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William Henry Bissell

Gov. William Henry Bissell

  • January 12, 1857 - March 18, 1860
  • Republican, Democrat
  • April 25, 1811
  • March 18, 1860
  • New York
  • Jefferson Medical College, Transylvania University Physician/Dentist
  • Married Emily James; two children
  • Died in office
  • Representative
  • Army


WILLIAM HENRY BISSELL, Illinois’ 11th governor was born in Hartwick, New York, on April 25, 1811. He attended the public school system in Hartwick, and graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1835. After practicing medicine in New York and Illinois, Bissell decided a legal career was better suited for him. He graduated from Transylvania University in 1844, earning a law degree. Bissell entered politics in 1840 as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, a position he held for two years. In 1844 he served as prosecuting attorney for the Second Illinois Judicial District. Bissell served during the Mexican War, joining Company G as a private. He rose to the rank of captain and later was commissioned a colonel. After his military service, he was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives, an office he held from 1849 to 1855. During his third term in Congress, he became paralyzed, which was blamed to his wartime exposure. He won election as Illinois governor, as a Republican, on November 4, 1856, and was sworn into office on January 12, 1857. During his tenure, funding for the northern penitentiary and for the Jacksonville asylums was authorized; the state was redistricted according to the 1855 census; judges’ salaries were garnered through vouchers certified by the governor; a railroad connection was constructed between the East Coast and the Mississippi; the Illinois and Michigan canal scrip fraud was exposed; and authorization was granted to pay the semi-annual interest on the state debt. Before finishing his term, Bissell contracted pneumonia, passing away on March 18, 1860. Governor William H. Bissell was buried at the Oak Ridge Cemetery, in Springfield, Illinois.


Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 1, Westport, Conn.; Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.

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