William Lyne Wilson

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'William Lyne Wilson' (May 3, 1843 – October 17, 1900) was a lawyer, member of Congress, cabinet member and university president from West Virginia. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1882, serving six terms in office ending in 1895. After leaving the House, he was appointed Postmaster General of the United States by President Grover Cleveland and remained in that post for two years (1895-1897) until the end of Cleveland’s term.

Early years

William L. Wilson was born in Charles Town, Virginia on May 3, 1843. After 1863, Charlestown was in the new state of West Virginia. As a young man, he attended Charles Town Academy, and graduated from Columbian College, later part of George Washington University in 1860. He also subsequently studied at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.

During the Civil War (1861-1864) he enlisted in the Confederate Army and served as a private in the 12th Virginia Cavalry. Following the war, Wilson taught school for several years at Columbian College while studying in law school. He was admitted to the bar in 1869 and opened his own law office in Charles Town. He married the daughter of Rev. A.J. Huntington, professor of Greek at Columbian College. The couple had no children.

After he left Washington, Wilson was named President at Washington and Lee University in Lexington Virginia. In 1882, he was named President of West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia, taking office on September 4. Wilson died in Lexington, Virginia on October 17, 1900 and is buried in Edgehill Cemetery in Charles Town, West Virginia.

Political career

Wilson was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1880. Following his election to the House (and re-election five times) Wilson served on the House Committee on Ways and Means, chairing the Committee from 1893 to 1895, during which period he co-authored the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act of 1895, which reduced the United States tariff rates from the numbers set by the earlier McKinley Tariff Act of 1890. As a House member, Wilson was a Bourbon Democrat, as was Woodrow Wilson in the early years. The Bourbon Democrats defended business interests, supported banking and railroad interests, promoted laissez-faire capitalism, opposed imperialism and overseas expansion by the U.S., defended the gold standard and opposed silver, as well as supporting reform civil service reform and opposed the corruption of city political bosses and machines.

While Wilson was serving as Postmaster General, Newton D. Baker, future Secretary of War served as his private secretary. In 1896, Wilson broke party lines by opposing the Free Silver Movement led by Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan and like many other Bourbon Democrats backed the National Democratic candidate John McAuley Palmer who supported the gold standard, limited government and opposed protectionism.