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."
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