William Andrew Wallace
Photo: Brady-Handy Collection, Library of Congress
The Honorable William A. Wallace was born in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania on November 27, 1827. The son of 1819 Scotch-Irish immigrant and attorney Robert Wallace and the former Jane Hemphill, William’s family eventually settled in Clearfield County in 1825, his father establishing a flourishing law practice. An alumnus and teacher at the Clearfield Academy, William read law with his father and joined the Clearfield bar in 1847. A year later, he married Margaret A. Shaw of Clearfield County.
Wallace served as a Captain of the Clearfield Guards in 1854, later becoming one of Pennsylvania’s most prominent Peace Democrats during the Civil War. Involved in the community’s financial affairs, William served as an 1865 member of the first board of directors of the Clearfield County Bank and the County National Bank of Clearfield. With interests in the mining industry, in 1864 he purchased the Smith Mines from Andrew Curtin and renamed the digs the Wallace Mines. In 1871, Wallace speculated on land adjacent to the Logan Coal Company and developed the Logan Colliery. He sold the operation in 1878. Wallace received a controversial appointment in 1872, when Pennsylvania Railroad president and chief Harrisburg lobbyist Tom Scott hired the senator as vice president of the Texas and Pacific Railroad. The gesture gave rise to corruption accusations and prompted critics to label the former Speaker and his partisans, the “Wallace Machine.” Among other interests, Wallace served as a Clearfield School Director, emerged as an aggressive developer of the county’s bituminous coal business, became president of the Beech Creek Railroad, sat as director of the Clearfield Cemetery Corporation, and held part ownership in the Wallaceton Brick Company.
William simultaneously engaged in a political career that contributed to the construction of the modern Democratic state organization. In 1862, he defeated Blair County’s Louis W. Hall for a seat in the state Senate, remaining an influential figure in the upper house through 1875, upsetting interim Speaker Harry White for the Senate gavel in 1871. In 1874, he accepted a position on the Senate committee responsible for suggesting final amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution. Within the same year, the state legislature elected Wallace to the United States Senate, a seat he held through March 1881. During the period 1877-1881, he served as Democratic Conference Chairman and headed the Committee for the Revision of the Laws of the United States during the 46th Congress. After an unsuccessful 1880 attempt to regain his U.S. Senate seat, the Clearfield district returned Wallace to the Pennsylvania upper house, serving from 1882 through 1887, followed by an unsuccessful bid for the Governor’s mansion in 1886.
Wallace served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1864; delegate at large to the 1872 Baltimore Convention; Chair of the Pennsylvania delegation at the St. Louis Democratic Convention in 1876, and Chair of the State Democratic Convention from 1865 through 1871.
Considered an exceedingly competent attorney, Wallace figured as one of the Commonwealth’s legal celebrities. In 1867, William successfully represented Ynicencio Casinova against the Derby Coal Company, collecting the largest fraud settlement in the history of the state (to that point, $285,000). After the Cassinova case, William represented the Commonwealth against Daniel Polhamus in a celebrated forgery trial. Wallace stood as one of the most talented defense attorneys in the state by 1877, accepting the high profile murder-case appeal, Martin Turner v. Commonwealth. While the lower courts refused to hear Wallace’s appeal, he and others pursued the matter to the state Supreme Court. William’s effort resulted in a change of venue, a new trial, and a not guilty verdict.
William moved to New York in 1893, working to repay substantial debts incurred through failing Western land deals. He died after suffering a stroke three years later. Buried at Clearfield, the Honorable William A. Wallace passed away in New York City on May 22, 1896. The Clearfield Republican described the Honorable William Wallace as “a great and a noble man.”