William Bigler, Governor, U.S. Senator

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William Bigler, PENN

Birthdate: (66)
Birthplace: Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, United States
Death: August 9, 1880 (66)
Clearfield, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, United States
Place of Burial: Clearfield, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Jacob G. Bigler and Susan Bigler
Husband of Maria Jane Bigler
Brother of Governor John Bigler; Fanny Bigler; Mary Ann Bigler; Jacob Bigler; Samuel Bigler and 5 others

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About William Bigler, Governor, U.S. Senator

Governor of Pennsylvania, U.S. Senator


William Bigler (January 1, 1814 – August 9, 1880) was the 12th Governor of Pennsylvania from 1852 to 1855, and later a U.S. Senator for the Democratic Party.

Bigler was born in rural Pennsylvania and received little formal education; he studied informally under his elder brother John Bigler (later governor of California), publisher of the Centre County Democrat newspaper. Bigler founded his own political newspaper, the Clearfield Democrat, in 1833, and later became wealthy in the lumber business. In the 1840s he served in the Pennsylvania senate, and he defeated incumbent governor William F. Johnston for the governor's seat in 1851. Although Bigler opposed slavery in principle, he supported the federal government's Fugitive Slave Act and the pro-slavery Kansas-Nebraska Act. He was defeated for a second term by James Pollock, the candidate of the newly formed Republican Party. Following his term as governor, he served in the United States Senate from 1856 to 1861.

Bigler Hall on the University Park campus of Penn State is named after William Bigler, as is Bigler Street in Philadelphia.

WILLIAM BIGLER was born in Shermansburg, Pennsylvania. After working for his brother John ( who was editor of a newspaper in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania and later governor of California), he moved to Clearfield, where he started the Clearfield Democrat. He later went into business with his father-in-law, who was a lumber merchant. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Senate for two terms, holding the speakership twice. In 1849 he became Pennsylvania Revenue Commissioner, serving as President for two years before being nominated for governor by the Democratic Party. Under his administration, the office of County School Superintendent was established, a state school for retarded children was founded, and a railroad line linking Philadelphia and Pittsburgh was completed. An advocate of fiscal responsibility, he forced outlawing of omnibus laws that were popular with the legislature. He also supported strict state enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 as an obligation under the U.S. Constitution and endorsed the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854. He was defeated for reelection in 1854 because of public antipathy toward the Kansas-Nebraska Act and because his Whig opponent was favored by advocates of powerful temperance and nativist movements. Bigler went on to become President of the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad and served for five years in the U.S. Senate, where he supported efforts to prevent a military confrontation with the South. He was also a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1860, 1864, and 1868 and to the Union National Convention of 1866. In retirement he devoted his time to business and served on the U.S Centennial Commission, playing an integral role in persuading Congress to finance an international rather than a national exhibit in Philadelphia. A supporter of Samuel J. Tilden for President in 1876, he was chosen to witness the vote recount in New Orleans following the disputed presidential election.

SOURCES: [Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.]

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 2. New York: James T. White & Company.

Pennsylvania Historical Museum and Commission



Library of Congress BIGLER, William, a Senator from Pennsylvania; born in Cumberland County (now Spring Township, Perry County), Pa., on January 1, 1814; attended the public schools and was tutored by older brother John Bigler; in 1829 was apprenticed to the printing trade; moved to Clearfield, Clearfield County, Pa., in 1833 and established the Clearfield Democrat; engaged in the lumber business; member, State senate 1841-1847, twice serving as speaker; elected Governor in 1851 and served one term; president, Philadelphia and Erie Railroad; elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy in the term commencing March 4, 1855, caused by failure of the legislature to elect and served from January 14, 1856, to March 3, 1861; unsuccessful candidate for reelection; chairman, Committee on Engrossed Bills (Thirty-sixth Congress), Committee on Patents and Patent Office (Thirty-sixth Congress), Committee on Commerce (Thirty-sixth Congress); member of the constitutional convention of Pennsylvania, 1873; member of the board of finance of the Centennial Exposition in 1876; died in Clearfield, Pa., August 9, 1880; interment in Hillcrest Cemetery. [http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=b000459]

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William Bigler, Governor, U.S. Senator's Timeline

January 1, 1814
Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, United States
August 9, 1880
Age 66
Clearfield, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, United States
August 9, 1880
Age 66
Clearfield, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, United States