Name:  William Hayden English

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Born:  August 27, 1822
Died:  February 7, 1896
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
William English was born in Lexington, Indiana, the son of Elisha and Mahala (Eastin) English. Elisha English was active in Democratic politics, serving as Scott county sheriff, state representative and senator, and U. S. marshal. William English studied law for three years at Hanover College (Indiana) before being admitted to the Indiana bar at the age of eighteen. That same year (1840) he was selected as a delegate to the Democratic party's state convention. English was appointed Lexington's postmaster by President John Tyler, then elected clerk of Indiana's House of Representatives in 1843, followed by a position in the U. S. Treasury Department from 1844-1849, and clerk of the U. S. Senate Committee on Claims in 1850. Returning to Indiana, he served as secretary of the 1851 state constitutional convention and as speaker of the state House of Representatives, which readjusted state laws and institutions to reflect the new constitution.

In 1852 Indiana's second district elected English to Congress, where he voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Bill which opened the western territories to slavery based on "popular sovereignty." He was reelected for three additional terms. In the late 1850s, he joined Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas in opposing statehood for Kansas under the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, the document crafted by a rump legislature and ratified in a vote boycotted by anti-slavery men. English played a key role in fashioning a compromise which bore his name, the English Bill. The law allowed for a fair vote on ratification of the Lecompton Constitution, which the Kansas electorate rejected.

In 1860, English decided not to run for reelection. Before his term ended, he spoke out on the floor of the House, imploring his Congressional colleagues from the South not to support secession. When the Civil War started, he declined an offer from Indiana's governor to be a regiment commander, but backed the Union cause and opposed Confederate sympathizers in Indiana, like the Knights of the Golden Circle. In 1863 he moved to Indianapolis and opened the First National Bank, serving as its president until 1877. He was one of the city's key business leaders, and eventually became a millionaire.

In 1880, the Democratic National Convention selected English to be their party's vice-presidential running mate of Winfield Hancock. The Hancock-English ticket lost in the general election to the Republican slate of James Garfield and Chester Arthur.

Long interested in science and history, English had served as a regent for the Smithsonian Institute while he was in Congress, and later as president of the Indiana Historical Society. He authored a two-volume set on the early Northwest Territory, Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio, 1778-1783, and Life of Gen. George Rogers Clark, published the same year he died, 1896.

Source consulted: Dictionary of American Biography.











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