FINDLAY, GOV. WILLIAM, the second son of Samuel Findlay and Jane Smith, was born near Mercersburg, Franklin county, Pa., June 20, 1768. His progenitor, beyond whom he never traced his lineage, was Adjutant Brown, as he was called, who took part in the famous seige of Derry, and afterwards emigrated to America with this daughter Elizabeth. The daughter married Samuel Findlay, of Philadelphia. A son by this marriage settled, about 1756, in Cumberland (now Franklin) county, Pa., In the year 1765 he married Jane Smith, a daughter of William Smith. She died in her thirty-fifth year, the mother of eight boys, six of whom survived her. The subject of this sketch was the second of this family of sons. The Scotch-Irish settlers appreciated the importance of a good education. A knowledge of the common English branches they deemed indispensable for all their children, while one son in a family at least, if it could be accomplished by any reasonable sacrifice, received a classical education. William, in his boyhood, displayed that activity of mind and thirst for knowledge which were the characteristics of his manhood. He leisure hours were devoted to reading such books as were accessible. His instruction was, however, such as could be obtained in the schools of the neighborhood. The meager advantages afforded him were studiously improved, and the natural activity of his mind and his ambition to excel enabled him to make substantial acquirements.
On the 7th of December, 1791, he was married to Nancy Irwin, daughter of Archibald Irwin, of Franklin county, and commenced life as a farmer on the portion of his fatherís estate which, at the death of his father in 1799, he inherited.
He was a political disciple and a great admirer of Mr. Jefferson. The first office which he ever held was a military one, that of brigade inspector of militia, requiring more of business capacity than knowledge of tactics. To the veterans of the Revolutionary war it was given to become generals and colonels. In the autumn of 1797, that immediately succeeding the inauguration of John Adams as President of the United States, at a time when the only newspaper published in Franklin county was the organ of the Federalists, with its column strictly closed against the Republicans, Mr. Findlay was elected a member of the House of Representatives of the State Legislature, which then sat in Philadelphia. He was again elected to the House in 1803. Mr. Jefferson had succeeded Mr. Adams in the Presidency, and the Republicans were in the ascendant in both National and State governments. The capital had, by the act of April 3, 1799, been temporarily established at Lancaster. Mr. Findlay, at this session, proposed that it should be permanently established at Harrisburg. The proposition then failed; but it was eventually carried, and in 1812 the removal was effected. He proved himself a leading member, and one of the most useful in the house, being placed in the most responsible positions. When the act to revise the judiciary system was before the House, Mr. Findlay offered additional sections, providing that a plaintiff might file a statement of his cause of action, instead of a declaration; for reference of matters in dispute to arbitration; that proceedings should not be set aside for informality; that pleadings might be amended, and amicable actions and judgments entered without the agency of an attorney.
These provisions were not then adopted, but they afterwards became and still are a part of the statute law. The object aimed at by their mover was doubtless to enable parties to conduct their own case in court without professional assistance. This the enactments have failed to accomplish; but they have been of great advantage to attorneys themselves, enabling them to cure their own errors and omissions, to which they as well as the unlearned are liable.
On the 13th of January, 1807, Mr. Findlay was elected State treasurer, whereupon he resigned his seat in the House. From that date until the 2d of December, 1817, when he resigned to assume the duties of chief magistrate, a period of nearly eleven years, he was annually re-elected by the Legislature to that office, in several instances unanimously, and always by a strong majority, not uncommonly being supported by members politically opposed to him. During nearly four years of this time the United States were at war with England, and the resources of the country were severely taxed.
In 1817, Mr. Findlay was nominated by the Republicans as their candidate for governor. Gen. Joseph Hiester was selected by a disaffected branch of the Republican party, styled Old School men, to oppose him, who was supported also by the Federalists. The result was a triumph for Findlay, who was elected by a majority of over seven thousand votes.
In 1820, Governor Findlay again received the unanimous nomination of the Republicans for re-election, and Joseph Hiester was nominated, as before, by the Republicans of the Old School, and was supported by the Federalists en masse. Under the Constitution of 1790 the patronage of the Executive was immense. To him was given the power of appointing, with few exceptions, every State and county officer. This power, considered so dangerous that by the Constitution of 1828 and subsequent amendments the Executive has been stripped of it almost entirely, was, in fact, dangerous only to the governor himself. For while he might attach one person to him by making an appointment, the score or two who were disappointed became, if not active political opponents, at least lukewarm friends. Many trained and skillful politicians had been alienated from the support of Governor Findlay by their disability to share or control patronage. The result was the election of his opponant [sic].
At the general election of 1821 the Republicans regained ascendancy in the Legislature. At the session of 1821-22, while Governor Findlay was quietly spending the winter with a friend and relative in Franklin county, he received notice that he had been elected to the Senate of the United States for the full term of six years from the preceding 4th of march. He immediately set out for the capital, where he took his seat and served the entire term with distinguished ability. While he was in the Senate two of his brothers, Col. John Findlay, of Chambersburg, and Gen. James Findlay, of Cincinnati, Ohio, were members of the national House of Representatives. After the expiration of his senatorial term he was appointed by President Jackson treasurer of the United States Mint at Philadelphia. This office he held until the accession of Gen. Harrison to the Presidency, when, unwilling, at his advanced age, to be longer burdened with its cares and responsibilities, he resigned. The remainder of his life was spent in retirement with the family of his son-in-law, Governor Shunk, at who residence, in Harrisburg, he died on the 12th of November, 1846, in the seventy-ninth year of his age.
In person Governor Findlay was tall, with fair complexion and dark-brown hair. He had a vigorous constitution and a cheerful disposition. He was affable and courteous in his address, fond of conversation, but did not monopolize it. He understood and practiced the habits of a good listener. He exhibited great tact in drawing out the reserved and taciturn, and enabling them to figure well in conversation by giving rein to their hobbies. He possessed a remarkably tenacious memory of names and faces. After a long separation he could recognize and call by name a person with whom he had had but a short and casual interview. His acquaintance was probably more extensive and his personal friends more numerous than those of almost any other public man of his day.