Governor William Findlay



December 16, 1817 - December 19, 1820


New School Jeffersonian Democrat
(also known as the Family Party)


June 20, 1768


November 12, 1846


Photo of Gov. William Findlay
Photo courtesy of Capitol Preservation
Committee and John Rudy Photography


The son of Samuel Findlay, a Mercersburg storekeeper and farmer, and Jane (Smith) Findlay, and the brother of two congressmen, John and James, William Findlay was born June 20, 1768. A Scots-Irish Presbyterian, he had a tall, impressive appearance, a cheerful disposition, and was an excellent conversationalist. After being educated in local schools and at home, he was admitted to the Franklin County Bar. In 1791, he married Nancy Irwin and toiled as a farmer on land that was inherited from his father in 1799. At the same time, he attained the rank of major as a brigade inspector of militia. His military reputation, admiration of Thomas Jefferson, and interest in public affairs gained him political supporters.

He was elected to the General Assembly in 1797, 1803, and 1807. In 1807, the legislature elected him state treasurer, and he was annually reelected until 1817 when he received the assembly caucuses' nomination for governor, backed by Governor Snyder's endorsement. He faced the "Old School," or independent wing, of the Jeffersonian's aged candidate, Joseph Hiester, who had been chosen by the first open, or popularly elected, convention.

Despite the added support of the Federalist Party for Hiester, Findlay won narrowly, but the aggressive New School programs he advanced were entirely frustrated by factional acrimony. Very soon after his inauguration his enemies attacked his honesty. In 1819 Findlay was faced both with the economic impact of the Panic of 1819 and impeachment charges based on his work while state treasurer. Eventually a committee of the General Assembly dismissed all the formal charges and a report stated, "The conduct of the State Treasurer in his official capacity has been not only faithful, but meritorious and beneficial to the State, and entitles him to the thanks and gratitude of his fellow-citizens."

Findlay became the first governor to reside in the new state capital of Harrisburg. While the Capitol Building was being constructed, the cornerstone laid by his hand, Findlay conducted affairs of state in the back parlor of his home, and his dining room held state dinners for distinguished guests and legislators. The home at 21 North Front Street in Harrisburg continues to be in private use to this day, currently occupied by the Art Association of Harrisburg.

In 1817 the governor emancipated the one slave he held and stated, "The principles of slavery are repugnant to those of justice." Further, he urged the state legislature to pass laws to punish more severely those who kidnapped persons on Pennsylvania soil to be returned or committed to slavery.

In 1820 both Hiester and Findlay were chosen by open conventions. The sixty-eight-year-old Hiester won by a narrow margin. In 1821 the General Assembly elected Findlay to the U.S. Senate, and at the end of one term he was appointed director of the U.S. Mint, where he served until 1841.

He retired to live with his daughter, Jane, who was married to Francis Shunk, Pennsylvania's governor 1845 to 1848, and who lived at 23 North Front Street, Harrisburg, next door to her father's former gubernatorial home. Findlay died on November 12, 1846, and is buried in Harrisburg Cemetery.