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William Almon Wheeler (June 30, 1819 – June 4, 1887) was a Representative from New York and the 19th Vice President of the United States.
Early life and career
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. He was admitted to the bar in 1845, practiced law in Malone, and served as district attorney for Franklin County from 1846 to 1849. He became a member of the New York State Assembly in 1850 and 1851 and member of the state Senate from 1858 to 1860. He was elected as a Republican to the Thirty-seventh United States Congress (March 4, 1861 – March 4, 1863). He was President of the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1867-68, and was elected to the Forty-first and to the three succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1869 – March 4, 1877).
Despite his long career in politics, he was not very conspicuous, and few outside his home district knew who he was and he had never introduced any legislation.
Wheeler was also President of the New York Northern Railroad.
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.
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 did serve as president of the New York State Constitutional Convention of June 1867. 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."
Election of 1876
Wheeler was a delegate to the Republican convention in 1876, which had just nominated Rutherford B. Hayes on the seventh ballot.
The convention was recessed for dinner, and as a sop to Roscoe Conkling, the party bosses announced that they would let the New York delegation pick the candidate for Vice President. So some of the delegation were discussing the matter and they were stymied. They could not think of anyone who they would want to stick with the position. Then one of them began to giggle. "What about Wheeler?" he chuckled. Soon everyone was having a hearty laugh, including Wheeler, and the next morning he was, much to everyone's surprise, nominated by acclamation. 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 what had happened, remarked: "I am ashamed to say: Who is Wheeler?"
Not having done much campaigning, Wheeler did not participate in the firestorm that took place over the election's disputed results in November 1876.
He was inaugurated in March 1877 and served until March 1881.
Since Wheeler was a recent widower, his wife having died three months before he took the oath of office, President and Mrs. Hayes took pity on him, and the Vice President was a frequent guest at the White House's alcohol-free luncheons. Other than that, Wheeler merely presided over the Senate, which he found extremely tedious, and was little heard from otherwise. 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."
Hayes had long announced he wouldn't run for a second term, and Wheeler wasn't even considered, even jokingly, for the 1880 nomination.
When his term was over, he retired from public life and active business pursuits because of ill health, and died in Malone, New York. He was interred in Morningside Cemetery, Malone.
- William A. Wheeler at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Vice Presidents of the United States William A. Wheeler (1877-1881)
- David Quigley Second Founding: New York City, Reconstruction, and the Making of American Democracy (New York: Farrar. Straus, and Giroux - Hill and Wang, 2004), ISBN 0-8090-8514-3.
- William A. Wheeler at Find A Grave
|width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Chester A. Arthur |- |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States House of Representatives Template:USRepSuccessionBox Template:USRepSuccessionBox Template:USRepSuccessionBox Template:USRepSuccessionBox Template:S-ppo |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Henry Wilson |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Republican Party vice presidential candidate
1876 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Chester A. Arthur |- |}
Template:US Vice Presidents Template:USRepVicePresNominees Template:Hayes cabinet
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