1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vilas, William Freeman

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VILAS, WILLIAM FREEMAN (1840-1908), American political leader and lawyer, was born in Chelsea, Vermont, on the 9th of July 1840. His father, Levi B. Vilas, a lawyer and Democratic politician, emigrated in 1851 to Madison, Wisconsin. William graduated at the university of Wisconsin in 1858, and at the Albany (New York) Law School in 1860, and began to practise law in Madison with his father. In 1862 he recruited and became captain of Company A of the Twenty-Third Wisconsin Volunteers, of which he was made lieutenant-colonel in 1863, and which he commanded in the siege of Vicksburg. In August 1863 he resigned his commission and resumed his law practice. He was professor of law in the university of Wisconsin in 1868-85, snd again in 1889-92, and in 1875-78 was a member of the commission which revised the statutes of Wisconsin.

From 1876 to 18S6 he was a member of the National Democratic Committee, and virtually the leader of his party in his state; he was a delegate to the National Democratic Conventions of 1876, 1880 and 1884, and was permanent chairman of the last. In 1885 he was a member of the state Assembly. He was postmaster-general in President Grover Cleveland's cabinet from March 1885 until January 1888, and was then secretary of the interior until March 18S9. From 1S91 until 1897 he was a member of the United States Senate, in which, during President Cleveland's second term, he was recognized as the chief defender of the Administration, and he was especially active in securing the repeal of the silver purchase clause of the Sherman Act. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1896, but withdrew after the adoption of the free-silver plank. He then became one of the chief organizers of the National (or Gold) Democratic party, attended the convention at Indianapolis, and was chairman of its committee on resolutions. In 1881-85 and in 1898-1905 he was a regent of the university of Wisconsin; and he was a member (1897-1903) of the commission which had charge of the erection of the State Historical Library at Madison, and in 1906-8 of the commission for the construction of the new state capitol. He died at Madison on the 27th of August 1908.

With E. E. Bryant he edited vols. i. to xx., except vol. v., of the Reports of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.