William F. Packer, Governor

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William Fisher Packer

Birthdate: (64)
Death: 1870 (64)
Immediate Family:

Son of James Packer, Jr. and Charity Packer

Occupation: Governor of Pennsylvania
Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About William F. Packer, Governor


William Fisher Packer (April 2, 1807 – September 27, 1870) was the 14th Governor of Pennsylvania from 1858 to 1861. His father was James Packer from Chester County, Pennsylvania and his mother was Charity Packer. His ancestry was primarily Quakers from Philadelphia. When William was seven years old, his father died, leaving him and his four siblings to help run the house.

At the age of 13, he began work as a printer's apprentice at the Sunbury Public Inquirer and later at the Bellefonte Patriot. He also worked as a journeyman at Simon Cameron's newspaper the Pennsylvania Intelligencer in Harrisburg.

Packer studied law in Williamsport, Pennsylvania under future member of Congress Joseph Biles Anthony but did not practice, choosing instead to stay in the newspaper business. In 1827, he purchased a controlling share in the Lycoming Gazette which he published until 1836. While working at the Lycoming Gazette, he began an early foray into politics as a major supporter of the construction of the West Branch of the Pennsylvania Canal. The state legislators in Philadelphia had opposed funding the construction and Packer penned an address to Philadelphia to raise public support for the project. The campaign worked and the Philadelphia delegation reversed their position to support the canal.

Entry into politics

Packer's support for the canal did not go unnoticed and in 1832, he was appointed by the Canal Commission to serve as Superintendent of the canals. The position was abolished in 1835 and Packer spent most of that year working for the re-election of Governor George Wolf and running for the Pennsylvania State Senate. A schism in the Democratic Party cost Wolf re-election and Packer a Senate seat.

In 1836, Packer co-founded The Keystone, a Democratic newspaper published in Harrisburg. Packer, through the Keystone, was a supporter of David R. Porter for Governor against Joseph Ritner in the election of 1838. His support of Porter's successful bid helped him earn an appointment to the Board of Canal Commissioners, a powerful post at the time.[1] After he was re-elected, Porter appointed Packer to the post of Pennsylvania Auditor General in 1842.

After an unsuccessful bid for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1845, Packer won a seat in Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1847, rising to the post of Speaker of the House. Packer won re-election in 1848 and then successfully ran for the Pennsylvania State Senate in 1849, defeating Andrew Gregg Curtin.

In the State Senate, Packer was an ardent supporter of railroad development in Central Pennsylvania, working towards the establishment of the Susquehanna Railroad. At the time, state policy was to restrain railroad development in southern Pennsylvania which would benefit Baltimore rather than Philadelphia. The act to authorize the railroad connected the York and Cumberland Railroad to cities like Williamsport and Sunbury and increased their access to regional trade. In 1852, Packer became the first President of the Susquehanna, stepping aside after the line was consolidated into the Northern Central Railway.

During the 1856 Presidential Election, friend and fellow Pennsylvanian James Buchanan ran for the Democratic nomination against incumbent Franklin Pierce and Senator Stephen Douglas. Packer worked hard for his nomination and election. Buchanan won the nomination at the 1856 Democratic National Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio and went on to win the Presidency over Republican John C. Frémont and Know Nothing candidate and former President Millard Fillmore.


In 1857, Packer was nominated as the Democratic Party Candidate for Governor. He was opposed by David Wilmot, author of the Wilmot Proviso which aimed to ban the expansion of slavery to territories acquired from Mexico, and Isaac Hazlehurst of the Native American Party. The Panic of 1857 had crippled the nation's economy, including the Pennsylvania iron industry. With strong support for tariffs in more normal times, the Panic increased Pennsylvania's support for high tariffs, a stance which hurt the pro-free trade Wilmot. The question of the day, however, remained the issue of slavery in Kansas. Packer forwarded a letter to his friend, President Buchanan, supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act, but opposing an expansion of slavery in that state without a free and open process. The split of the Republicans and Know Nothings made it difficult to defeat the united Democrats and Packer swept into office.

In dealing with the economic crisis caused by the Panic, Packer vehemently blamed banks and the free issue of paper money over gold and silver coinage. As part of a recovery plan, the Governor approved legislation to requiring state banks to limit the issue of paper currency to amounts covered by real security deposited with the state.

In 1859, Packer sought to end the state's involvement in construction and management of canals and railroads, selling off the state's investments to the Sunbury and Erie Railroad.

Governor Packer was a proponent of public schools and supported the new public school system with funds for teacher training. Packer also used his veto power to stop attacks on the new public education system by forces in the legislature.

As his term came to an end, southern states had begun seceding from the union. Packer recommended that the nation's differences be addressed in a national convention. He opposed secession and, in his final address to the General Assembly, he stated, "It is therefore clear, that there is no Constitutional right of secession. Secession is only another form of nullification. Either, when attempted to be carried out by force, is rebellion, and should be treated as such, by those whose sworn duty it is to maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and laws of the United States."

Packer retired from public life after the end of his term and died September 27, 1870 in Williamsport.

Quotes by William Packer

On repealing a $300 tax exemption:

"I would not permit the covetous and hard-hearted creditor to drive his unfortunate debtor, naked and penniless, out upon the cold charities of an inhospitable world. The laws that authorize such a procedure should be blotted from the pages of the statute books of every State in this Union. They are repugnant to the spirit of the age, and revolting to humanity. Like -the laws sanctioning imprisonment for debt, they should be repudiated by every philanthropic legislator; they should exist but in the history of the past—an obsolete idea. It has been truly said, Mr. Speaker, that he who sells out the last little property of a wife and family of small children of a rash, heedless, or perhaps intemperate husband and father, and afterwards, with a cheerful countenance, goes home to dine, goes home to feast on human hearts. Sir, money thus obtained has a damning curse upon it."

In a letter to President Buchanan regarding the Kansas issue:

"If slavery should be instituted by, or under a slave-holding Executive, and Kansas should claim admission as a slave State, it does not require a prophet to foretell the consequences north of Mason and Dixon's line. The Democratic party, which has stood by the Constitution and the rights of the South with such unflinching fidelity, would be stricken down in the few remaining States where it is yet in the ascendancy; the balance of power would be lost; and Black Republicans would rule this nation, or civil war and disunion would inevitably follow."

On Pennsylvania and the fugitive slave acts:

"Every attempt upon the part of individuals, or of organized societies, to lead the people away from their government, to induce them to violate any of the provisions of the constitution, or to incite insurrections in any of the States of this Union, ought to be prohibited by law as crimes of a treasonable nature. It is of the first importance to the perpetuity of this great Union that the hearts of the people and the action of their constituted authorities should be in unison in giving a faithful support to the constitution of the United States. The people of Pennsylvania are devoted to the Union. They will follow its stars and stripes through every peril. But, before assuming the high responsibilities now dimly foreshadowed, it is their solemn duty to remove even- just cause of complaint against themselves, so that they may stand before High Heaven and the civilized world without fear and without reproach, ready to devote their lives and their fortunes to the support of the best form of government that has ever been de\:ised by the wisdom of man."

Places names for William F. Packer

Packer Park - A neighborhood along Packer Avenue in South Philadelphia.

Packer Hall - A residence hall on the University Park campus of the Pennsylvania State University.

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William F. Packer, Governor's Timeline

Age 64