Wise, Henry Alexander

Life Span
Full name
Henry Alexander Wise
Place of Birth
Birth Date Certainty
Death Date Certainty
Sectional choice
Other Education
Washington College, PA
Attorney or Judge
Political Parties
Harrison/Tyler Administration (1841-45)
Polk Administration (1845-49)
US House of Representatives
State legislature
Local government
Confederate Army

Henry Alexander Wise (Congressional Biographical Directory)

WISE, Henry Alexander,  (father of John Sergeant Wise and Richard Alsop Wise and uncle of George Douglas Wise), a Representative from Virginia; born in Drummondtown, Accomack County, Va., December 3, 1806; was privately tutored until his twelfth year and then entered Margaret Academy, near Pungoteague, Accomack County; was graduated from Washington College, Pennsylvania, in 1825; studied law in Winchester, Va.; was admitted to the bar in 1828 and commenced practice in Nashville, Davidson County, Tenn.; returned to Virginia in 1830; held several local offices; elected as a Jacksonian to the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Congresses, as a Whig to the Twenty-fifth through Twenty-seventh Congresses, and as a Democrat to the Twenty-eighth Congress and served from March 4, 1833, until his resignation on February 12, 1844; chairman, Committee on Naval Affairs (Twenty-seventh and Twenty-eighth Congresses); was appointed Minister to France in 1843, but was not confirmed; Minister to Brazil 1844-1847; delegate to the State constitutional convention in 1850; Governor of Virginia 1856-1860; delegate to the Virginia Convention, 1861; served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War; resumed the practice of law in Richmond, Henrico County, Va.; served on the commission to fix the boundary line between Virginia and Maryland; died in Richmond, Va., September 12, 1876; interment in Hollywood Cemetery.
"Wise, Henry Alexander," Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 to Present, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=W000649.

Henry Alexander Wise (Simpson, 1985)

Wise always believed that few exceeded his commitment to Virginia and the South during the secession crisis and the Civil War. Like many Southerners, he wished to be known as a man of peace who abided by the decision of his people and reluctantly took up arms. There was no ordinary reticence in him, however. He never wanted to argue the case for either secession or war because he thought each unprovable and therefore unwinnable. But if his decisions were thus hard ones, there was little chance of his forsaking the cause of Southern independence altogether, as Senators James H. Hammond of South Carolina and John Bell of Tennessee at least contemplated. Wise’s prevarications help to explain, in ways he never acknowledged, both the intensity of his commitment to political revolution and the wavering of his loyalty.

If Wise was not wholly committed to secession, neither did his decision result from disentanglement in the “relentless, horribly logical meshing of ears within” the political mechanism that “dictated an almost certain outcome” during the winter of 1860-61. To be sure, Wise’s maneuverability was diminished as a result of changes in the political structure. But as Barrington Moore, Jr., writes, “The uncertainty of all actors is one of the most significant and neglected aspects of historical crises, great and small.” Options remained open and potential outcomes appeared hazardous and unclear until very late. Secession startled and surprised him.
Craig M. Simpson, A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 219.
Date Title
Washington (DC) National Era, "Senator Wilson and the Disunionists," January 29, 1857
New York Times, “Virginia Frightened,” April 7, 1857
Washington (DC) National Era, "The Union," October 15, 1857
New York Times, “Opening of the Presidential Campaign of 1860,” December 23, 1857
New York Herald, "The Approaching Conclusion of the Kansas Comedy," January 27, 1858
New York Times, "Presidential Candidates," July 14, 1858
New York Herald, “Political Joking," August 15, 1858
New York Herald, “Our Richmond Correspondence,” October 17, 1858
New York Herald, “Douglas for the Presidency,” November 7, 1858
New York Herald, “The Struggle Among the Virginia Democracy,” December 5, 1858
Charleston (SC) Mercury, “Presidential Aspirants,” January 10, 1859
New York Herald, “Some of Our Diplomatic and Consular Deficiencies,” January 19, 1859
New York Herald, “The Presidential Question,” January 29, 1859
New York Herald, “The Black Republicans and Mr. Douglas,” February 22, 1859
New York Herald, “The Gubernatorial Contest in Virginia,” April 3, 1859
Ripley (OH) Bee, “Gov. Wise and the Presidency,” April 16, 1859
New York Times, “The Virginia Election,” May 30, 1859
New York Times, “Albany and Richmond,” June 29, 1859
New York Herald, “The Spoils,” July 20, 1858
New York Herald, “Mr. Buchanan and the Succession,” July 24, 1859
New York Herald,“Mr. Douglas and His Forthcoming Manifesto,” July 31, 1859
New York Times, “An Unwise Letter,” August 5, 1859
New York Herald, “The Morals of Politics,” August 7, 1859
New York Herald, “Stump Candidates for the Presidency,” September 11, 1859
Entry by Edmund Ruffin, October 19, 1859
Fayetteville (NC) Observer, “So Perish All The Enemies of Our Country!,” October 20, 1859
New York Times, “Latest Dispatches,” October 21, 1859
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, "Dissolution of the Union," October 25, 1859
Lydia Maria Child to John Brown, October 26, 1859
Carlisle (PA) American, “Arrest of a Supposed ‘Harper’s Ferry Insurrectionist,’” October 26, 1859
Carlisle (PA) American Volunteer, "Additional Particulars of the Insurrection," October 27, 1859
Carlisle (PA) American Volunteer, "Governor Wise on the Harper's Ferry Insurrection," October 27, 1859
Philadelphia (PA) Christian Observer, "A Regular Abolition Conspiracy," October 27, 1859
Entry by Susan Bradford Eppes, October 28, 1859
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, "The Harpers Ferry Insurgent at Carlisle," November 1, 1859
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, "They Have Overdone It!," November 2, 1859
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, "Old Brown's Speech," November 4, 1859
Fayetteville (NC) Observer, "How Shall Brown Be Punished?," November 7, 1859
New Orleans (LA) Picayune, "Frederick Douglass's Letter," November 9, 1859
Philadelphia (PA) Christian Observer, "Character of John Brown," November 10, 1859
Eliza Margaretta Chew Mason to Lydia Maria Child, November 11, 1859
Carlisle (PA) American Volunteer, "Reward for Fugitive Insurgents," November 17, 1859
Carlisle (PA) American Volunteer, "Gov. Wise to Mrs. Child," November 17, 1859
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, “The Straw Stack War,” November 22, 1859
Fayetteville (NC) Observer, "The Devil Not As Black As He Is Painted," November 24, 1859
New York Herald, “A Suggestion to Governor Wise About Old Brown,” November 27, 1859
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, "Old Brown to be Gagged," November 30, 1859
John Thomas Lewis Preston to Margaret Junkin Preston, December 2, 1859
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, "How a Brave Man Dies," December 6, 1859
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, "Virginia Wants the Nation to Foot Her Bills," December 8, 1859
Hartford (CT) Courant, "Arrest of a Militia Officer," December 8, 1859
Columbus (OH) Gazette, "For the Columbus Gazette," December 16, 1859
New York Times, "Southern Students in New York," December 22, 1859
New York Times, "The Southern Medical Students," December 23, 1859
San Francisco (CA) Evening Bulletin, “The New Crusade against the Union,” December 29, 1859
Milwaukee (WI) Sentinel, “Another Grievance for Virginia,” January 11, 1860
Atchison (KS) Freedom’s Champion, “Paying the Piper,” January 28, 1860
Fayetteville (NC) Observer, “Harper’s Ferry Items,” January 30, 1860
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, “Attempt to Lynch a Pennsylvanian in Virginia,” February 18, 1860
New York Times, "Senator Brown on International Law," March 8, 1860
New York Times, "Democratic National Convention," March 17, 1860
Philip Dandridge to Robert Hunter, March 18, 1860
New York Herald, “The Republican Press on the Chances of Douglas,” April 22, 1860
New York Times, “The Charleston Convention,” April 24, 1860
Ripley (OH) Bee, “The John Brown Investigation,” July 5, 1860
Milwaukee (WI) Sentinel, "Not Going to Dissolve the Union," August 21, 1860
New York Times, “The Nonsense of Disunion,” September 22, 1860
New York Times, “Very Suspicious,” October 15, 1860
Charlestown (VA) Free Press, “Conservative Sentiments,” November 8, 1860
Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Bad For Virginia,” February 20, 1861
Cleveland (OH) Herald, “The Impending Downfall of Secession,” March 16, 1861
New York Times, “Wise Rampant,” April 9, 1861
Cleveland (OH) Herald, “Military Printers Having Their Joke,” July 15, 1861
Chicago Style Entry Link
Anspach, F. R. The Sons of the Sires; A History of the Rise, Progress, and Destiny of the American Party, and its Probable Influence on the Next Presidential Election. To Which is Added a Review of the Letter of the Hon. Henry A. Wise, Against the Know-Nothings. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1855.
view record
Crofts, Daniel W. "Late Antebellum Virginia Reconsidered." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 107, no. 3 (Summer 1999): 253-286. view record
Goldfield, David R. “Marketing a Candidate: Henry A. Wise and the Art of Mass Politics.” Virginia Cavalcade 26 (Summer 1976): 30-37. view record
Hitchcock, William S. "The Limits of Southern Unionism: Virginia Conservatives and the Gubernatorial Election of 1859." Journal of Southern History 47, no 1 (1981): 57-72. view record
Shanks, Henry Thomas. The Secession Movement in Virginia, 1847-1861. Richmond: Garrett & Massie, 1934. view record
Simpson, Craig M. A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia. The Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985. view record
Simpson, Craig. "John Brown and Governor Wise: A New Perspective on Harpers Ferry." Biography 1, no. 4 (1978): 15-39. view record
Woodward, Isaiah A. "John Brown's Raid at Harpers Ferry and Governor Henry Alexander Wise's Letter to President James Buchanan Concerning the Invasion." West Virginia History 42, no. 3-4 (1981): 307-313. view record
How to Cite This Page: "Wise, Henry Alexander," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php/node/6900.