William Lyne Wilson

For other people named William Wilson, see William Wilson (disambiguation).
William Lyne Wilson

Wilson pictured in The Calyx 1898, Washington & Lee yearbook
37th United States Postmaster General
In office
March 1, 1895  March 5, 1897
President Grover Cleveland
William McKinley
Preceded by Wilson S. Bissell
Succeeded by James A. Gary
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from West Virginia's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1883  March 3, 1895
Preceded by John B. Hoge
Succeeded by Alston G. Dayton
Personal details
Born (1843-05-03)May 3, 1843
Charles Town, Virginia, USA
Died October 17, 1900(1900-10-17) (aged 57)
Lexington, Virginia, USA
Political party Democratic
Alma mater George Washington University
Profession Politician, Lawyer, University president
Military service
Allegiance  Confederate States
Service/branch  Confederate States Army
Rank Private
Unit Virginia 12th Virginia Cavalry
Battles/wars American Civil War

William Lyne Wilson (May 3, 1843 – October 17, 1900) was an American politician and lawyer from West Virginia. A Bourbon Democrat, Wilson was elected to the United States Congress in 1882 and served six terms of office, ending in 1895.

Following his departure from the House of Representatives, Wilson was appointed Postmaster General of the United States by President Grover Cleveland, remaining in that cabinet-level position until 1897. After leaving government service Wilson was named President of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.


Early years

William Lyne Wilson was born in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia) on May 3, 1843. He attended Charles Town Academy, graduated from Columbian College, today part of George Washington University, from which he graduated in 1860.[1] He subsequently studied at the University of Virginia.[1]

During the Civil War, he enlisted in the Confederate Army and served as a private in the 12th Virginia Cavalry.[1]

After the war, Wilson for several years, he taught school at Columbian College during which he graduated from law school.[1] He was admitted to the bar in 1869 and opened a private practice in Charles Town.[1]

He was chosen as president of West Virginia University, taking office on September 4, 1882.[1]

Political career

Wilson was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1880.[1] He was elected a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives shortly afterwards and won reelection five times afterwards, serving from 1883 to 1895.[1] He served as chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means from 1893 to 1895 during which he co-authored the Wilson–Gorman Tariff Act which slightly reduced the United States tariff rates from the numbers set by the McKinley Tariff of 1890.[1]

After leaving Congress, Wilson was appointed Postmaster General in the cabinet of President Grover Cleveland and served from 1895 to 1897.[1] During that time, future Secretary of War Newton D. Baker served as his private secretary. In 1896, he broke party lines by opposing the Free Silver Movement led by Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan and, like many Bourbon Democrats, backed the National Democratic candidate John McAuley Palmer who supported the traditional gold standard, limited government and opposed protectionism.

Death and legacy

After leaving office as Postmaster General, Wilson served as president of Washington and Lee University.[1] Wilson died in Lexington, Virginia, on October 17, 1900 and was interred in Edgehill Cemetery in Charles Town.[1]

A portion of U.S. Route 340 between Harpers Ferry and Charles Town, West Virginia, is designated the William L. Wilson Freeway in his honor.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 "William Lyne Wilson (1843-1900)," Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: 1774-Present. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Online version, accessed Nov. 2, 2015.


Further reading

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John B. Hoge
Member from West Virginia's 2nd congressional district
March 4, 1883 – March 4, 1895
Succeeded by
Alston G. Dayton
Political offices
Preceded by
Wilson S. Bissell
United States Postmaster General
Served under: Grover Cleveland

April 4, 1895 – March 5, 1897
Succeeded by
James A. Gary
Academic offices
Preceded by
George Washington Custis Lee
President of Washington and Lee University
Succeeded by
Henry St. George Tucker III
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