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William Hendricks (November 12, 1782May 16, 1850) was a Democratic-Republican member of the House of Representatives from 1816 to 1822, Governor of Indiana from 1822 to 1825, and an Anti-Jacksonian member of the U.S. Senate from 1825 to 1837. He led much of his family into politics and founded one of the largest political families in Indiana. He was the uncle of Thomas Andrews Hendricks, who also was Governor of Indiana and Vice President of the United States. Hendricks Countymarker was named in his honor. His term as governor was spent repairing the state's finances to enable to state begin large scale internal improvements, creating the basic framework of the public school system, and overseeing the transfer of the capital to Indianapolismarker from Corydonmarker.

Early life

Family and background

Hendricks was born born in Ligonier Valley, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania on November 12, 1782, the son of Abraham and Ann Jamison Hendricks. His father was a prominent man in the community and a state legislator. He was the brother of Thomas Hendricks and John Hendricks, the uncle of Vice President Thomas Andrews Hendricks, and the father of William Hendricks Jr.

He attended a common school in Ligonier Valley where he was a classmate of Jonathan Jennings and William W. Wick, who later became his close political allies. After completion of the lower grades Hendricks attended Jefferson College (now Washington & Jefferson Collegemarker) until 1810. After completing college he moved west to Ohiomarker where his older brother Obadiah operated a law practice, and briefly lived in his home. He studied law with him a short time and was admitted to the bar. From 1810 to 1812 he made a living as a school teacher while he studied law in Cincinnatimarker and lived in the home of his sister, Ann. He remained there until he was admitted to the bar.

Move to Indiana Territory

After 1813 he moved to Madisonmarker in the Indiana Territory. Madison remained his home for the rest of his life. During his early days in Madison, he setup a printing press he brought with him from Cincinnati, and became the proprietor of the Western Eagle, the second newspaper to be printed in the territory. His paper and the positions he supported helped him to quickly gain popularity in the local community. The anti-slavery eastern part of the territory was at that time locked in a struggle with the pro-slavery western party for control of the territorial government. The Western Eagle combated the pro-slavery Vincennes Sun, and garnered considerable support from the eastern settlers. He later used his printing press to print the first codification of the Indiana state laws during his term as governor.

Hendricks married Ann Parker Paul of Hardin Countymarker, Kentuckymarker. She was the daughter Colonel John Paul, who was the founder of Madison. The coupe had two sons, the older William Hendricks Jr became a state legislator. Both sons were killed during the American Civil War. Ann outlived her husband by some thirty-seven years, and died at Madison on September 12, 1887.

Public office

Territorial legislator

In February 1813 Hendricks was elected clerk of the territorial legislature in Vincennesmarker. In May the capital was moved to Corydonmarker following the outbreak of the War of 1812 and the reorganization of the territory. The legislature which was then dominated by the anti-slavery and pro-statehood faction, appointed Hendricks as printer and charged with publishing the assembly's records. The following year he was elected as a representative of Jefferson Countymarker, of which Madison was the county seat. In the legislature he fell into party with speaker Dennis Pennington and the Jennings faction that dominated the body, the leading men in the state government. In 1814 Hendricks was chosen to succeed Pennington and became speaker of the legislative assembly. The same year he opened his own law practice and stopped printing his newspaper for lack of time for the enterprise. He received several lucrative positions from the territorial government, including being appointed prosecutor of several eastern counties. He was also appointed by President James Madison as U.S. Attorney for the entire territory.

In 1816 attended the state Constitutional Convention held in Corydon as an unofficial delegate. Although only two years since he entered the territory, he had become so well known and popularized that he served as the conventions secretary. He was again in party with Jonathan Jennings, Dennis Pennington, and others seeking to institute a constitutional ban on slavery. His actions at the convention further strengthened his reputation for business aptitude and political skills.


Jennings was elected Governor of Indiana in the first election leaving his congress seat vacant. That same year Hendricks was elected as the only Indiana representative, defeating former territorial governor Thomas Posey. His election occurred shortly before Indiana's statehood had been approved by Congress and there was a brief debate about the legality of seating him when he arrived in Washington D.C.marker, but the situation was resolved in his favor. He served in the 14th Congress, succeeding Jennings. Hendricks was reelected three times, serving from from December 11, 1816, until the 17th Congress when he resigned July 25, 1822. In Congress he was a member of the Select Committee on Roads and Canals. He supported legislation to fund the construction of the National Road, which would connect Indiana with the eastern states. He also supported several measures to fund other minor road and canal projects, but was unsuccessful. He was a proponent of rapidly granting statehood to the western states, and delivered several speeches urging the statehood of Illinois and Missouri. In his final reelection bid, he won by a margin of ten to one, and was recoginzed as one of the most popular political figures in the state.


In 1822 Hendricks ran unopposed for the position of Governor of Indiana and succeeded Jonathan Jennings; Jennings in turn succeeded Hendricks in his congressional seat. Hendricks won 100% of the 18,340 votes, the only governor in Indiana history to win by that margin. He assumed the office on December 5, 1822. While governor he occupied the Governor's Headquartersmarker in Corydon, which he purchased from Davis Floyd. He served as Governor from 1822 until 1825. He was the last governor while the capital remained in Corydon.

When he came to office, the state was still in a poor financial condition because the state's bank failures caused by the Panic of 1819 and the ensuing collapse of the modest internal improvement programs. The state's bonds had been depreciated in 1821 and severely hurt the state's credit and ability to borrow funds. The state budget was still in deficit, and the states sparse population was producing very little revenue. The situation was resolved by selling public land to raise money to pay of a significant portion of the outstanding debt, and government accounts were moved to the Second Bank of United States since there were no banks operating in Indiana.

The foundation of state's school system—the first state funded system in the nation—also began to be laid during Hendricks administration. During his tenure as Governor each township was granted land on which a public school could be established. The value of these improvements totaled over $1.25 million making it the highest dollar item on the budget to that date. Construction of the State Seminary, later to become Indiana University, also began during his term. Hendricks would also contribute to Hanover Collegemarker. As the state's finances would not allow the large scale improvements Hendricks envisioned, he focused efforts on creating critical routes and approved legislation that required state residents to spend allotted amounts of time helping to build the state roads. Existing roads and rivers were improved by clearing obstacles.

Hendricks codified Indiana's laws for the first time in 1822, creating the Indiana Code. In 1824 a Seneca family was murdered by a group of men near Pendleton, Indianamarker and tension between the natives in northern Indiana and the settlements in central Indiana moved quickly toward conflict. Governor Hendricks, hoping to maintain peace and enforce justice for the tribe, ordered the murders to be captured and tried. While one of the murders escaped, the others where captured and all were sentenced to death. One of the murderers was a one minor and was later pardoned by Governor James B. Ray. Governor Hendricks had denied his appeal for clemency and used the execution to show the natives his goodwill. This was the first time a white man was executed for killing a Native American in the United Statesmarker.

One of his final acts as governor was to approve a move of the capitol from Corydon to Indianapolismarker. There had been an intense to debate to keep the capitol in the south where almost all of the state's population was. Indianapolis was north of the nearest settlement and on the edge of the frontier. Despite considerable pressure, signed the measure in late 1824.


On February 14, 1825, Hendricks resigned his position as Governor to become a United States Senator after being elected to that position by the legislature, defeating Chief Justice Isaac Blackford. Lieutenant Governor Ratliff Boon had resigned earlier and the governorship devolved to James B. Ray, the Senate-Pro-Tempore. Back in Congress in 1825, Hendricks was an Anti-Jacksonian, supporting federal funding for western internal improvements. He chaired the committee on roads and canals from 1831 until 1837 and joined fellow Indiana congressman Ratliff Boon in support federal funding for the Wabash and Erie Canal in the Senate. He failed in his attempt to be reelected to his seat in the Senate in 1836. He served in the Senate from March 4, 1825, to March 3, 1837 after having lost the election in 1836 to Whig Oliver H. Smith. Hendricks also served as a trustee on the Indiana University Board from 1829 to 1840.

Later life

Having served in public office for twenty-nine years continually since 1813, Hendricks returned to private life in Madison in 1839.

During his life he had gathered a large estate which he returned to manage and to also practice law. Being a large landholder in the Madison area, he built many homes and leased them to individuals. In his later years he was criticized for not wanting to sell them, and was accused of behaving in an aristocratic fashion in that regard.

On May 16, 1850, while he was overseeing the construction of his family vaultmarker, he suddenly became ill. He died the same day and was buried in the Fairmount Cemetery.

In his obituary the Indiana Gazetteer said: "Governor Hendricks was for many years by far the most popular man in the State. He had been its sole representative in Congress for six years, elected on each occasion by large majorities, and no member of that body, probably, was more attentive to the interests of the State he represented, or more industrious in arranging all the private or local business entrusted to him. He left no letter unanswered, no public office or document did he fail to visit or examine on request; with personal manners very engaging, he long retained his popularity."

See also


  1. Gugin, p. 53
  2. Woollen, p. 51
  3. Woollen, p. 53
  4. Gugin, p. 54
  5. Woolen, p. 51
  6. Gugin, p. 55
  7. Woollen p. 52
  8. Gugin, p. 56
  9. A Sketchbook of Indiana History, by Arville L. Funk, 1964
  10. Life and public services of Thomas A. Hendricks, By John Walker Holcombe, Hubert Marshall, Pg 30-31
  11. Gugin, p. 57
  12. Wollen, p. 52
  13. Woollen, p. 158
  14. Woollen, p. 58
  15. Woollen, p. 54


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