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William Wilkins (American politician)

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William Wilkins (December 20, 1779 – June 23, 1865) was an American lawyer, jurist, and politician from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During his career, he served in both houses of the Pennsylvania State Legislature, and in all three branches of the United States federal government, including service as a United States federal judge, as a member of both the House and Senate, and as a cabinet member.

William Wilkins
William Wilkins United States Senator - Brady-Handy.jpg
19th United States Secretary of War
In office
February 15, 1844 – March 4, 1845
PresidentJohn Tyler
Preceded byJames Madison Porter
Succeeded byWilliam L. Marcy
Chair of the House Judiciary Committee
In office
Preceded byDaniel D. Barnard
Succeeded byRomulus Mitchell Saunders
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 21st district
In office
March 4, 1843 – February 14, 1844
Preceded byThomas McKennan
Succeeded byCornelius Darragh
United States Minister to Russia
In office
December 14, 1834 – December 24, 1835
PresidentAndrew Jackson
Preceded byJames Buchanan
Succeeded byJohn Randolph Clay (Acting)
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
March 4, 1831 – June 30, 1834
Preceded byWilliam Marks
Succeeded byJames Buchanan
Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
In office
May 12, 1824 – April 14, 1831
Appointed byJames Monroe
Preceded byJonathan Hoge Walker
Succeeded byThomas Irwin
Personal details
Born(1779-12-20)December 20, 1779
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedJune 23, 1865(1865-06-23) (aged 85)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationUniversity of Pittsburgh
Dickinson College (BA)


Early life, education, and careerEdit

William Wilkins was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on December 20, 1779. He attended the Pittsburgh Academy, the forerunner of the University of Pittsburgh,[1] read law in 1801 and graduated from Dickinson College in 1802. He was in private practice in Pittsburgh from 1801 to 1806, then in Lexington, Kentucky from 1806 to 1807, and again in Pittsburgh from 1808 to 1815. He was President, Pittsburgh City Council from 1816 to 1819. He was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1819 to 1820.

Judicial serviceEdit

Wilkins became a judge of the Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania in 1820, serving until 1824. On May 10, 1824, Wilkins was nominated by President James Monroe to a seat on the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania vacated by Jonathan Hoge Walker. Wilkins was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 12, 1824, and received his commission the same day. He resigned on April 14, 1831, to begin his own term of service in the United States Senate.

Career in national politicsEdit

A Jacksonian, he was a United States Senator from Pennsylvania from 1831 to 1834. In the election of 1832, Wilkins received 30 electoral votes from Pennsylvania for the Vice Presidency (the other 189 votes went to the official party nominee, Martin Van Buren). Additionally, he was elected to Pennsylvania's 16th congressional district for the 21st United States Congress to start on March 4, 1929, but resigned before assuming office.

From 1834 to 1835 Wilkins was Minister to Russia.

After returning to private practice in Pittsburgh from 1836 to 1842, he was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1843 until resigning in 1844. He resigned to accept appointment as U.S. Secretary of War under President John Tyler.

Later lifeEdit

In 1845, Willkins returned to the private practice of law in Pittsburgh. He was a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate from 1855 to 1857, and was in private practice of law in Pittsburgh until his death, in 1865. Wilkins died in 1865 in Homewood, near Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pa, and was buried in the Homewood Cemetery there. Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania is named after him. His brother John Wilkins, Jr. served as a Major General in the United States Army. His nephew, Ross Wilkins, was a notable jurist in Michigan.

Wilkins is the namesake of Wilkins Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania,[2] while the town of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania is named after his aforementioned brother.


  1. ^ Starrett, Agnes Lynch (1937). Through one hundred and fifty years: the University of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 45. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
  2. ^ Porter, Thomas J. Jr. (May 10, 1984). "Town names carry a little bit of history". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 1. Retrieved 26 May 2015.


External linksEdit