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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 385

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This is the grave of William Findley.

Probably born in 1741 in County Ulster in Ireland, Findley emigrated to the American colonies in 1763. He moved to Cumberland County, Pennsylvania in 1768 and became a farmer and a weaver. He joined the Patriot cause in the American Revolution, starting as a private in the local militia but ending as a captain in the Seventh Company of the Eighth Battalion of Cumberland County Associators. After the war, he moved the family west to southwestern Pennsylvania. A respected member of society after his war service, he was soon elected to the Council of Censors, which was a body to occasionally revisit the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776. This was the most radical document of the American Revolution, which had established universal male suffrage for anyone who paid taxes, as opposed to owning property, as well as a unicameral legislature and a law that all legislation would take effect after the next elections to give voters a chance to express their opinions about it. This made the elites of the Founding Fathers nervous, but Findley strongly supported it during his time on the Council. He was significantly more democratic than many Founders, believing for instance that candidates should campaign and express their opinions, rather than the Roman-style disinterest and reluctant call to duty that so many idealized.

Not surprisingly, Findley was deeply skeptical of the Constitution, believing it centralized power with the elites. But he served in the state house for a term before being elected to Congress in 1790. He hated Alexander Hamilton’s ideas and aligned himself with the Jeffersonians, although he was more strongly anti-slavery than they usually were. He worked hard to settle everyone down during the Whiskey Rebellion, which were his people west of the mountains outraged by taxes and which Washington and Hamilton was ready to crush with violence. He decided not to run for reelection in 1798, but then came back in the 1802 elections, staying that time until 1817. He remained one of Jefferson and then Madison’s most important and senior supporters in the House. Findley wasn’t a leading legislator or anything, but in an era of massive turnover in Congress, he was one of the most venerable members and thus garnered a great deal of respect. He returned to his farm in 1817 and died in 1821. He was approximately 80 years old.

William Findley is buried in Unity Cemetery, Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

This post was supported by LGM reader contributions. I thank you all very much and I look forward to more 2019 grave trips to keep this series alive. If you would like this series to cover more Founding Fathers, which is a term I hate, but it has such currency that it’s hard not to use, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. James Madison is at his home of Montpelier in Virginia and John Jay is in Rye, New York. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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