly fought for civil rights and equal treatment of blacks. When requested by Conkling to side with the machine's interests, Wheeler responded:[5]

Mr. Conkling, there is nothing in the gift of the State of New York which will compensate me for the forfeiture of my self-respect.


In 1872, Conkling, a rival of Maine then-representative James G. Blaine, attempted to make Wheeler the Speaker of the House in place of Blaine; it failed when Wheeler had no apparent interest in Conkling's plans and only helped Blaine become Speaker.[5]

Wheeler Compromise

In the South, white supremacist terrorists acting as an arm of the Democratic Party violently resisted Republican efforts in the region to benefit blacks, and Democrat election fraud was prevalent. Many elections became the subjects of massive disputes and controversy over which candidate was the victor. Such occurred in Louisiana, and Wheeler pushed through a "compromise" that intended to evenly distribute political power[3] by keeping the governorship in Republican hands while arbitrating state legislature seats.[5]

The "Wheeler Compromise" was representative of sentiments expressed against the continuation of Reconstruction as expenses and time consumed grew in the battle against Southern white supremacist terrorism.[5] Despite the Louisiana state legislature seats intended to be split arbitrarily, Jim Crow Democrats seized the opportunity to violate the compromise agreements to their advantage.

1876 election, Compromise of 1877

Portrait of George Frisbie Hoar, who vouched for Wheeler.

In the 1876 presidential election, Wheeler was suggested as a candidate for president or vice president. The fight between the Stalwarts and Half-Breeds over the presidential nomination resulted in the former successfully pushed Rutherford Hayes to head the ticket after it was apparent Conkling would not garner enough convention votes.[5]

The Stalwarts then attempted to nominate New York congressman Stewart Woodford for vice president, though this was prevented by the Half-Breeds, whose leader George F. Hoar of Massachusetts advocated nominating Wheeler:[5]

...Mr. Wheeler is a very sensible man. He knows The Bigelow Papers by heart.

—George Frisbie Hoar

He made conciliatory appeals to the South, attempting to gain party support from old Southern Whigs.[5] Abolitionist and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass at the Republican National Convention asked whether Republicans intended to uphold the constitutional rights of blacks that they pushed for through amendments, or whether they would turn their back;[5] Hayes and Wheeler inclined towards the latter option.

Wheeler's independence from the political machine of Conkling appealed to enough delegates to obtain the vice presidential nomination.[5] The Hayes/Wheeler ticket in the general election obtained an electoral majority, though lost the popular vote. In the controversy that ensued, an electoral commission was established to determine the outcome; the resulting agreement gave the White House to Hayes and Wheeler in return for ending Reconstruction.[5]

See also


  1. Wheeler. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  2. Fandex, Workman Publishing, 2002.
  3. 3.0 3.1 William A. Wheeler. Britannica. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  4. Matthews, Dylan (July 20, 2016). Donald Trump and Chris Christie are reportedly planning to purge the civil service. Vox. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 About the Vice President | William A. Wheeler, 19th Vice President (1877-1881). United States Senate. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  6. NY District 16 Race - Nov 06, 1860. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  7. Candidate - William Almon Wheeler. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 21, 2021.

External links