The Darwin Exception

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The Characters of Malone: William Almon Wheeler

Posted by thedarwinexception on February 21, 2007

William Almon Wheeler is definitely a character of Malone although he died in 1887. In fact, Wheeler is probably the inspiration for generation after generation of Malonians – he aspired to little, and although had greatness thrust upon him, was not great.

Wheeler was born in Malone New York in 1819, the son of an accomplished young attorney who was also the local postmaster. The senior Wheeler died at the very young age of 37, which affected his son greatly. Later in life he developed an almost neurotic fixation on his own health and well being.

Wheeler attended Franklin Academy, which is still the high school today. Although he attended the University of Vermont for two years, on funds borrowed from a friend, he did not graduate, citing “an affliction of the eyes” as his reason for dropping out. He was admitted to the bar in 1845, and practiced law in Malone. Wheeler served as District attorney for Franklin County from 1846 to 1849.

Wheeler became a member of the New York State Assembly in 1850, and was a member of the State Senate from 1858 to 1860. He was also a member of Congress from 1861 to 1863 and from 1869 to 1877.

Although this seems impressive – especially for someone with no formal law degree, Wheeler was a lackadaisical politician, and if you weren’t from New York, you probably wouldn’t have known his name or his accomplishments, even while he was still alive.

He became vice president in 1877 – as the result of a joke among his colleagues, who were well aware of Wheeler’s lack of ambition and drive. The story is rather funny, and seems to typify the Malone spirit of sloth, ineptitude and laziness.

Wheeler was a delegate to the Republican convention in 1876, which had just nominated Rutherford B. Hayes for the presidency.

The convention was recessed for dinner, and as a conciliatory gift to Roscoe Conkling, who also was under consideration to run for president on the party’s ticket that year,  the party bosses announced that they would let the New York delegation pick the candidate for the vice presidency. But as the delegation was thinking over their choices and options, they came up empty. They could think of no one that they wanted to stick with such a non essential, boring position. The vice president was mostly a figurehead – someone who sat around, and was called upon only in the event of the President’s death or incapacitation. They could think of no one who would want such a “job”.

Finally, it dawned on someone, that when it came to “non working”, there was no better candidate than the Gentleman from Malone. “What about Wheeler?” Everyone laughed, including Wheeler. But much to everyone’s surprise, the next morning he was nominated.

Rutherford B. Hayes, the Presidential Candidate, when told of his new running mate, responded with “Ummm….Who?”

Wheeler was not thrilled with the nomination, and didn’t do any campaigning or really get involved at all in the election process. He declined most speaking engagements or campaign stumping – usually citing his poor health, such as the following reply to James Blaine, upon an invitation to speak in Maine:

I greatly regret my physical inability to do little in the way of speaking in his canvass. But I have no reserve of strength to draw upon. I was driven from business in 1865, by broken health and have never been strong since. . . .My trouble for years has been wakefulness at night. No resident of the grave or a lunatic asylum has suffered more from this cause than I have. Speaking, and the presence of crowds, excite me and intensify my wakefulness. . . .Gov. Hayes wrote me, asking me to go to Indiana and Ohio, to which I answered as I write you. . . . I regret that Iwas nominated. You know I did not want the place. I should have gone back to the House, and into a Republicanmajority. I should have almost to a certainty, been its Speaker, which I would greatly prefer to being laid away.

He was an uninspired vice president, as well, although being a recent widower, Mr. and Mrs. Hayes did take pity on him and had him over to the White House a lot.

When his term of vice presidency was completed, he returned to Malone and died there in 1887. He is buried in Morningside Cemetery, alongside Orville Gibson, the founder and creator of Gibson guitars, another Malone character.

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2 Responses to “The Characters of Malone: William Almon Wheeler”

  1. Hatpin said

    Excellent! I really enjoyed this entry (not unusually, of course).

    Any chance of us learning about Mr Gibson some time?

  2. Thanks!

    And yes, as soon as I get back to the library to peruse some more of their reference materials, I will include an entry on Mr. Gibson. I spent most of a whole day researching Wheeler, and I didn’t get around to the several other noteworthy individuals who I think deserve future entries.

    Kim

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