Wilson, William Lyne

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Wilson, William Lyne

William Lyne Wilson, 1843–1900, American legislator, cabinet member, and university president, b. Jefferson co., Va. (now in W.Va.). He was a private in the Confederate army in the Civil War, and after teaching (1865–71) Latin at Columbian College (now George Washington Univ.) and practicing law (1871–82) in Charles Town, W.Va., Wilson was (1882–83) president of the Univ. of West Virginia. He entered politics and served (1883–95) as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives. As chairman (1893–95) of the Committee on Ways and Means, he fought for moderate tariff reform. He was active in the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and gained wide notice through the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act of 1894. Wilson had introduced a tariff bill—backed by President Cleveland—that substantially reduced rates on many raw materials and manufactured products and levied an income tax. The bill passed the House unchanged, but largely through the efforts of Arthur P. Gorman and others, it was considerably altered in the Senate, and Wilson's low-tariff principle was lost. Cleveland refused to sign the bill, which became law without his signature. In 1895 the Supreme Court declared the income tax provisions unconstitutional. As Postmaster General (1895–97), Wilson inaugurated the rural free delivery system. He served as president of Washington and Lee Univ. from 1897 to 1900.

See F. P. Summers, ed., William L. Wilson and Tariff Reform (1953) and The Cabinet Diary of William L. Wilson, 1896–1897 (1957).

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