Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

William A. Wheeler (1877–1881)

William Almon Wheeler was born on June 30, 1819, in Malone, New York, near the Canadian border. His father died when he was a young boy, leaving little money for his family, and William grew up relatively poor. He attended the University of Vermont for two years but had to drop out because of lack of funds. He then returned to New York and started teaching school, while studying law. In 1845, he was admitted to the bar, and that same year, he married Mary King. They did not have any children.

He began his political career with local positions such as town clerk and school commissioner. A member of the Whig Party, he became district attorney for Franklin County in 1846, a position he held for three years. In the 1850s, he was elected to the New York legislature, serving in both the house and senate. In the mid-1850s, he joined the Republican Party. He moved to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1861 and served just one term before deciding to return to New York. Wheeler often suffered from ill health and felt that working in the federal government was not good for his health.

In 1869, however, he chose to return to Washington, D.C., again as a representative from New York. He served in the House until he resigned to become vice president in 1877. Although Wheeler was considered an honest and conscientious politician, he did not receive national attention until 1874, when he was a member of the House Committee on Southern Affairs. The committee went to Louisiana to help resolve a disputed election for governor. The “Wheeler Compromise” reached an agreement between Democrats and Republicans to govern the state and prevent further violence in Louisiana.

As the presidential election of 1876 neared, the Republican Party needed candidates with clean reputations because the scandals of the Ulysses S. Grant administration had disenchanted the public. The party turned to Wheeler as vice president because of his honesty and impeccable character. During the disputed presidential election, he and Hayes laid low and did not campaign. Once in office, Wheeler had little influence in the administration, as was usual for the time, but he had unusually close personal relationships with President Hayes and his family.

Leaving office in 1881, Wheeler returned to New York and private life. He died on June 4, 1887.