“...to that empire of liberty upon whose soil no slave now stands and no slave will ever stand, I give all my allegiance. But until that hour of separation shall come (which may He who guides the destinies of nations avert) until that hour, although the sun in the heavens be darkened, and the veil at the temple of liberty be rent in twain, still will I stand amid its falling columns and maintain, with all my power, the sacred cause of human rights. Mr. Speaker, I will compromise no longer with slavery.”
(In a speech before the House of Representatives, February 1, 1861)
Reference Department staff have explored the life of a local citizen, James Wilson — a man who deserves attention for his contributions to his state and to his country.
James Wilson was born in Crawfordsville, Indiana, on April 9, 1825, to John & Margaret (Cochran) Wilson. He was, purportedly, the first child born in Crawfordsville. Wilson graduated from Wabash College in 1842 at the age of 17. He later attended Indiana University in Bloomington, and he graduated with a degree in law in 1845.
In June 1846, Wilson left Crawfordsville to fight in the Mexican-American War. He was mustered into the army at New Albany, Indiana, as a private, but he soon rose to the rank of assistant quartermaster sergeant. During the war, he was under the command of Colonel Samuel Churchill. Wilson was mustered out of the army in New Orleans, Louisiana, in June 1847. Wilson was admitted to the bar in Crawfordsville in 1848 and soon commenced the practice of law. Wilson studied law in the office of Henry Smith Lane (later the namesake for his third son and fourth child).
On March 14, 1849, Wilson married Emma Ingersoll in Montgomery County. They had four children: John Lockwood Wilson (later a senator and representative from the state of Washington), Henry Lane Wilson (U. S. ambassador to Chile, Belgium, and Mexico), Tighman Howard Wilson, and Carrie Wilson (infant daughter, died 1854).
In 1856, Wilson ran for the position of 8th District Indiana Representative. Wilson defeated his opponent, Daniel W. Voorhees of Covington, by 250 votes. This election was one of the first featuring a Republican candidate (Wilson) versus a Democratic candidate (Voorhees).
In 1858, Wilson was reelected to the House of Representatives, and he became very vocal about the slavery issue: read Wilson's anti-slavery speeches of March 1858 (.pdf) and February 1861 (.pdf) before the House of Representatives. He did not seek re-election after his second term, choosing instead to join the Union Army to fight in the Civil War. According to Wilson’s son, Henry Lane Wilson, his father first served a 90-day campaign. He later re-enlisted and continued to fight throughout the entire war. He was originally given the rank of Colonel, but he was promoted to the rank of brevet Brigadier General upon his discharge.
In 1866, James Wilson was appointed to the position of United States Minister Resident to Venezuela. Wilson had chosen to resign from this position in the summer of 1867, but, regrettably, he succumbed to yellow fever on August 8, 1867, before he could rejoin his family in Crawfordsville. Wilson died at his residence in the Venezuelan capitol city of Caracas while he was waiting for his successor to arrive. Wilson’s body was transported back to Crawfordsville, where it was interred in Oak Hill Cemetery.
The following is an excerpt from Wilson’s obituary in the Crawfordsville Weekly Journal: “Mr. Wilson was, in the strongest sense of the term, a self-made man, and grew to be one of the ablest and best beloved public men of Indiana by the sheer force of his native ability, genius, strong individualism, and extraordinary enthusiasm and oratory.”