|Member of the Pennsylvania State Senate|
from the 22nd district
|Preceded by||Jonas R. McClintock|
|Succeeded by||Jacob Turney|
|19th United States Secretary of War|
February 15, 1844 – March 4, 1845
|Preceded by||James Madison Porter|
|Succeeded by||William L. Marcy|
|Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee|
|Preceded by||Daniel D. Barnard|
|Succeeded by||Romulus Mitchell Saunders|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Pennsylvania's 21st district
March 4, 1843 – February 14, 1844
|Preceded by||Thomas McKennan|
|Succeeded by||Cornelius Darragh|
|United States Minister to Russia|
December 14, 1834 – December 24, 1835
|Preceded by||James Buchanan|
|Succeeded by||John Randolph Clay (acting)|
|United States Senator|
March 4, 1831 – June 30, 1834
|Preceded by||William Marks|
|Succeeded by||James Buchanan|
|Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania|
May 12, 1824 – April 14, 1831
|Appointed by||James Monroe|
|Preceded by||Jonathan Hoge Walker|
|Succeeded by||Thomas Irwin|
|Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives|
December 20, 1779
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||June 23, 1865 (aged 85)|
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Resting place||Homewood Cemetery|
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Political party||Jacksonian Democrat|
|Relations||John Wilkins Jr.|
William Wilkins (December 20, 1779 – June 23, 1865) was an American judge and politician from Pennsylvania who served as a Jacksonian member of the United States Senate from 1831 to 1834 and as a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives for Pennsylvania's 21st congressional district from 1843 to 1844. He served as a member of both houses of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, a United States district judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, United States Minister to Russia and the 19th United States Secretary of War.
Wilkins was born on December 20, 1779, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to Captain John Wilkins, a captain in the American Revolution, and Catherine Rowan. Wilkins attended the Pittsburgh Academy, the forerunner of the University of Pittsburgh. He read law in 1801 and graduated from Dickinson College in 1802. He was admitted to the bar and entered private practice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1801 to 1806. He was "second" in a duel in 1806 which resulted in the death of a Mr. Bates. It was the last recorded duel in Pennsylvania before the Pennsylvania General Assembly outlawed the practice. Bates was very popular and Wilkins left Pennsylvania due to the duel to live with his brother Charles Wilkins in Lexington, Kentucky.
He continued private practice in Lexington, Kentucky from 1806 to 1807. He resumed private practice in Pittsburgh from 1808 to 1815. He assisted in organizing the Pittsburgh Manufacturing Company in 1810. He was the first President of the Bank of Pittsburgh. He was President of the Pittsburgh City Council from 1816 to 1819. He was a Federalist member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1819 to 1820. He was President Judge of the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas for the Fifth Judicial District from 1820 to 1824.
In the 1820s, Wilkins and George M. Dallas were leaders in the Family Party faction of the Democratic Party. The faction was named Family Party since Wilkins, Dallas and several other key leaders were all related by marriage. The Family Party had political strength and were able to place the defeated governor William Findlay as a U.S. Senator in 1821.
Wilkins was nominated by President James Monroe on May 10, 1824, to a seat on the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania vacated by Judge Jonathan Hoge Walker. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 12, 1824, and received his commission the same day. His service terminated on April 14, 1831, due to his resignation.
Wilkins was an unsuccessful candidate for election in 1826 to the 20th United States Congress. He was elected as a Jacksonian Democrat to the 21st United States Congress, but resigned before qualifying, never taking his seat.
Wilkins was elected as a Jacksonian Democrat to the United States Senate from Pennsylvania and served from March 4, 1831, to June 30, 1834, when he resigned. He was Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary from the 22nd United States Congress and Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for the 23rd United States Congress. Following his departure from Congress, Wilkins served as United States Minister to Russia for the United States Department of State from 1834 to 1836. He resumed private practice in Pittsburgh from 1836 to 1843. He was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the 27th United States Congress in 1840.
Wilkins was elected as a Democrat from Pennsylvania's 21st congressional district to the United States House of Representatives of the 28th United States Congress and served from December 4, 1843, to February 14, 1844, when he resigned. He was Chairman of the United States House Committee on the Judiciary for the 28th United States Congress.
Wilkins was appointed as the 19th United States Secretary of War by President John Tyler, serving from 1844 to 1845. Wilkins was aboard the USS Princeton when one of its guns exploded in 1843 near Mount Vernon. The explosion killed two members of John Tyler's cabinet. Wilkins had expressed disapproval of the firing and had moved away from the gun moments before the explosion.
He resumed private practice in Pittsburgh starting in 1845. He was a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate for the 22nd district from 1857 to 1858. He again resumed private practice in Pittsburgh from 1858 to 1865. He was a major general of the Pennsylvania Home Guards in 1862.
Wilkins died on June 23, 1865, in Homewood, now a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, and was interred in Homewood Cemetery.
Wilkins married Catherine Holmes however she died in 1816 and he was remarried to Mathilda Dallas. Wilkins' brother John Wilkins Jr. served as a major general in the United States Army. His sister, Nancy, married Ebenezer Denny, the first mayor of Pittsburgh. His nephew, Harmar Denny, was a U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania. His nephew, Ross Wilkins, was a notable jurist in Michigan.
Wilkins is the namesake of Wilkins Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
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