ALEXANDER WILLIAMS RANDALL was born in Ames, New York. He studied law under his father and was admitted to the bar in 1838 at the age of nineteen. Two years later he moved to Prairieville (now Waukesha), Wisconsin, where he practiced law and won an appointment by President Polk to the position of Waukesha postmaster, having switched from Whig to Democrat. In 1846 he supported the movement to separate Waukesha from Milwaukee County and then resigned his postmastership to act as the new county’s first District Attorney. That same year he was elected to the first State Constitutional Convention, where he lobbied for Negro suffrage. Switching parties again in 1848, he became president of a Free Soil Convention that endorsed Martin Van Buren for President, but he returned to the Democratic Party in 1849. In 1854 he was elected to the State Assembly as an independent Democrat, and switched parties once more in 1855 to run unsuccessfully for Attorney General as a Republican. He served as one of the attorneys for Coles Bashford, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who challenged the narrow victory of incumbent Democrat William Barstow before the state Supreme Court. When Bashford prevailed, he appointed Randall to the position of Second Circuit Judge. Faced with corruption charges connected to his support of railroad land grants, Bashford was unable to win renomination by the Republican Party in 1857, and Randall was chosen instead. Defeating his Democratic opponent, Randall went on as governor to focus on the moral issues of slavery in the South and to launch an investigation into the railroad land grant scandal. Reelected in 1859, he led Republican opposition to slavery, favoring punishment of the South if it attempted to secede from the Union. He helped organize regiments and training camps in response to President Lincoln’s call to arms. He was later appointed Minister to the Papal States and then Postmaster General by both Lincoln and President Andrew Johnson. Faced with strong anti-Johnson feeling in Wisconsin, Randall chose not to return to the state and instead practiced law in Elmira, New York, where he died.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 2. New York: James T. White & Company.