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David Wilmot (January 20, 1814 – March 16, 1868) was a United States Representative and a United States Senator from Pennsylvania and a Judge of the Court of Claims. He is best known for being the prime sponsor and namesake of the Wilmot Proviso, a failed proposal to ban the expansion of slavery to western lands gained in the Mexican Cession. A notable member of the anti-slavery Free Soil Party, Wilmot later was instrumental in establishing the Republican Party in Pennsylvania.

David Wilmot
David Wilmot.png
Judge of the Court of Claims
In office
March 7, 1863 – March 16, 1868
Appointed byAbraham Lincoln
Preceded bySeat established by 12 Stat. 765
Succeeded bySamuel Milligan
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
March 14, 1861 – March 3, 1863
Preceded bySimon Cameron
Succeeded byCharles R. Buckalew
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 12th district
In office
March 4, 1845 – March 3, 1851
Preceded byGeorge Fuller
Succeeded byGalusha A. Grow
Personal details
David Wilmot

(1814-01-20)January 20, 1814
Bethany, Pennsylvania
DiedMarch 16, 1868(1868-03-16) (aged 54)
Towanda, Pennsylvania
Resting placeRiverside Cemetery
Towanda, Pennsylvania
Political partyDemocratic (until 1848)
Free Soil (from 1848)
Republican (from 1854)
Educationread law

Education and careerEdit

Born on January 20, 1814, in Bethany, Pennsylvania,[1] Wilmot completed preparatory studies at the local Beech Woods Academy[citation needed] and at the Cayuga Lake Academy at Aurora, Cayuga County, New York,[2] then read law with Pennsylvania state judge William Jessup in Montrose, Pennsylvania and with George Washington Woodward in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in August 1834.[3][1] He was admitted to the bar of Bradford County, Pennsylvania and entered private practice in Towanda, Bradford County, Pennsylvania from 1834 to 1844.[1]

Congressional serviceEdit

Wilmot was elected as a Democrat from Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district to the United States House of Representatives of the 29th, 30th and 31st United States Congresses, serving from March 4, 1845, to March 3, 1851.[2] He was not a candidate for renomination in 1850.[2] He was the author of the Wilmot Proviso relative to slavery in newly annexed territory.[2]

Political viewsEdit

Wilmot initially supported the policies of President James Polk. Also, as a representative of a largely agrarian district, he voted for the Walker Tariff of 1846, which made a moderate reduction in tariff rates. Only gradually did Wilmot come to believe that the South was dominating the national government to the detriment of the rest of the nation.[3]

Free Soil and the Wilmot ProvisoEdit

Although Wilmot opposed the extension of slavery into the territories, he supported Polk in the initiation of the Mexican-American War, and was still considered a Democratic Party loyalist. But on August 8, 1846, an appropriations bill for $2 million to be used by the President in negotiating a treaty of peace with Mexico was introduced in the United States House of Representatives.[citation needed]

Wilmot immediately offered the following amendment:

"Provided, That, as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico by the United States, by virtue of any treaty which may be negotiated between them, and to the use by the Executive of the moneys herein appropriated, neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime, whereof the party shall first be duly convicted."[4]

Wilmot modeled the language for what would usually be referred to as the Wilmot Proviso after the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Although known as the Wilmot Proviso, it originated with Jacob Brinkerhoff of Ohio, Wilmot being selected to present it only because his party standing was more regular.[4] The House, after first voting down a counter-proposal simply to extend the Missouri Compromise line across the Mexican Cession, passed the proviso by a vote of 83–64. This led to an attempt to table the entire appropriations bill rather than pass it with "the obnoxious proviso attached", but this effort was defeated "in an ominously sectional vote, 78–94".[5] The United States Senate adjourned rather than approve the bill with the proviso.

A similar measure was brought forward at the next session with the appropriation amount increased to $3 million, and the scope of the amendment expanded to include all future territory which might be acquired by the United States. This was passed in the House by a vote of 115 to 105, but the Senate refused to concur and passed a bill of its own without the amendment. The House acquiesced, owing largely to the influence of General Lewis Cass.[4] As the 1848 presidential election took shape, the Democrats rejected the Wilmot Proviso in their platform and selected Cass as their candidate to run on a popular sovereignty platform. The new Free Soil Party rallied around the Wilmot Proviso, and nominated Martin Van Buren on a platform calling for "No more slave states and no more slave territory."[6]

By 1848 Wilmot was thoroughly identified as a Free Soiler, but, like many other Free Soilers, he did not oppose the expansion of slavery based on a legal rejection of the short-term existence of the institution itself. In a speech in the House, Wilmot said, "I plead the cause and the rights of white freemen [and] I would preserve to free white labor a fair country, a rich inheritance, where the sons of toil, of my own race and own color, can live without the disgrace which association with negro slavery brings upon free labor."[7] Around the same time, however, Wilmot, in a New York speech, spoke of the ultimate demise of slavery when he argued, "Keep it within given limits …and in time it will wear itself out. Its existence can only be perpetuated by constant expansion. … Slavery has within itself the seeds of its own destruction."[8]

Wilmot was presented as the Free Soil candidate for Speaker of the United States House of Representatives in 1849 and was soon at odds with the mainstream Pennsylvania Democratic Party led by James Buchanan. Wilmot was forced to withdraw from the 1850 Congressional elections in favor of the more moderate Galusha A. Grow.[3]

State judicial serviceEdit

Wilmot was President Judge of the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas for the Thirteenth Judicial District from 1851 to 1861.[1] He took a leading part in the founding of the Republican Party in 1854.[2] He was Chairman of the Republican Party platform committee, was a delegate to the 1856 Republican National Convention and worked vigorously for the first Republican presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, in the 1856 election.[3] He was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1857,[2] losing to William F. Packer.[citation needed]

Later Congressional serviceEdit

Wilmot was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of United States Senator Simon Cameron and served from March 14, 1861, to March 3, 1863.[2] He was not a candidate for reelection in 1862.[2] He was a member of the Peace Convention of 1861, held in Washington, D.C., in an effort to devise means to prevent the impending American Civil War.[2]

Federal judicial serviceEdit

Wilmot was nominated by President Abraham Lincoln on March 6, 1863, to the Court of Claims (later the United States Court of Claims), to a new seat authorized by 12 Stat. 765.[1] He was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 7, 1863, and received his commission the same day.[1] His service terminated on March 16, 1868, due to his death in Towanda.[1] He was interred in Riverside Cemetery in Towanda.[9][2]


Wilmot's house in Bethany, Pennsylvania.

Wilmot was the son of Randall (1792–1876) and Mary (née Grant) Wilmot (1792–1820).[citation needed] His father was a well-to-do merchant, and David's early life was a comfortable one.[citation needed] In 1836, he married Anna Morgan. The couple had three children, none of whom survived childhood.[3]

Legacy and honorsEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Wilmot, David - Federal Judicial Center".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j United States Congress. "David Wilmot (id: W000566)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  3. ^ a b c d e McKnight p. 2121
  4. ^ a b c Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Wilmot, David". Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 691.
  5. ^ Morrison, p. 41
  6. ^ Levine p. 183
  7. ^ Berwanger pp. 125–126
  8. ^ Foner, p. 116
  9. ^ a b "David Wilmot", Waymarking
  10. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.


External linksEdit

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
George Fuller
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district

Succeeded by
Galusha A. Grow
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Simon Cameron
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: Edgar Cowan
Succeeded by
Charles R. Buckalew
Legal offices
Preceded by
Seat established by 12 Stat. 765
Judge of the Court of Claims
Succeeded by
Samuel Milligan