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Accession Number 1900.001
Catalog Number 1900.001.023
Object Name Painting
Title Portrait of William Medill
Description Portrait of William Medill, Ohio's 22nd governor (1853-1856), shows Medill wearing a black coat with a white shirt and black tie. He has thick dark hair and a full dark beard.
Date 1869
Artist Witt, John Henry, 1840-1901
Notes William Medill was born in New Castle County, Delaware, in February 1802. His parents, William and Isabella Medill, were Irish immigrants to the United States and owned their own farm. Medill worked his way through college at the Newark Academy, which later became the University of Delaware. After graduating in 1825, Medill began to study the law and was admitted to the Delaware Bar in 1830. He moved to Lancaster, Ohio, and gained admittance to the Ohio Bar in 1832.

Medill became a prominent citizen of Lancaster and decided to run for state office. He was elected to four straight terms as a representative to the state legislature from Fairfield County beginning in 1835. He was well respected in the Ohio House of Representatives, and his fellow legislators elected him Speaker of the House in 1836 and again in 1837. The following year, Medill successfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. He was reelected in 1840. He was defeated when he ran for a third term in 1842. During his years in Congress, Medill became known as a strong Democrat who spoke out against the Bank of the United States.

During President James K. Polk's administration, Medill served in two appointed political positions. In 1845, Medill became second assistant postmaster general, a post that he only held for a short time before accepting an appointment as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Medill had a reputation as a fair and reform-minded manager of Native American issues. During this time, the federal government reorganized the Bureau of Indian Affairs and moved it from the War Department to the Department of the Interior. Medill held the post of commissioner from 1845 to 1850, when he returned to Ohio.

Medill soon was involved once again in the state's politics. He became a delegate to the Ohio Constitutional Convention in 1850, and his fellow delegates elected him president of the convention. Under his leadership, the convention prepared the new Ohio Constitution of 1851. The new constitution established the position of lieutenant governor for the first time in Ohio history. Medill became the first person elected to this position in 1852 and again in 1853. Reuben Wood was elected as governor in those two elections.

When Wood resigned as governor to accept an appointment as U.S. Consul to Chile in 1853, Medill became Governor of Ohio. He was elected in his own right the same year and continued to serve as governor until 1855. Democratic majorities in both houses supported Medill. He proposed that the state privatize all canals, turnpikes, and other transportation interests in Ohio. These recommendations were not acted on while Medill was Governor.

When Medill ran for reelection as governor in 1855, he faced strong opposition from Salmon P. Chase of the newly formed Republican Party. Chase ran on an anti-slavery platform and defeated Medill by a significant margin.

Although Medill was defeated his political career was not over. President James Buchanan appointed Medill as controller of the United States Treasury, and he held that position from 1857 to 1861. In poor health, he decided to retire from politics and return to his home in Lancaster.

By the time that Medill moved back to Ohio, the Civil War had begun. Medill did not agree with the war. He allied himself with the Peace Democrats but he did not support his party's nomination of Clement L. Vallandigham for governor in 1863. His deteriorating health kept Medill from taking an active role in political life after 1863. He died in Lancaster on September 2, 1865. Medill never married. After his death, his nephew inherited his property.
People Medill, William, 1802-1865
Smith, William Henry, 1833-1896
Witt, John Henry, (1840-1901)
Signed Name J.H.W.H. 1869
Sig Loc On reverse. Transcription of presumed original.
Image size 32" x 36"
Frame size 36-1/2" x 30-1/2"
Frame desc Twentieth century molded gilt frame with carved beaded liner
Material Oil Paint/Canvas/Wood
Provenance In 1867, the Ohio General Assembly passed a joint resolution relative to the governors of Ohio. The legislators resolved that "the secretary of state, on the first Monday of January next, whether the portraits of the governors of Ohio, state and territorial, can be procured, and if so, whether original portraits or copies, and the probable expense of procuring such portraits for the governor's office."

On January 1, 1870 the "Ohio State Journal" reported, "The oil portrait of ex-governor Medill . . . was received yesterday by Governor Hayes and put in place in the Executive rooms. The portrait of Medill was painted by J.H. Witt of this city.

The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board took over the care of the Statehouse and its collections in 1988.
Search Terms Ohio Governor
Ohio Governor's Portraits
Subjects Governors
Portrait paintings
Collection Statehouse Artwork Collection/Governors' Portraits