William A. Wheeler

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William A. Wheeler
19th Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881
President Rutherford B. Hayes
Preceded by Henry Wilson
Succeeded by Chester A. Arthur
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 16th district
In office
March 4, 1861 – March 4, 1863
Preceded by George W. Palmer
Succeeded by Orlando Kellogg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 17th district
In office
March 4, 1869 – March 4, 1873
Preceded by Calvin T. Hulburd
Succeeded by Robert S. Hale
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 18th district
In office
March 4, 1873 – March 4, 1875
Preceded by John M. Carroll
Succeeded by Andrew Williams
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 19th district
In office
March 4, 1875 – March 4, 1877
Preceded by Henry H. Hathorn
Succeeded by Amaziah B. James
Personal details
Born William Almon Wheeler
(1819-06-30)June 30, 1819
Malone, New York
Died June 4, 1887(1887-06-04) (aged 67)
Malone, New York
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Mary King Wheeler (1830 – March 3, 1876)
Alma mater University of Vermont
Signature Cursive signature in ink

William Almon Wheeler (June 30, 1819 – June 4, 1887) was a Representative from New York and the 19th Vice President of the United States (1877–1881).

Early life and career[edit]

Wheeler was born in Malone, New York, and attended Franklin Academy and the University of Vermont, although monetary concerns forced him to drop out without graduating.[1] He was admitted to the bar in 1845, practiced law in Malone, and was District Attorney of Franklin County from 1846 to 1849. He was a member of the New York State Assembly (Franklin Co.) in 1850 and 1851; and of the New York State Senate (17th D.) in 1858 and 1859.

He was elected as a Republican to the 37th United States Congress, holding office from March 4, 1861, to March 4, 1863. He was President of the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1867–68. He was elected to the 41st, 42nd, 43rd and 44th United States Congresses, holding office from March 4, 1869, to March 4, 1877.

William A. Wheeler

Wheeler was also President of the New York Northern Railroad.[2]

When Congress voted a pay raise in 1873 and made it retroactive for five years, Wheeler not only voted against the raise, but returned his salary adjustment to the Treasury department.[1]

Wheeler's reputation for honesty was celebrated by Allan Nevins in his introduction to John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage. Roscoe Conkling, a Senator and a political boss offered "Wheeler, if you will act with us, there is nothing in the gift of the State of New York to which you may not reasonably aspire." Wheeler declined with "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." (John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (New York, 1956), p. xiv.)

Wheeler was President of the New York State Constitutional Convention which met from June 1867 to February 1868. His acceptance speech gave a ringing endorsement for racial equality:

"[W]e owe it to the cause of universal civil liberty, we owe it to the struggling liberalism of the old world,...that every man within [New York], of whatever race or color, or however poor, helpless, or lowly he may be, in virtue of his manhood, is entitled to the full employment of every right appertaining to the most exalted citizenship."[3]

Election of 1876[edit]

Wheeler was a delegate to the 1876 Republican National Convention, which had just nominated Rutherford B. Hayes on the seventh ballot.

Hayes/Wheeler campaign poster

The convention was recessed for dinner, and as a favor to Roscoe Conkling, the party bosses announced that they would let the New York delegation pick the candidate for Vice President. As the delegation argued back and forth over prospective candidates and were unable to agree on any one of them, someone asked sarcastically "What about Wheeler?", and the next morning Wheeler was, much to everyone's surprise, nominated by acclamation.[4] He won the nomination with 366 votes to the 89 for his nearest rival Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, who later served on the Electoral Commission.

Governor Hayes, when he heard of Wheeler's nomination, wrote to his wife Lucy: "I am ashamed to say: Who is Wheeler?" Hayes and Wheeler never served in the House of Representatives at the same time, so Hayes was unfamiliar with his running mate.[4]

Vice Presidency (1877–1881)[edit]

He was inaugurated in March 4, 1877 and served until March 4, 1881.

Since Wheeler was a recent widower, his wife having died three months before he took the oath of office,[1] he was a frequent guest at the White House's alcohol-free luncheons. As Vice President, Wheeler presided over the Senate. According to Hayes, Wheeler "was one of the few Vice Presidents who were on cordial terms, intimate and friendly, with the President. Our family were heartily fond of him."[1]

Hayes had long announced that he would not run for a second term, and Wheeler was not mentioned for the 1880 Republican presidential nomination.

Retirement (1881–1887)[edit]

When his term was over, he retired from public life and active business pursuits because of ill health. On June 4, 1887, he died in his Malone, New York home. He was 67 years old. He was interred next to his wife in Malone's Morningside Cemetery.


  1. ^ a b c d Tally, Steve (1992). Bland Ambition: From Adams to Quayle-The Cranks, Criminals, Tax Cheats, and Golfers Who Made It to Vice President. New York: HBJ. pp. 152–157. ISBN 0156131404. 
  2. ^ Quigley, Second Founding, p.53
  3. ^ Quigly, Second Founding, p. 53
  4. ^ a b Barzman, Sol (1974). Madmen and Geniuses. Chicago: Follett Books. ISBN 0-695-80487-1. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

New York Assembly
Preceded by
George B. R. Gove
New York State Assembly
Franklin County

Succeeded by
Darius W. Lawrence
New York State Senate
Preceded by
Joseph H. Ramsey
New York State Senate
17th District

Succeeded by
Charles C. Montgomery
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
George W. Palmer
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 16th congressional district

Succeeded by
Orlando Kellogg
Preceded by
Calvin T. Hulburd
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 17th congressional district

Succeeded by
Robert S. Hale
Preceded by
John M. Carroll
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 18th congressional district

Succeeded by
Andrew Williams
Preceded by
Henry H. Hathorn
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 19th congressional district

Succeeded by
Amaziah B. James
Party political offices
Preceded by
Henry Wilson
Republican vice presidential nominee
Succeeded by
Chester A. Arthur
Political offices
Preceded by
Henry Wilson
Vice President of the United States
Succeeded by
Chester A. Arthur