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William Henry Bissell (American National Biography)

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David L. Lightner, "Bissell, William Henry," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/04/04-00107.html.
Throughout his six years in Congress, Bissell championed liberal land policies such as homesteads, bounties to veterans, and grants to railroads. Although in 1850 he favored the Fugitive Slave Act and other compromise measures, in 1854 he broke with his party's leadership and refused to support the Kansas-Nebraska Bill because it repealed the Missouri Compromise. In May 1854 he was incapacitated by an illness of some years' standing, probably secondary syphilis affecting the sacrum. While acutely ill, he converted secretly to his wife's Roman Catholic faith. Unable to attend the final vote on the Kansas-Nebraska Bill on 22 May (although he declared his willingness to be carried into the House on a stretcher were his presence crucial to the outcome), or to participate at all in the second session of the Thirty-third Congress, he did not seek reelection in 1854.

Because Abraham Lincoln and other founders of the Republican party of Illinois believed that only an antislavery Democrat had a prayer of leading their ticket to victory in the state elections of 1856, the party convention that met at Bloomington on 29 May unanimously nominated Bissell for governor. Despite his failed health, Bissell had declared himself available because, he said, "Slavery demands more room--more scope and verge. Shall she have it? . . . I say a thousand times, No!" Although unable to do much campaigning, he won the November election by a plurality of nearly 5,000 votes, drawing support from Democrats, Whigs, abolitionists, and (his Catholicism not being known) nativists.
How to Cite This Page: "William Henry Bissell (American National Biography)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/23977.