William Medill was the twenty-second Governor of Ohio.
William Medill was born in New Castle County, Delaware, in February 1802. His parents, William and Isabella Medill, were Irish immigrants to the United States and owned their own farm. Medill worked his way through college at the Newark Academy, which later became the University of Delaware. After graduating in 1825, Medill began to study the law and was admitted to the Delaware bar in 1830. He moved to Lancaster, Ohio, and gained admittance to the Ohio bar in 1832.
Medill became a prominent citizen of Lancaster and decided to run for state office. He was elected to four straight terms as a representative to the state legislature from Fairfield County beginning in 1835. He was well respected in the Ohio House of Representatives, and his fellow legislators elected him Speaker of the House in 1836 and again in 1837. The following year, Medill successfully ran for the United States House of Representatives. He was reelected in 1840. He was defeated when he ran for a third term in 1842. During his years in Congress, Medill became known as a strong Democrat who spoke out against the Bank of the United States.
During President James K. Polk's administration, Medill served in two appointed political positions. In 1845, Medill became second assistant postmaster general, a post that he only held for a short time before accepting an appointment as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Medill had a reputation as a fair and reform-minded manager of Native American issues. During this time, the federal government reorganized the Bureau of Indian Affairs and moved it from the War Department to the Department of the Interior. Medill held the post of commissioner from 1845 to 1850, when he returned to Ohio.
Medill soon was involved once again in the state's politics. He became a delegate to the Ohio Constitutional Convention in 1850, and his fellow delegates elected him president of the convention. Under his leadership, the convention prepared the new Ohio Constitution of 1851. The new constitution established the position of lieutenant governor for the first time in Ohio history. Medill became the first person elected to this position in 1852 and again in 1853. Reuben Wood was elected as governor in those two elections.
When Wood resigned as governor to accept an appointment as United States Consul to Chile in 1853, Medill became Governor of Ohio. He was elected in his own right the same year and continued to serve as governor until 1855. Democratic majorities in both houses supported Medill. He proposed that the state privatize all canals, turnpikes, and other transportation interests in Ohio. These recommendations were not acted on while Medill was Governor.
When Medill ran for reelection as governor in 1855, he faced strong opposition from Salmon P. Chase of the newly-formed Republican Party. Chase ran on an anti-slavery platform and defeated Medill by a significant margin.
Although Medill was defeated his political career was not over. President James Buchanan appointed Medill as controller of the United States Treasury and he held that position from 1857 to 1861. In poor health, he then decided to retire from politics and return to his home in Lancaster.
By the time that Medill moved back to Ohio, the Civil War had begun. Medill did not agree with the war. He allied himself with the Peace Democrats but he did not support his party's nomination of Clement L. Vallandigham for governor in 1863. His deteriorating health kept Medill from taking an active role in political life after 1863. He died in Lancaster on September 2, 1865. Medill never married. After his death, his nephew inherited his property.
- Salmon P. Chase
- Reuben Wood
- Peace Democrats
- Lancaster, Ohio
- Newark, Ohio
- Bank of the United States
- James Polk
- Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1850-1851
- Democratic Party
- Republican Party
- American Civil War
- Clement Vallandigham
- Fairfield County
- [The Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress]
- Dee, Christine, ed. Ohio's War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.
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- Weber, Jennifer L. Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's Opponents in the North. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006.
- Weisenburger, Francis P. The Passing of the Frontier: 1825-1850. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1941.