Spirit of Jefferson
Hon. Wm. L. Wilson.
October 23, 1909
Hon. Wm. L. Wilson.
Hon. William L. Wilson, president of Washington and Lee University and Postmaster General under President Cleveland, died at 9:20 Wednesday morning, at Lexington Va. His death was sudden, bot not unexpected, and was due to congestion of the lungs, which began Monday afternoon. He had been ill for several months with pulmonary trouble, and recently went West in hopes of recuperating. The attack of congestion hastened the end. Consciousness was retained until death.
From a Lexington (Va.) Dispatch to the Washington Post we copy the following sketch of Mr. Wilson's life;
William Lyne Wilson was born in Jefferson County, Va. (now West Virginia). May 3, 1843. He was the only son of Benjamin Wilson, formerly of King and Queen County, and Mary Whiting Lyne, his second wife. His father died when young Wilson was but four years of age. The old Charles Town Male Academy was the scene of his early education. His after education was at Columbian College, Washington, where he took the degree of A. B. in 1860, when only seventeen years of age, and at the University of Virginia. During the civil war he served as a private in the Confederate service. After the war, in 1865, he took the degree of A. M. at Columbian College. He was also a graduate in la from Columbian. He was also in LL. D. of Columbian University, Washington City, and Hampton, Sidney, Virginia. From 1865 to 1871 he was assistant professor of Latin in Columbian University. In 1871, after the lawyers test oath was annulled, he began the practice of law in his native county at the county seat, Charles Town, with his cousin and former comrade, Capt. George Baylor. In 1882 he was elected president of the University of West Virginia.
Mr. Wilson's acceptance of the university presidency was received February 17, and his letter of acceptance was in keeping with the man. "I shall, therefore, enter upon its duties with such expectations of success only as shall be founded on patient labor and earnestness of purpose," was his concluding sentence.
On September 15, 1897, he was duly installed president of the university before a large gathering of people assembled in the Lee Memorial Chapel. Many distinguished educators of the United States were present and many letters from other distinguished men, regretting their inability to be present, were read. He was the ninth president of the venerable Virginia University.
Mr. Wilson was in touch with all the students and knew them personally. He was ever alert to their interests - attended their football and baseball games and applauded them or their opponents for every good pay. He introduced what is known as the "Wednesday morning lecture," at which time the entire student body assembled in the memorial chapel prior to the beginning of lectures for the day, and were addressed by Mr. Wilson or by some distinguished visitor. He had the meetings opened with prayer by one of the ministers of Lexington, after which a choir of students sang a hymn. Then cam the address. Mr. Wilson's talks at these meetings were always on live topics of the day and became very popular, so much so that each Wednesday morning the chapel would after the students were seated, be filled with Lexingtonians and other visitors.
The daily papers found in these talks a great man's views on the topics of the day, and reported them freely.
His students loved "Mr. Wilson." They had no nickname for him. When it came to discipline, his rule was rigid. Advice he freely gave on all occasions, and admonition when a case required it. The rules of the university were never to be overstepped. On one occasion the football eleven made a Western trip and carried a hired player. As soon as Mr. Wilson learned of this breach of amateur, or rather collegiate, spirit, a professor was sent immediately who stopped the hirod man from playing and remained with the eleven until all the engagements were filled as scheduled, and then brought them home, when Mr. Wilson disbanded the team for the season. If bona fide students could not play, hired players should not, he said.
As Postmaster General, Mr. Wilson instituted many postal reforms, and greatly added to the efficiency of the department. He was a close adviser of the President, and one of the many photographs which adorn the walls of his study in Lexington bears the inscription, "A Quiet Evening," in which President Cleveland and Mr. Wilson are shown seated at a table piled high with bundles of documents. -
A letter attached tot he photograph, from the President to Mr. Wilson, states that if Mr. Wilson will call they will spend a quiet evening examining some cases.
When the Democratic National Convention met in 1880 Mr. Wilson was present as a delegate, and this marked his entrance into politics. On the Hancock ticket of that year he was an elector-at-large. In 1882, September 20, he was made the Democratic candidate for Congress from his district by acclamation, and was elected in October. For five successive terms thereafter he served in Congress. His career in Congress is unsurpassed. In his second term he was made a member of the Committee on Appropriations, and the chairman, Hon. Samuel J. Randall, sought his counsel and esteemed him greatly. He was recognized, as a profound advocate of tariff reform, and was made, in 1887, a member of Ways and Means Committee, regarded as the highest in the House. He was one of the fathers of the "Mills bill." His speech on this measure gave him a wide reputation. He was the permanent chairman of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago which nominated Mr. Cleveland, and also made the address in Madison Square Garden when Mr. Cleveland was informed of his nomination.
He prepared and introduced the bill to repeal the silver law at the extra session of Congress. He was made chairman of the Ways and Means Committee by Speaker Crisp, and evolved the "Wilson Speaker Crisp, and evolved the "Wilson tariff bill" to fulfill the promise of the Democratic party. He stood the strain imposed and as the close of the great debate received the well-earned principles of an immense throng in a scene perhaps never before or since witnessed in Congress.
After the arduous task he sought rest in Mexico, where he was stricken with typhoid fever. Before he was entirely recovered, he returned to overcome the obstacles imposed by the Senate in the way of the bill. He made a determined fight in the conference committee, and though unsuccessful yet won further honors.
Mr. Wilson was a private in "The Baylor Light Horse." Company B, Twelfth Virginia Regiment, Laurel Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia. His cousin, Capt. George Baylor, of Charles Town, W.Va., commanded the company, which was personally complimented by Gen. Robert E. Lee for a brilliant charge at Rappahannock bridge in 1863. His comrades who survive are now scattered over the United States in every walk of life, and have made their mark, as did their beloved comrade. To them he was affectionately known as "Billy" Wilson.
Mr. Wilson had a nod and a cheery smile for all. To those he know by name his address was that of a near friend. His writings were much sought after, and his contributions to leading dailies were numerous, and leading magazines vied for articles from his facile pen. His "Trusts and Monopolies" attracted wide- spread attention, and the articles were extensively copied.
He was a born orator, and announcement that he was to make a speech was a sufficient guaranty that a large audience would be present. He swayed his hearers with masterful power, was ever at ease, and always commanded the closest attention. One of his most noted speeches was delivered before the legislature of Georgia in 1899. His, perhaps, greatest collegiate oration was one delivered before the University of Virginia Alumni Association, in 1891.
He was a regent of the Smithsonian Institution, of Washington, and was selected as the representative of that body to the meeting of the Royal Institute, of England, which met in London, June, 1899, but owing to the commencement exercises of his university occuring about that time, he chose rather to remain. When the Royal Institute met, Mr. Wilson was made a fellow of that body-a high honor to be conferred upon an American, but non too high for the man. He was a member of many other learned societies.
The dread disease which carried him off began its ravages on his system with alarming vigor in February, 1899. He sought the best medical advice in New York City, visiting that city several times. He was not really a well man when he first assumed his duties as president of Washington and Lee University, His arduous labors on the tariff bill had sapped his system, though never so strong before.
Last summer he spent two weeks at the Red Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. When seen upon his return he said: "I am not as well now as I was a month ago, and not as well then as a month prior." Though feeble, he attended the duties of his office as president of the university to the end. His last interview was on the Chinese question.
Mr. Wilson was a profound Christian, God-fearing and god-serving. In his home no kinder parent ever lived, nor a more devoted husband. He married in 1869 Miss Nannie Huntington, daughter of Rev. Dr. Huntington, president of the Columbian University for many years prior to that pastor of the Lexington, Va., Baptist Church and who retired from active service in 1900, and made his home with his son-in- law, Mr. Wilson's wife and six grown children survive him-Dr. Albert Wilson of Lynchburg, Va.; Walter Wilson, paymaster in the United States navy; Allen C. Wilson, of Washington City; William H. Wilson, of Lexington, Va,; Miss Mary Wilson, and Miss Bettie Wilson, of Lexington, Va.
The funeral of Mr. Wilson took place here last Friday, the special train bearing his body arriving over the B. & O. railroad at 12 o'clock. When the train reached the station there were fully 2,500 people there to meet it and show their respects. The casket was taken into the station, where the body lay in state nearly an hour while it was viewed by a great throng of people. The appearance of the countenance was quite natural, and his features wore a look of peaceful repose.
The funeral cortege moved from the station to Edge Hill Cemetery, where the body was laid to rest, in the following order:
Surviving members of Co. B. 12th Va. Cavalry, (Baylor Light Horse," Mr. Wilson's immediate comrades in the Civil War,) under command of Lieut. Milton Rouss.
John W. Rowan Camp, U.C. V., under command of Maj. E. H. McDonald. The Ministers, Rev. Thomas A. Johnson, of Hagerstown, Md.; Rev. E. B. Jackson, pastor of the Baptist Church of Winchester, Va.; Rev. A J. Willis, pastor of the Episcopal Church at Middleway, Jefferson county; Rev. Dr. A. C. Hopkins and Rev. Dr. C. N. Campbell, of the Presbyterian Church, and Rev. R. S. Coupland, of Zion Episcopal Church of this place.
I. Randolph Tucker, chief marshal of the Washington and Lee University students, numbering 120, who arrived with the body.
The pallbearers, Cleon Moore, John M. Howell, B. C. Washington: John T. Colston, General William P. Craighill, William C. Frazier, N. H. Willis and Samuel Howell, all of this place, and old friends of Mr. Wilson, and most of them his comrades in the Confederate Army.
The faculty of Washington and Lee, consisting of Prof. H. St. George Tucker, chairman of the faculty; Profs. A. L. Nelson, Addison Hogue, J. L. Howe, D. C. Humphreys, H. D. Campbell, George H. Denny, C. L. Crow and John L. Campbell, secretary of the faculty, and Profs. William R. Vance and Martin Buree of the law faculty.
Trustees of the university, William A. Anderson and H. T. Barclay, of Lexington, and Capt. Thomas C. Ranson, of Staunton, Va.
The family carriages, containing Mrs. Wilson, Misses Mary and Bettie Wilson and William H. Wilson, of Lexington; Mr. and Mrs. Allen C. Wilson, of Washington, D. C., and Dr. Arthur L. Wilson of Lynchburg, Va., widow and sons and daughters of the deceased, one son, Mr. Walter L. Wilson, assistant paymaster in the navy, who is in San Francisco, being unable to be present.
Then followed a long procession of vehicles and pedestrians, attesting the esteem and respect with which the deceased was held in his old home.
The scene at the grave was of deep solemnity and such as was never witnessed here before. The services were simple, but solemn and impressive, beginning with the hymn "Lead, Kindly Light," sung by a choir selected from the churches of this place. The burial service of the Baptist Church was impressively and pathetically read by Rev. Thomas A. Johnson, of Hagerstown, Md. who was formerly pastor of the Baptist Church at Lexington, which Mr. Wilson attended.
Rev. Dr. A. C. Hopkins delivered a touching prayer, which brought tears to many eyes. He referred to the boyhood of Mr. Wilson, to his manhood and to the honor which he had reflected on his native State and country and the incorruptibility of his life. He also referred to his Christian character, saying that "A prince of Isreal [sic]" has departed. Ex-President Cleveland was visibly impressed with this prayer, and tears coursed down his cheeks. The benediction was delivered by Rev. R. S. Coupland, of the Episcopal Church, and while the earth was being put into the grave the choir sang "Asleep in Jesus." The floral offerings were handsome. The casket was covered with beautiful bouquets, and several large wreaths, crosses and harps of roses and chrysanthemums were borne by the students of the university. The grave was lined with evergreen.
A committee representing the university class of 1901, G. B. Shields and T. A. Bledso; class of 1902, R. W. Crawford, Jr., and H. R. Keeble; class of 1903. S. C. Bagley and W. D. Pendleton; class of 1904, J. E. Price and E. N. Milton, came with the body on the special train.
Out of respect for Mr. Wilson all business was suspended and business places were closed during the funeral. The court-house bell tolled and the flag on Rouss Memorial Hall was placed at half mast. Powhatan College, John Stevenson Seminary, the public graded school and other schools were closed and the pupils attended the funeral in a body.
The special train which brought the funeral partly left at 4 o'clock and returned to Lexington, bearing with it Mr. Wilson's family. Among the intimate friends who accompanied the family were Rev. Dr. A. J. Huntington, father of Mrs. Wilson and Miss Christian of Washington, D. C.; Miss Louise Brokenbough, Miss Rosa Tucker and Miss Annie R. White, of Lexington.
Among the persons present were:
Victor Adler, of the Smithsonian Institution; J. C. Hill, of Richmond, railroad commissioner for Virginia, accompanied by his wife; Daniel Annan, cashier of the Second National Bank, Cumberland, Md.; Judge E. Boyd Faulkner and A. C. Nadenbousch, of Martinsburg, W.Va.; Dr. W. P. McGuire, Hon. R. T. Barton, Rev. J. R. Graham, of Winchester, Va.; Capt. Thomas D. Ranson, Staunton, Va.; Congressman A. G. Dayton, of Phillippi, W. Va.; Charles R. K. Varner, Lexington; Hon. A. Moore, Jr., and John Y. Page, Berryville, Va.; Rev. S. G. Furguson, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, Martinsburg; Richard Randolph McMahon, a regent of the West Virginia University, of Washington, D. C.; Hon. George M. Beltzhoover, E. Hess Reinhart, H. L. Snyder, editor of the Register; A. S. Dundridge [sic], ex-member of the West Virginia Legislature of Shepherdstown.
The Baltimore Sun was represented at the funeral by Mr. H. D. Beall, of its editorial staff, J. F. Eagle, its Charles Town correspondent, and Mr. C. R. K. Varner, its Lexington correspondent.
Telegrams of condolence were received by Mrs. Wilson from many persons, including President McKinley, ex-President Cleveland, Hon. Wm. J. Bryan, Gen. Joseph Wheeler, J. G. Carlisle, D. S. Lamont, H. H. Herbert, Frank H. Jones, Charles Broadway Rouss, George E. Price, H. Kyd Douglass, Isadore Strauss, the faculties of the University of West Virginia, College of South Carolina and University of Virginia and others.
Government and Politics