Portrait: “William Hiester,” Lancaster County Historical Society Journal, V. 69, 1965, p. 79: The portrait is otherwise identified as John Wilkes Kittera, attorney and Congressman from Lancaster County.
A member of the notable Hiester-Muhlenberg-Clymer-Ellmaker political family, William was born on October 10, 1790 in Bern Township, Berks County. He was the son of William Hiester, Sr. and the former Anna Maria Myer of Tulpohocken, Berks County. Hiester was an early co-founder of the Lancaster Anti-Masonic Party, later a high-tariff Whig, and a passionate advocate of state and federal political and fiscal reform. His mentor, uncle and renowned Revolutionary War officer Daniel Hiester, served as a member of the first six United States Congresses, representing Pennsylvania and Maryland.
The senator attended Berks County common schools, later serving as a commissioned officer in the War of 1812. He moved to New Holland, Lancaster County, pursued farming and merchandising, married Lucy Ellmaker in 1821, and fulfilled a five-year stint as county justice in New Holland, 1823-1828. At the town’s 1828 Anti-Masonic Convention, Hiester ran on the anti-Jackson congressional ticket in futile opposition to James Buchanan, emerging nonetheless as the convention’s choice for secretary of the state caucus. During the same assembly, he sponsored a resolution advising the non-support of any member of the Masonic Order seeking election to public office.
Hiester finally secured a congressional seat in 1830, remaining a U.S. Representative through 1837. Retiring in the latter year, he returned to assume a seat as Lancaster’s delegate to the Pennsylvania 1837-1838 Constitutional Convention. In Washington, as he would in the state Senate, the Representative supported the collection of revenues through an aggressive federal tariff system.
Whig Hiester attained an 1840 seat in the Pennsylvania Senate, two years after his retirement from congressional duty, earning the Speaker’s chair on the 35th ballot, July 26, 1842. William advocated the only legislative pay decrease in upper house history, following the state’s dramatically declining economy in the early 1840s. Hiester opposed the sale of the public works and the sub-treasury act, favored chartering the Second U.S. Bank of Philadelphia, and promoted an amendment to the inheritance tax bill providing a graduated liability scale that demanded proportionately less from the poor and more from the wealthy. He backed the 1841 Canal Bill and the same session’s “Professional” tax bill, and while chair of the Agriculture and Manufacturing Committee, appealed to Congress for passage of the prohibitive Tariff of 1842. The senator additionally supported a measure calling for the destruction of $100,000 in state treasury currency – an attempt to cool Pennsylvania’s hyper-inflated economy.
On July 29, 1843, the Honorable William Hiester played a key role as president of the Lancaster Whig Convention, and in 1844 was named a Henry Clay presidential elector. Preceding the year’s campaign, William received early consideration for the Whig gubernatorial ticket, Hiester respectfully declining the offer. The Honorable William Hiester retired to New Holland where he died on October 13, 1853. “His stainless purity and sterling integrity caused him to be highly respected and admired, while his affability and kindness won for him a large circle of devoted friends.”
Biographical Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania, ed. Charles Robson (Philadelphia: Galaxy Publishing Co., 1894), 333.