William A. Wheeler
Wheeler in 1877
19th Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881
PresidentRutherford B. Hayes
Preceded byHenry Wilson (1875)
Succeeded byChester A. Arthur
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from New York
In office
March 4, 1869 – March 3, 1877
Preceded byCalvin T. Hulburd
Succeeded byAmaziah B. James
Constituency17th district (1869–73)
18th district (1873–75)
19th district (1875–77)
In office
March 4, 1861 – March 3, 1863
Preceded byGeorge Palmer
Succeeded byOrlando Kellogg
Constituency16th district
Member of the New York Senate
from the 17th district
In office
January 1, 1858 – December 31, 1859
Preceded byJoseph H. Ramsey
Succeeded byCharles C. Montgomery
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the Franklin County district
In office
January 1, 1850 – December 31, 1851
Preceded byGeorge Gove
Succeeded byDarius Lawrence
Personal details
William Almon Wheeler

(1819-06-30)June 30, 1819
Malone, New York, U.S.
DiedJune 4, 1887(1887-06-04) (aged 67)
Malone, New York, U.S.
Resting placeMorningside Cemetery,
Malone, New York, U.S.
Political partyWhig
Mary King
(m. 1845; died 1876)
EducationUniversity of Vermont (BA)
Cursive signature in ink

William Almon Wheeler (June 30, 1819 – June 4, 1887) was an American politician and attorney. He served as a United States representative from New York from 1861 to 1863 and 1869 to 1877, and the 19th vice president of the United States from 1877 to 1881.

Born in Malone, New York, Wheeler pursued a legal career after attending the University of Vermont. After serving in various local positions, he won election to the New York State Legislature. He served in Congress from 1861 to 1863 and from 1869 to 1877. He was widely respected for his integrity, and refused his salary increase after Congress passed an 1873 pay raise that he opposed.

After the 1876 Republican National Convention settled on Rutherford B. Hayes as the party's presidential nominee after seven ballots, the delegates nominated Wheeler for vice president. Nominated by Congressman Luke P. Poland, Wheeler surged into an early lead over Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, Marshall Jewell, and Stewart L. Woodford to clinch the nomination on the first ballot. Wheeler was nominated because he was popular among his colleagues, having worked to avoid making enemies in Congress. In addition, as a resident of the populous Eastern state of New York, he provided geographical balance to the ticket, since Hayes was from the populous Midwest state of Ohio. The Republican ticket prevailed in the contentious 1876 presidential election, though they lost the popular vote. Though they had not known each other before the convention, Wheeler and Hayes got along amicably while in office. They chose not to seek second terms, and Wheeler returned to Malone, New York, after the end of his term. He died in 1887, and was buried at Morningside Cemetery in Malone.

Wheeler's pursuit of an alliance between Republicans and Old Southern Whigs, which involved an abandonment of the Republican Party's commitment to ensuring civil rights and social equality, doomed Southern blacks to the hands of Democratic white supremacists, who enacted Jim Crow laws that lasted for decades.

Early life and career

William Almon 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] Wheeler received the honorary degrees of Master of Arts from Dartmouth College in 1865 and LL.D. from the University of Vermont (1867) and Union College (1877). In 1876 he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Vermont "as in course", making him a graduate of the class of 1842.[2] In 1845 he married Mary King (1828-1876).

He studied law with Asa Hascall, a Malone attorney and politician who served as town supervisor, justice of the peace, district attorney, and member of the New York State Assembly.[3] Wheeler was admitted to the bar in 1845, and practiced in Malone. He was District Attorney of Franklin County from 1846 to 1849. He was a member of the 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 3, 1863. He was elected to the 41st, 42nd, 43rd and 44th United States Congresses, holding office from March 4, 1869, to March 3, 1877.

William A. Wheeler
William A. Wheeler

During his House tenure, Wheeler served as chairman of the Committee on Pacific Railroads (42nd Congress) and the Committee on Commerce (43rd Congress).

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 New York State political boss once 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."[4]

Wheeler served as president of New York's Northern Railroad.[5] He was also president of the New York State Constitutional Convention which met from June 1867 to February 1868. His acceptance speech after being chosen as president 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."[6]

When Congress voted a pay raise in 1873 and made it retroactive for five years (the Salary Grab Act), Wheeler not only voted against the raise, but after it passed he returned his salary increase to the Treasury department.[1]

Wheeler was responsible for the so-called Wheeler Compromise of 1875, which settled a volatile political situation in Louisiana[7] but eventually led to the withdrawal of federal troops and the end of Reconstruction.

Election of 1876

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

Hayes/Wheeler campaign poster
Hayes/Wheeler campaign poster

Wheeler was considered a "safe" choice for the vice presidential nomination, as he had not made many enemies over the course of his political career, though Roscoe Conkling himself supported the former congressman from New York Stewart L. Woodford. When the time came for the convention to nominate a vice presidential candidate, congressman Luke P. Poland of Vermont nominated Wheeler, who immediately surged to the lead over Woodford and several other candidates. By the time the roll call reached New York, the result was apparent, and Woodford withdrew, enabling New York to cast all its votes for Wheeler.[8] Wheeler won the nomination with 366 votes to the 89 for his nearest rival Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, who later served on the Electoral Commission which decided the 1876 election in favor of Hayes and Wheeler.

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 had not served in the House of Representatives at the same time, so Hayes was unfamiliar with his running mate.[9]

At the Republican National Convention, Frederick Douglass asked if the GOP would adhere to its pro-civil rights roots.[10] The advocacy of Hayes and Wheeler, among a faction of Northern Republicans, was to abandon Reconstruction efforts and instead make conciliatory appeals to Southern Whiggery.[11]

Vice presidency (1877–1881)

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

Since Wheeler was a recent widower, his wife having died one year before he took 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 announced at the start of his administration that he would not run for a second term. Wheeler did not run for the 1880 Republican presidential nomination, and retired at the end of his term.

Bill and Lady Hayes' Fishing Trip (1878)

When First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes found out Wheeler's status as a widower and without children, she and her husband made a duty to take the lonely Wheeler into their social circle. Wheeler, who felt very close with the two, was grateful of their kindness and during the early parts of spring of 1878; Wheeler asked Lucy to accompany him on a fishing trip in Adirondacks. Lucy accepted and joined Wheeler on May 31st, on their first day of fishing, the first lady and the vice president caught a large trout that weighed about 13 pounds. Wheeler sent the president the trout that he and the first lady had captured, Hayes immediately took initiative and telegraphed Wheeler jokingly that he thought it was more like 13 ounces, the two replied back and forth with joking replies. Hayes was actually very surprised with how big the trout was, he then had it served during an informal dinner with cabinet and some senators. The day afterwards, Wheeler and Lucy were travelling back to Malone when a group of children were waving red flags at the vice president and first lady, touched by the act, Wheeler stopped the carriage that he and Lucy were riding to introduce the first lady to the children. The trip was eleven days and Lucy and her daughter Fanny returned to Washington, she wrote to Wheeler thanking him for "a wild and joyous time".

Lucy Webb Hayes
Lucy Webb Hayes
Wheeler's home in Malone, NY
Wheeler's home in Malone, NY

Post-vice presidency (1881–1887)

In January 1881, Wheeler received 10 votes in the New York State Legislature's Republican caucus to determine a nominee for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Francis Kernan.[12] The Republican nomination went to Thomas C. Platt, who received 54 caucus votes.[12] The Republicans controlled the legislature, and Platt defeated Kernan 104 votes to 50.[12]

Wheeler retired to Malone following the end of his vice presidential term on March 4, 1881.[13] In May 1881, Platt and Roscoe Conkling resigned their U.S. Senate seats in a dispute with President James A. Garfield over control of patronage in New York, triggering two special elections.[14] In the legislative election for Platt's seat, it took six weeks of balloting to elect a candidate.[14] Wheeler's name was in consideration, and he received as many as 23 votes before Warner Miller was elected with 76 votes on the 46th ballot.[14]

Wheeler was also a candidate for Conkling's seat.[14] The voting went on for several weeks and Wheeler received as many as 50 votes on some ballots before Elbridge G. Lapham won with 92 votes on the 56th ballot.[14]

Wheeler suffered from several illnesses throughout his life and was in increasingly poor health during his later years.[15] He died at his home at 10:10 a.m. on Saturday, June 4, 1887.[16] The funeral was held at the Congregational church in Malone.[17] He was interred next to his wife in Malone's Morningside Cemetery on June 7, 1887.[18]


  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. ^ University of Vermont Associate Alumni (1895). University of Vermont Obituary Record. Vol. 1. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont. p. 79.
  3. ^ Murphy, William D. (1858). Biographical Sketches of the State Officers and Members of the Legislature of the State of New York in 1858. Albany, NY: J. Munsell. p. 110. william a wheeler asa hascall.
  4. ^ John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (New York, 1956), p. xiv.
  5. ^ Quigley, Second Founding, p.53
  6. ^ Quigley, Second Founding, p. 53
  7. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Wheeler, William Almon" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 586.
  8. ^ Purcell, L. Edward (2010). Vice Presidents: A Biographical Dictionary. York, PA: Maple Press. pp. 183–184. ISBN 978-0-8160-7707-6.
  9. ^ Trefousse, Hans L. (2002). The American Presidents Series: Rutherford B. Hayes; The 19th President. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-8050-6908-2.
  10. ^ Foner, Eric (1988). Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877, p. 567. New York: Harper & Row.
  11. ^ About the Vice President | William A. Wheeler, 19th Vice President (1877-1881). United States Senate. Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  12. ^ a b c McPherson, Edward, ed. (1882). "Election of United States Senators: New York". The Tribune Almanac and Political Register. New York, NY: The Tribune Association. p. 34 – via Google Books.
  13. ^ Johnson, Rossiter; Brown, John Howard, eds. (1904). The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. Vol. X. Boston, MA: The Biographical Society. p. Wheeler-Wheelock – via Google Books.
  14. ^ a b c d e Porter, Robert Percival; MacMillan, Thomas C.; Jones, William P., eds. (1887). "New York Senatorial Election of 1881". The Inter Ocean Curiosity Shop (First ed.). Chicago, IL: The Inter Ocean Publishing Company. p. 167 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ "William A. Wheeler (1877–1881)". U.S. Presidents: Rutherford B. Hayes. Charlottesville, VA: Miller Center, University of Virginia. Retrieved September 29, 2022.
  16. ^ "William A. Wheeler Dead" (PDF). The New York Times. June 5, 1887. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-10-09.
  17. ^ "William A. Wheeler: Funeral Services Over the Remains of the Deceased Vice-President". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, NY. June 8, 1887. p. 1 – via Newspapers.com.
  18. ^ "At Rest With His Kindred. Ex-vice-president Wheeler's Funeral At Malone, N.Y." (PDF). The New York Times. June 8, 1887. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-10-09.

Further reading

New York State Assembly Preceded byGeorge Gove Member of the New York Assemblyfrom Franklin County 1850–1851 Succeeded byDarius Lawrence New York State Senate Preceded byJoseph H. Ramsey Member of the New York Senatefrom the 17th district 1858–1859 Succeeded byCharles C. Montgomery U.S. House of Representatives Preceded byGeorge Palmer Member of the U.S. House of Representativesfrom New York's 16th congressional district 1861–1863 Succeeded byOrlando Kellogg Preceded byCalvin T. Hulburd Member of the U.S. House of Representativesfrom New York's 17th congressional district 1869–1873 Succeeded byRobert S. Hale Preceded byJohn Carroll Member of the U.S. House of Representativesfrom New York's 18th congressional district 1873–1875 Succeeded byAndrew Williams Preceded byHenry H. Hathorn Member of the U.S. House of Representativesfrom New York's 19th congressional district 1875–1877 Succeeded byAmaziah B. James Party political offices Preceded byHenry Wilson Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States 1876 Succeeded byChester A. Arthur Political offices Preceded byHenry Wilson Vice President of the United States 1877–1881 Succeeded byChester A. Arthur