Visiting Malone, New York: remembering US Vice President William A. Wheeler

State flag of New York
State flag of New York | Source
Vice President William A. Wheeler residence, Malone, New York
Vice President William A. Wheeler residence, Malone, New York | Source
19th Vice President of the United States, William A. Wheeler
19th Vice President of the United States, William A. Wheeler | Source

Later admired by John F. Kennedy, he was a loyal servant of the Hayes Administration

John F. Kennedy, in his Profiles in Courage (1956), featured US Vice President William A. Wheeler (1819-1887) as one of the figures in the past of the United States whose stances in favour of rectitude and the national interest earn him a place in history. This arose from William Wheeler's determination as a prominent New York banker, Assemblyman, State Senator and US Congressman, to resist the patronage of Congressman Roscoe Conkling (1829-1888) (1), leader of the 'Stalwart' faction within the Republican Party.

The former residence of William Wheeler is situated in Malone, New York, at 67 Elm Street. This sedate 19th century brick building, noted for its conspicuous, overhanging eves, was the property to which former Vice President Wheeler retired, after leaving public life. The State of New York's Education Department erected an historical panel at the building in 1932. The house is now used as a local Elks Lodge.

Vice President William Wheeler's relationship with President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893) was quite complex. It is known that when Rutherford Hayes was running for Presidential office, he did not actively seek out a preferred Vice Presidential candidate, and the New York delegation of Republicans, strong within the party, was allowed to put forward a name. Somewhat surprisingly to Hayes, William Wheeler's name was submitted; and he accepted him as his running mate for the 1876 Presidential election. This election proved to be a highly contested one, with legal challenges being mounted against the results from a number of states. The result was a deal brokered between party leaders, the effects of which were known only a matter of hours before Inauguration day (1) March 4, 1877, whereby it was agreed that the Presidency should go to Rutherford Hayes and, thus, the Vice Presidency to William Wheeler.

It is clear that in 1876 President-elect Hayes, with the tumultuous background to his election, was not thoroughly familiar with his Vice President-elect. But the two men soon became closely acquainted; an intriguing question which remains, is: How close were they? Politically, Hayes was not at all close to Wheeler; the former had asked him to serve, and the latter duly did so. By virtue of his rôle, Vice President Wheeler was also a useful liaison with Congress, when he presided over the Senate, but it is fair to say that politically his connection with either the President or the Republican Party was not intimate; indeed, the Party showed little interest in nominating Wheeler for the 1880 Presidential election (which went to James Garfield).

However, as Vice President, William Wheeler became quite closely connected with President Hayes and his family. This was at least partly because of a common sense of public probity which they undoubtedly shared. But also this friendship stemmed from somewhat more poignant and personal reasons. Because on assuming Vice Presidential office in 1877, William Wheeler had not long previously become a widower, and his possibilities and even motivation for an engaging social life in Washington, DC, to which he was a relative stranger, were restricted. Put bluntly, First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes (2), and the President, felt somewhat sorry for him, and he was a guest at the White House with a frequency that superseded the usual courtesies between a President and his Vice President.

So what were his achievements at Vice President? In a sense, this is not wholly a fair question, because it is of the essence of the Vice Presidential office to be self-effacing, in single-minded favour of the Chief Executive's goals and aspirations. The Vice President's rôle is rather to be a constantly supportive member of the Administration, with particular opportunities to smooth its relations with Congress, while remaining informed of all the salient aspects of the President's policies and being ready at a moment's notice to take over the Presidency if unforeseen events occur. By all accounts, this supportive rôle was as ably fulfilled by William A. Wheeler as by any of the Vice Presidents of the United States. It has to be said, however, that the Hayes Administration, was criticized for ending Reconstruction in the South. William Wheeler never became a commanding, national figure; he was not an irrepressible, disturbing meteor such as Richard Nixon proved to be in the Vice Presidency (though maybe this was just as well).

Vice President William A. Wheeler is buried in Morningside Cemetery, Malone.

Notes

(1) Both Hayes and Wheeler separately faced the wrath of Rosoe Conkling for failing to support Conkling's dubious methods for appointing civil servants; like John F. Kennedy much later, they would be regarded as supporting a meritocracy instead of cronyism, the excesses of which were somewhat personified by Conkling. The latter's colourful private life would in the 21st century have commanded even more media attention than it did in the late 19th century; in contrast, both Wheeler and Hayes were in their day regarded as models of personal rectitude.

(2) Lucy Webb Hayes proved to be a highly engaged First Lady, known for her strong commitment to causes such as Prohibition.

Also worth seeing

Malone itself, known as the Star of the North, is endowed with a number of interesting features, including various, solid buildings dating from the 19th century. Titus Mountain (distance: 11 kilometres), in the Adirondacks, has a popular ski slope. The scenic and historic St Lawrence Seaway and Lake Champlain are easily accessible from Malone.

At Fairfield , Vermont (distance: 141 kilometres) the birthplace of President Chester Arthur is commemorated; a seasonally open museum is operated under state auspices in a reconstruction of the house where Chester Arthur spent his childhood and is known as the President Arthur State Historic Site.

Montreal , Quebec, Canada (distance: 110.8 kilometres) has numerous visitor attractions, a few of which include: Bonsecours Market (Marché Bonsecours ), completed in 1847; Notre-Dame Basilica (Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal ), built 1824 and 1829; the world's tallest inclined tower, at 175 metres, is at the Olympic Stadium (Stade Olympique ); Mount Royal (French: Mont-Royal ) has the Bevedere, with fine views over the city, and St Joseph's Oratory (French: Oratoire St.-Joseph ).

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How to get there:

Plattsburgh International Airport (distance to Malone : 86.2 kilometres), where car rental is available, is served by a variety of airlines, including US Air, which flies to Boston, with many North American connections. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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Comments 2 comments

lions44 profile image

lions44 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

I once again learned something about my home state. Thx. Voted up and shared.


MJFenn profile image

MJFenn 2 years ago Author

lions44: It's an interesting historical connection. Thank-you for your comment.

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