William Cannon
40th Governor of Delaware
In office
January 20, 1863 – March 1, 1865
Preceded byWilliam Burton
Succeeded byGove Saulsbury
Member of the Delaware House of Representatives
In office
January 6, 1845 - January 6, 1849
Personal details
Born(1809-03-15)March 15, 1809
Bridgeville, Delaware
DiedMarch 1, 1865(1865-03-01) (aged 55)
Bridgeville, Delaware
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Margaret Ann Barker

William Cannon (March 15, 1809 – March 1, 1865) was an American merchant and politician from Bridgeville, in Sussex County, Delaware. He was a member of the Democratic Party and later the Republican Party, who served in the Delaware General Assembly and as Governor of Delaware during much of the Civil War.

Early life and family

Cannon was born at Bridgeville, in Sussex County, Delaware, son of Josiah and Nancy Bowlin Cannon. He married Margaret Ann Barker and had six children. He began working in his father's merchandising business in Bridgeville, and gradually expanded it to include lumber, grain, grist and saw mills, and a brick yard. His business interests included peaches, banking, and newspaper publishing, and he was a director of the Delaware Railroad. By 1864 he was probably the wealthiest man in Sussex County.

Cannon's eldest son, William Laws Cannon (1839–1863), served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was the captain of Company E of the First Delaware Cavalry. The younger William died of exposure in 1863 during the Gettysburg Campaign.

Governor of Delaware

Cannon was elected as a Democrat to the state house for the 1845/46 session and the 1847/48 session. From 1849 until 1851 he was state treasurer. Although he had been a leader in the a Democratic Party prior to the 1862 elections, at that time he switched parties and became a Republican, who were organized as the Union Party for this election. Perhaps the switch resulted from his devotion to the Union, but it also may have been due to a three time failure to receive the Democratic nomination for governor. In the months leading up to the 1862 elections Cannon and incumbent U.S. Representative George P. Fisher feared they would be defeated by a combination of so many Republican voters off serving in the U.S. Army, and polling place shenanigans by stay at home Democrats. Their solution was to request federal troops to monitor the voting places. The troops came, supervised the election, and Cannon was elected, defeating Democrat Samuel Jefferson from New Castle County. However, Fisher lost, and Cannon faced a General Assembly with a Democratic majority in both houses.

This majority was furious with the new governor. Besides despising him for switching parties and supporting the hated abolitionists, they thought he had virtually won his office at the point of a bayonet. The State House refused to allow Cannon the use of its facilities for his inauguration, and a joint committee of the General Assembly said his inaugural message was not only impertinent, but insolent in the extreme, entirely unbecoming a State Executive, especially one elected by "fraud and violence against the known wish of a majority of the citizens of Delaware." Then the whole affair was repeated a year later, when federal troops supervised a special election to fill the seat of deceased U.S. Representative William Temple. This time the Democrats boycotted the election, but they were just biding their time. Finally, once again the elections of 1864 were supervised by federal troops, but this time the Democrats voted and swept the election. Without the veto, Cannon was powerless to accomplish anything with the General Assembly. As if to emphasize the point the General Assembly even rejected Cannon's request to approve the Thirteenth Amendment, prohibiting slavery. This act had been approved by neighboring border state Maryland, but Delaware's Democrats would refuse to pass this measure for another generation.

Cannon served as Governor of Delaware from January 20, 1863 until his death while in office on March 1, 1865.[1] He had become ill, some said, after helping to extinguish a fire. He was almost 56 years old and the eighth governor to die in office.

Delaware General Assembly
(sessions while Governor)
Year Assembly Senate Majority Speaker House Majority Speaker
1863–1864 72nd Democratic John R. Tatum Democratic John Sorden
1865–1866 73rd Democratic Gove Saulsbury Democratic Shephard P. Houston

Death and legacy

Cannon died at Bridgeville, Delaware, and was buried there in the Bridgeville Methodist Cemetery. His son Philip L. Cannon became the first Lieutenant Governor of Delaware in 1901.

Electoral history

Elections are held on the first Tuesday after November 1. Members of the Delaware General Assembly took office in the first Tuesday of January. State representatives have a term of two years. The governor takes office the third Tuesday in January, and has a four-year term.

Public Offices
Office Type Location Began office Ended office notes
State Representative Legislature Dover January 6, 1845 January 6, 1847
State Representative Legislature Dover January 6, 1847 January 6, 1849
State Treasurer Executive Dover January 6, 1849 January 6, 1851
Governor Executive Dover January 20, 1863 March 1, 1865 died in office
Delaware General Assembly service
Dates Assembly Chamber Majority Governor Committees District
1845–1846 63rd State House Whig Thomas Stockton Sussex at-large
1847–1848 64th State House Whig William Tharp Sussex at-large
Election results
Year Office Subject Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes %
1862 Governor William Cannon Republican 8,155 50% Samuel Jefferson Democratic 8,044 50%


  1. ^ "Delaware Governor William Cannon". National Governors Association. Retrieved September 12, 2012.

Further reading


Places with more information

Party political offices Preceded byJames S. Buckmaster Republican nominee for Governor of Delaware 1862 Succeeded byJames Riddle Political offices Preceded byWilliam Burton Governor of Delaware 1863–1865 Succeeded byGove Saulsbury