William D. Kelley

For other people named William Kelley, see William Kelley (disambiguation).
William D. Kelley
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 4th district
In office
March 4, 1861  January 9, 1890
Preceded by William Millward
Succeeded by John E. Reyburn
Personal details
Born (1814-04-12)April 12, 1814
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
Died January 9, 1890(1890-01-09) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C., US
Resting place Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Caroline Bartram-Bonsall
Children Elizabeth
Anna Kelley
William Darrah, Jr.
Albert Bartram
Profession Proofreader
Religion Quaker

William Darrah Kelley (April 12, 1814 – January 9, 1890) was a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania. As an abolitionist, he was one of the founders of the Republican Party in 1854, and a friend of Abraham Lincoln. Kelley was a man of strict principles, advocating the recruitment of black troops in the civil war, and the extending of the vote to them afterwards. His belief in protective tariffs was so extreme that he refused to wear a single imported garment.

Early life

William Darrah Kelley was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Hannah and David Kelley; his father died when he was two. David Kelley had been a watch and clock-maker, and later in life, William Kelley bought one of those clocks to adorn his library.[1] William Kelley's daughter Florence later told of an incident that had occurred immediately after David Kelley's death. Since the law at the time said that all a man's possessions must be sold to discharge his debts, with no exemptions allowed for widows or orphans, all of the family's treasures were spread out on tables to be auctioned off. A "substantial" Quaker woman appeared with two large baskets, claimed that several items up for auction were hers, filled the baskets with as many as she could carry, and then departed while expressing mock indignation that Hannah Kelley had not previously returned these "borrowed" items. After the auction the woman returned the items to the Kelley family.[2]


His mother opened a boarding house to support her children.[3]

As a boy Kelley began working as an errand boy in a Philadelphia bookstore, a position which led to a position as proofreader with the Philadelphia Inquirer. He later apprenticed as a jeweler, and served in the State Fencibles, a militia unit commanded by Colonel John Page, a prominent attorney. Kelley then worked as a journeyman jeweler in Boston, Massachusetts for several years. Upon returning to Philadelphia, Kelley began the study of law in Page's office. Kelley was admitted to the bar in Philadelphia in 1841.[4]

Later, a reporter described Kelley in the United States House as "slightly noticeable for the disfigurement of the lid of one of his eyes, received in a machine shop in which his youth was educated -- a man who literally hammered his way up in life, and who is capable of hammering his representative way through life, on whatsoever paths social tyranny or political injustice seek to bar man's progress to a pure democracy."[5]

He became involved in politics as an antislavery member of the Democratic Party, and in 1846 Governor Francis R. Shunk appointed Kelley a Judge of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, where he served until 1856.

Kelley came to national attention after his 1854 speech against the slave trade, "Slavery in the Territories", was published and widely read.

Founding the Republican Party and Congressional Career

After the repeal of the Missouri Compromise by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, Kelley quit the Democratic Party and was one of the founders of the Republican Party.

Kelley was elected as a Republican to Congress in 1860 and served from March 4, 1861, until his death in Washington, D.C. Friendly with Abraham Lincoln, he had served on the committee that went to Springfield to inform the Republican that he had been nominated by the Chicago convention in 1860. He became one of the most prominent figures in the Union League in Philadelphia and an early advocate of enlisting black soldiers on the Union side. At the war's end, when the United States flag was raised over Fort Sumter again, Kelley was one of the delegation sent to attend the ceremony. He spoke often on the justice and necessity of "impartial suffrage", or voting rights for African-Americans, introduced a bill (which passed into law) in the 39th United States Congress which gave the right to vote to African-Americans in the District of Columbia, and spoke in favor of impeaching President Johnson, who had vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Freedmen's Bureau Bill .[6]

Kelley served as Chairman of the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures (1867-1873), Ways and Means Committee (1881–1883), and Committee on Manufactures (1889-1890).[7]

Military service

As a member of Congress, Kelley was exempt from military service. Nevertheless, during the American Civil War he volunteered during a September, 1862 emergency call up for service in the Independent Artillery Company, a home guard unit. He served his term of enlistment as a Private.[8][9][10]


In 1871, Kelley was the first Washington politician to suggest of what would later become Yellowstone National Park, as reported by Jay Cooke: "Let Congress pass a bill reserving the Great Geyser Basin as a public park forever--just as it has reserved that far inferior wonder the Yosemite Valley "[11]

He served as Chairman on the United States House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures, as Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, and on the Committee on Manufactures (51st United States Congress).

In his later career, Kelley was best known as an advocate of a high protective tariff. His support for high duties on two Pennsylvania products, iron and steel, earned him the nickname, "Pig-Iron" Kelley. His belief was sincere, and so strong that he would never let himself wear any garment made from an imported product or use any article made in a foreign country, and often lectured his friends for using goods that foreign labor had fashioned.[12] Contrary to what his critics assumed, he never had any financial investments in ironworks or any branch of the iron trade, mines or mining stock.[13]

In 1872, Kelley was among the congressmen accused by the "New York Sun" of having taken bribes from Credit Mobilier, the company formed to construct the Union Pacific Railroad. Kelley, who protested his innocence, had been given Credit Mobilier stock and paid for it out of its dividends, but no evidence showed that he had been asked for any favors in return, and it did not affect his career. Far more controversially, he favored an expansion of the national currency supply during the depression of the 1870s, a position shared at the time by many iron and steel manufacturers troubled by tight credit and currency deflation. To eastern critics, that proved that he was a communist, "an outcast -- a madman. Nobody owns him," said one reporter, "and he is called 'the 365 lunatic.' When he first rose in debate he had the appearance of a crazy man, and a stranger in the galleries would have been excusable for thinking that there was a man just out of bedlam.".[14]

Crédit Mobilier scandal

An 1873 investigation connected Kelley to the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal. The Congressional committee which reviewed the issue indicated that in the late 1860s Kelley may have accepted dividends from shares of Credit Mobilier stock despite the fact that he had not yet paid for them. Kelley indicated that he had contracted with Oakes Ames, a member of the House involved with Crédit Mobilier, to purchase ten shares. At the time of the purchase, Kelley was not prepared to pay, so Ames agreed to hold his shares for him. Kelley told the House that he believed that Ames had sold the stock, and then had paid Kelley the difference between what Kelley had agreed to pay for it and the amount that Ames had received when he sold it—a legitimate transaction by the standards of the day. He also noted to House members that he had been involved in other activities, such as the letting of ship construction contracts during the Civil War, where opportunities for bribery and corruption existed, but he had never been accused of dishonesty in those matters. A motion to censure him went through several procedural votes before it was tabled without action.[15][16]


Thin, "a tall lath of a man with a bloodshotten eye and a voice like an eloquent graveyard," as one reporter put it, Kelley ranked as one of the hardest workers in Congress.[17] He was known for his generous and honorable character, according to biographer Dr. L. P. Brockett, who said "he would scorn to do an act of injustice to a political opponent as much as to his dearest personal friend."[18] An assiduous scholar, he indulged in no social pleasures, spending his spare time studying political economy. He was generous with what money he had, but frugal in his own wants, and even enemies saw him as a warm-hearted, impulsive man. Though he died with an estate worth more that $65,000 (about $1.6 million in 2012), mostly from real estate investments in West Philadelphia, obituaries noted that he had never made money from office and never tried to. He opposed the franking privilege and insisted on paying the postage on letters he sent, and refused the free railroad passes so common in his day.[19][20]

Death and burial

An inveterate smoker, he died from complications arising from mouth and throat cancer, from which he had suffered for some six years. He was buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.[21]


His daughter Florence Kelley was an influential social reformer, associated with Hull House.

A granddaughter, Martha Mott Kelley, wrote murder mysteries under the pseudonym Patrick Quentin.


"Sir, the bloody and untilled fields of the ten unreconstructed States, the unsheeted ghosts of the two thousand murdered negroes in Texas, cry, if the dead ever evoke vengeance, for the punishment of Andrew Johnson" (22 February 1868) [22]





  1. "Winona Daily Republican," August 14, 1886
  2. Florence Kelley, pp. 27–28
  3. Brown, Ira V., "William D. Kelley and Radical Reconstruction", The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 85, No. 3 (July 1961), p. 316
  4. Brockett, p. 495
  5. "S. W.," "New York Tribune," July 8, 1864.
  6. Brockett, p. 500
  7. U.S. Government printing Office, Memorial Addresses on the Life and Character of William D. Kelley, 1890, page 77
  8. Florence Kelley, p. 25
  9. memorial Addresses, page 18
  10. Broadfoot Publishing Company, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5: Index, Volume 2, 1994, page 2018
  11. As reported in a letter from Jay Cooke to Ferdinand Hayden
  12. "Baltimore American," January 10, 1890
  13. William D. Kelley to William Cullen Bryant, February 11, 1873, William Darrah Kelley Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania
  14. "Springfield Republican," January 13, 1876
  15. Edward Martin A Complete and Graphic Account of the Credit Mobilier Investigation (Continental and National Publishing Company, 1873), Chapter 8
  16. Edward Martin A Complete and Graphic Account of the Credit Mobilier Investigation (Continental and National Publishing Company, 1873), Chapter 8
  17. "Chicago Tribune," October 21, 1868
  18. Brockett, p. 503
  19. "Baltimore American," January 10, 1890
  20. New York Times, Judge William D. Kelley's Estate, February 1, 1891
  21. William D. Kelley at Find a Grave
  22. ^ Brockett, L. P., Men of Our Day: or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, Ziegler and McCurdy, Publishers, Philadelphia, Springfield (MA), Cincinnati, St. Louis, 1872, no ISBN, p. 501


United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William Millward
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 4th congressional district

Succeeded by
John E. Reyburn
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