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William Wilkins (American politician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Wilkins
William Wilkins United States Senator - Brady-Handy.jpg
Member of the Pennsylvania State Senate
from the 22nd district
In office
Preceded byJonas R. McClintock
Succeeded byJacob Turney
19th United States Secretary of War
In office
February 15, 1844 – March 4, 1845
PresidentJohn Tyler
Preceded byJames Madison Porter
Succeeded byWilliam L. Marcy
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
In office
Preceded byDaniel D. Barnard
Succeeded byRomulus Mitchell Saunders
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 21st district
In office
March 4, 1843 – February 14, 1844
Preceded byThomas McKennan
Succeeded byCornelius Darragh
United States Minister to Russia
In office
December 14, 1834 – December 24, 1835
PresidentAndrew Jackson
Preceded byJames Buchanan
Succeeded byJohn Randolph Clay (acting)
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
March 4, 1831 – June 30, 1834
Preceded byWilliam Marks
Succeeded byJames Buchanan
Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
In office
May 12, 1824 – April 14, 1831
Appointed byJames Monroe
Preceded byJonathan Hoge Walker
Succeeded byThomas Irwin
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
William Wilkins

(1779-12-20)December 20, 1779
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedJune 23, 1865(1865-06-23) (aged 85)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Resting placeHomewood Cemetery
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political partyJacksonian Democrat
Other political
RelationsJohn Wilkins Jr.
Ross Wilkins
EducationDickinson College
read law

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.

Early life and education

Wilkins was born on December 20, 1779, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to Captain John Wilkins, a captain in the American Revolution, and Catherine Rowan.[1][2] Wilkins attended the Pittsburgh Academy, the forerunner of the University of Pittsburgh.[3] He read law in 1801 and graduated from Dickinson College in 1802.[2] He was admitted to the bar and entered private practice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1801 to 1806.[2] 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.[4] Bates was very popular and Wilkins left Pennsylvania due to the duel to live with his brother Charles Wilkins in Lexington, Kentucky.[5]

He continued private practice in Lexington, Kentucky from 1806 to 1807.[2] He resumed private practice in Pittsburgh from 1808 to 1815.[2] He assisted in organizing the Pittsburgh Manufacturing Company in 1810.[6] He was the first President of the Bank of Pittsburgh.[6] He was President of the Pittsburgh City Council from 1816 to 1819.[2] He was a Federalist member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1819 to 1820.[4] He was President Judge of the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas for the Fifth Judicial District from 1820 to 1824.[2]

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.[7]

Federal judicial service

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.[2] He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 12, 1824, and received his commission the same day.[2] His service terminated on April 14, 1831, due to his resignation.[2]

Congressional races during his judicial tenure

Wilkins was an unsuccessful candidate for election in 1826 to the 20th United States Congress.[6] He was elected as a Jacksonian Democrat to the 21st United States Congress, but resigned before qualifying, never taking his seat.[6]

United States Senate and diplomatic service

William Wilkins in 1834 when he served in the U.S. Senate from PA painted by James Bowman.
William Wilkins in 1834 when he served in the U.S. Senate from PA painted by James Bowman.

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.[6] 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.[6] Following his departure from Congress, Wilkins served as United States Minister to Russia for the United States Department of State from 1834 to 1836.[2] He resumed private practice in Pittsburgh from 1836 to 1843.[2] He was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the 27th United States Congress in 1840.[6]

United States House service

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.[6] He was Chairman of the United States House Committee on the Judiciary for the 28th United States Congress.[6]

Later career

Wilkins was appointed as the 19th United States Secretary of War by President John Tyler, serving from 1844 to 1845.[6] Wilkins was aboard the USS Princeton when one of its guns exploded in 1843 near Mount Vernon. The explosion killed two member's of John Tyler's cabinet. Wilkins had expressed disapproval of the firing and had moved away from the gun moments before the explosion.[8]

He resumed private practice in Pittsburgh starting in 1845.[2] He was a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate for the 22nd district from 1857 to 1858.[4] He again resumed private practice in Pittsburgh from 1858 to 1865.[2] He was a major general of the Pennsylvania Home Guards in 1862.[6]


Wilkins died on June 23, 1865, in Homewood, now a neighborhood in Pittsburgh,[2] and was interred in Homewood Cemetery.[9]


Wilkins married Catherine Holmes however she died in 1816 and he was remarried to Mathilda Dallas.[4] Wilkins' brother John Wilkins Jr. served as a major general in the United States Army.[10] His sister, Nancy, married Ebenezer Denny, the first mayor of Pittsburgh. His nephew, Harmar Denny, was a U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania.[1] His nephew, Ross Wilkins, was a notable jurist in Michigan.[citation needed]


Wilkins is the namesake of Wilkins Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.[11]


  1. ^ a b "William Wilkins (1779-1865)". Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o William Wilkins at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  3. ^ Starrett, Agnes Lynch (1937). Through one hundred and fifty years: the University of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 45. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d "Pennsylvania State Senate - William Wilkins Biography". Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  5. ^ Bausman, Joseph H. (1904). History of Beaver County, Pennsylvania. New York: The Knickerbocker Press. p. 311. Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k United States Congress. "William Wilkins (id: W000475)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  7. ^ Klein, Philip S. (1973). History of Pennsylvania. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 135. ISBN 0-271-01934-4. Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  8. ^ Cohen, Jared, 1981- (2019), Accidental Presidents eight men who changed America, Simon & Schuster Audio, p. 49, ISBN 978-1-5082-5275-7, OCLC 1097645046CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ "William Wilkins". Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  10. ^ Jordan, John W. (1911). Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania. New York: Historical Society of Pennsylvania. p. 886. ISBN 9780806352398. Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  11. ^ Porter, Thomas J. Jr. (May 10, 1984). "Town names carry a little bit of history". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 1. Retrieved 26 May 2015.


External links

Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Preceded by
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by
Jonathan Hoge Walker
Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
Thomas Irwin
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
William Marks
United States Senator (Class 3) from Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
James Buchanan
Preceded by
William L. Marcy
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
Succeeded by
John M. Clayton
Preceded by
John Forsyth
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Succeeded by
Henry Clay
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
James Buchanan
United States Minister to Russia
Succeeded by
John Randolph Clay (acting)
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Thomas McKean Thompson McKennan
United States Representative from Pennsylvania's 21st congressional district
Succeeded by
Cornelius Darragh
Preceded by
Daniel D. Barnard
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
Succeeded by
Romulus Mitchell Saunders
Political offices
Preceded by
James Madison Porter
United States Secretary of War
Succeeded by
William L. Marcy
Pennsylvania State Senate
Preceded by
Jonas R. McClintock
Member of the Pennsylvania Senate, 22nd district
Succeeded by
Jacob Turney
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Littleton Waller Tazewell
Oldest living United States Senator
Succeeded by
Henry Dodge
This page was last edited on 4 February 2021, at 18:53
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