Portrait: United States Senate, after Frank Willing Leach.
Born near Fogg’s Manor, Chester County on October 13, 1778, Marks (DR-NR-Allegheny) moved with his parents, William and Elizabeth McMichael Marks, to Remington (Robinson Township), Allegheny County about 1790, settling on the old Steubenville Road, later Moon Township. While William Jr. received little education, he became a master tanner, a farmer, spoke fluent English, and trained for a legal career. He joined the Allegheny bar, opened a practice in Pittsburgh, and married Alice Anna Hanson on August 13, 1806. From 1810 to 1812, he served as an Allegheny-Butler representative in the state House; reelected 1817-1818, after serving as Pennsylvania’s Commandant of Militia during the War of 1812. He remained a member of the state military throughout his life, ascending to the rank of brigadier general. Representative Marks became a charter member of the Pittsburgh Steam Boat Ferry Committee during the war and later received an appointment as 1817 Allegheny County Coroner. He served in the state Senate from 1819 to 1825. While his constituents considered William a Monroe Republican, Marks evolved decidedly conservative, joining Walter Lowrie in support of Governor Shulze, John Quincy Adams, and the anti-Jackson National Republican Party. He served five sessions (1820-25) as Speaker of the Senate. In 1820, Speaker Marks supported his “indefatigable (floor) leader,” Senator Samuel Breck, on a bill repealing the “1780 Act of Gradual Abolition,” the two representing a Senate minority, intent on establishing unconditional freedom for those still subject to the act. After the (bank) Panic of 1819, Marks opposed the unrestrained issuance of notes of small denominations by the Commonwealth’s scattered local banks, to cool inflation. He supported the “solitary confinement” bill, a bill calling for the abolishment of the attorney general’s office (defeated in House), was an aggressive advocate of the state’s public improvements program, especially the “Lehigh Navigation Company” and the “Harrisburg to Pittsburgh Railroad,” and advocated a prohibitive federal tariff, signing a resolution in support of Congressman Tod’s “six-cents a yard on imported baggery” provision. Marks’ and Tod’s support placed them in direct opposition to James Buchanan and Calhoun-Southern trade interests. Marks backed the 1824 free education of the poor and public education system bill. A heated contest for U.S. Senator ensued in the General Assembly in December 1824 between Quincy Adams-Henry Clay National Republicans and Jackson Democrats. Marks, representing the National Republicans, hoped to fill Walter Lowry’s vacated U.S. Senate seat and bequeath his Speaker’s gavel to close friend and Judiciary Chair, Tom Burnside. Jackson members proceeded with a counter-move, nominating Burnside for the U.S. Senate as a disinterested competitor to Marks. The intent translated to splitting the Marks-Burnside vote, in effect, terminating Marks’ political career if he lost to Judge Burnside. The plan failed and Marks proceeded to Washington. William resigned his seat on February 27, 1825, and Judge Burnside became Speaker on the first ballot. Frank Willing Leach regarded William as “a notable figure in public affairs, in his relation to state and national history.” The Philadelphia historian continued, “He lived in a stirring age, and he played a major role in the annals of the state.” Klein notes that Senator Marks represented no faction, nor commitment to personal ambition.” The senator became a good friend and servant to President John Quincy Adams, who described Marks as “a very worthy man, who has kept his faith unshaken, unseduced, unterrified, through all the popular frenzies of his state, always steering a steady course.” During his years in Washington, Marks chaired the Committee on Engrossed Bills in the Nineteenth through Twenty-first Congresses, and Agriculture. Marks returned to Pittsburgh, resumed his practice, and moved to Beaver, Pennsylvania, where he passed away, April 10, 1858. The senator was a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason and a Presbyterian elder. A friend noted, William “was a man of remarkable sincerity and honesty, and in his neighborhood ‘he was sort of a court of last resort,’ being often called upon to settle disputes.”