William Findley

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William Findley
William Findley.jpg
Personal details
Born 1741
Ireland
Died April 4, 1821(1821-04-04) (aged 80)
Greensburg, Pennsylvania
Political party Anti-Administration
Republican
Profession politician, farmer

William Findley (c. 1741 – April 4, 1821) was an Irish-born farmer and politician from Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. He served in both houses of the state legislature and represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House from 1791 until 1799 and from 1803 to 1817. By the end of his career, he was the longest serving member of the House, and was the first to hold the honorary title "Father of the House".

Early years[edit]

William Findley was born in Ulster, Ireland and emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1763. In 1768, he bought a farm in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania,[1] where he married and started a family. In the American Revolution he served on the Cumberland County Committee of Observation, and enlisted as a private in the local militia, and rose to the rank of captain of the Seventh Company of the Eighth Battalion of Cumberland County Associators. In 1783 he moved his family across the Allegheny Mountains to Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

Public life[edit]

Upon arrival in Westmoreland County, Findley was almost immediately elected to the Council of Censors. On this Council, which was to decide whether the radical Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 needed revision, he established himself as an effective supporter of what the "best people" considered the radical position in state politics.[citation needed]

In the following years Findley served in the Ninth through Twelfth General Assemblies and on the Supreme Executive Council. Findley was an early exponent of a political style in which candidates openly expressed their interests and proposals, as opposed to the "disinterested" style of governance many Founding Fathers envisioned.[2] In 1786 he was a critic of the Bank of North America, the nation's first central bank; he accused Robert Morris, the Continental Congress's Superintendent of Finance, of using the bank to enrich himself personally.[2] Findley also publicized the statement of fellow legislator Hugh Henry Brackenridge that "the people are fools" for opposing the bank, contributing to Brackenridge's defeat in the subsequent election.[3]

Findley was also a major opposition voice[4][5] in the Pennsylvania convention that ratified the federal Constitution and was a signer of the Minority Dissent.[6] Findley was regularly mocked during convention's debates by gentry who attempted to portray him an uneducated ' country hick '. At one point, Constitutional Convention delegate James Wilson and Pennsylvania Chief Justice Thomas McKean disputed one of Findley's statements about jury trials in Sweden; Findley returned two days later with William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England and demonstrated that his reference had been correct.[7]

Findley was one of the leaders in the convention that, in 1789, wrote a new Constitution for Pennsylvania. As an Antifederalist, Findley wrote papers under the name of "An Officer of the Late Continental Army".

After serving in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, he was elected to the Second Congress from the district west of the mountains in 1791. William Findley served in the Second through the Fifth congresses. A Jeffersonian Republican, Findley opposed the financial plans of Federalist Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and supported the cause of states' rights.[8] As a voice of reason, in 1794 he helped to calm the passions of the Whiskey Insurrection.[citation needed] Unlike many Republicans, he opposed slavery.[8]

After declining nomination to the Sixth Congress, he was elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate because he allowed his name to be placed on the local ticket to rally western support for Thomas McKean's campaign for Governor.

Elected to the Eighth Congress, he served through the Fourteenth, the turbulent years of the Burr conspiracy, the embargo, and the War of 1812 as a strong supporter of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. He was known as "The Venerable Findley," and because he was the senior representative in years of service, he was in 1811 designated "Father of the House", the first man to be awarded that honorary title.[8] He died in his home along the Loyalhanna Creek on April 5, 1821, and is buried in Latrobe's Unity Cemetery.

Writings[edit]

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Wood, Gordon S. (2009). Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815. Oxford University Press.

Further reading[edit]

  • Caldwell, John. William Findley: A Politician in Pennsylvania, 1783–1791. Gig Harbor, WA: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
  • Eicholz, Hans L. "A Closer Look at 'Modernity:' The Case of William Findley and Trans-Appalachian Political Thought". In W. Thomas Mainwaring, ed., The Whiskey Rebellion and the Trans-Appalachian Frontier. Washington, Pennsylvania: Washington and Jefferson College, 1994, 57–72.
  • Ewing, Robert (1919). "Life and Times of William Findley". Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 2: 240–251. 
  • Schramm, Callista (1937). "William Findley in Pennsylvania Politics". Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 20: 31–40. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
John Proctor
Member, Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, representing Westmoreland County
25 November 1789—20 December 1790
Succeeded by
position dissolved
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
At large on a General ticket:
Muhlenberg, Clymer, Fitzsimons, Hartley, Scott, Wynkoop, Hiester & Muhlenberg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's at-large congressional district

1791 - 1795

1791-1793 alongside:
Fitzsimons, Hartley, Muhlenberg, Kittera, Hiester, Jacobs & Gregg
1793-1795 alongside:
Fitzsimons, Muhlenberg, Kittera, Hartley, Scott, Armstrong, Muhlenberg, Gregg, Hiester, Irvine, Smilie & Montgomery

Succeeded by

1st: John Swanwick
2nd: Frederick Muhlenberg
3rd: Richard Thomas
4th: Samuel Sitgreaves & John Richards
5th: Daniel Hiester
6th: John Andre Hanna
7th: John W. Kittera
8th: Thomas Hartley
9th: Andrew Gregg
10th: David Bard & Samuel Maclay
11th: William Findley
12th: Albert Gallatin

Preceded by
At large on a General ticket:
Thomas Fitzsimons, Muhlenberg, Kittera, Hartley, Scott, Armstrong, Muhlenberg, Gregg, Hiester, Irvine, Smilie, Findley & Montgomery
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 11th congressional district

1795–1799
Succeeded by
John Smilie
Preceded by
John Stewart
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 8th congressional district

1803–1813
Succeeded by
William Piper
Preceded by
Abner Lacock
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 11th congressional district

1813–1817
Succeeded by
David Marchand