Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896/Chapter 8/Wilson

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VIII. Political Giants of the Present Day—

William Lyne Wilson

William Lyne Wilson[edit]

Postmaster-General, Author of the “Wilson Bill”

William Lyne Wilson was born in Jefferson county, West Virginia, then a part of Virginia, May 3, 1843. His father, Benjamin Wilson, died when the son and only child was only four years old, and he was thus left to the care of his widowed mother. She trained him carefully, and having entered Columbian College, in Washington, D. C., he was graduated in 1860, and the same year became a student at the University of Virginia.

Stirring Times[edit]

Those were stirring times, for the country was about to plunge into civil war. Young Wilson had been in the University less than a year, when, with the majority of students, he withdrew to enter the Confederate service, in which he remained until the final surrender at Appomattox. He then returned to Columbian College, in which he was appointed Professor of Ancient Languages. While meeting the duties of this honorable place, he studied law and was graduated from the law school of that institution in 1867. At that time the “test oaths” prevented any person who had served in the Confederate service from practicing in the courts of West Virginia, but the law was repealed in 1871, and Professor Wilson began the duties of his profession in Charlestown. He was chosen as one of the West Virginia delegates to the National Democratic Convention in 1880, and as a State Elector at Large on the presidential Democratic ticket of that year.

In the Congress[edit]

In 1882 he became President of the West Virginia State University, and two weeks later was nominated by the Democratic Convention of the Second District for Representative in Congress, and elected in the following November. He acted as President of the University from March 4, 1883, without salary, until he took his seat as a member of the Forty-eighth Congress, in December of that year. He served for six terms, but was swept under by the wave of Republican successes in November, 1894. Postmaster-General Bissell having resigned early in 1895, President Cleveland nominated Professor Wilson as his successor, and he was promptly confirmed by the Senate. His appointment gave general satisfaction to all parties, for it was only a recognition of his extraordinary services in the cause of tariff reform.

The “Wilson Bill”[edit]

In 1893, Professor Wilson was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and the tariff bill which he presented in that year and fought through the House drew the attention of the entire country to him. No man ever wrought harder than he, toiling all day and far into the night, and none could have made a more vigorous, determined and successful contest upon the floor of the House. When triumph came at last, he was carried on the shoulders of his shouting adherents, the scene being one which no witness can ever forget. His exhausting labors proved serious, for his health broke down and it was a long time before he regained in any degree his usual strength. The “Wilson Bill,” whose merits it is not our province to discuss, has taken its place in history, and the author is acknowledged to be one of the brainiest and ablest members of his party.

Personal Qualities[edit]

Professor Wilson is a small man, slender of frame, and barely five feet in height. His pale face is that of a student, and his fine hair is rapidly becoming white. Although wholly absorbed in his public duties while in Washington, when he is at his home in Charlestown, West Virginia, he is a merry, rollicking boy among his four sons, provided they are at home with him. He is the happy father also of two daughters, and the family is an ideal one. Both he and his accomplished wife are Baptists, and when the new of his nomination to Congress reached him, they were at a prayer meeting. It was a case of the office seeking the man, and Professor Wilson has never in any sense of the word been a wire-puller.

A little fact may be mentioned here: the small pale disk which Professor Wilson sometimes wears as a scarf pin, was struck two thousand two hundred years ago, by command of the founder of the Macedonian empire. It shows the profile of Philip, and is one of the rarest coins in existence, carrying us back to the luminous noontide of Greek civilization, which still glows for the student beyond the mists and shadows of encroaching centuries.