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William D. Kelley

William D. Kelley (April 12, 1814 - January 9, 1890) was a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania. Kelley was a lifelong advocate of civil rights, social reform, and labor protection.

Early life[]

William Darrah Kelley was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Hannah and David Kelley; his father died when he was two. His daughter Florence Kelley told of an incident immediately after the death. Since the law at the time said that all a man's possessions must be sold to discharge his debts, with no exemptions allowed for widows or orphans, all of the family's treasures were spread out on tables to be auctioned off. A "substantial" Quaker woman appeared with two large baskets, filled them with as much as she could carry, and walked away expressing indignation that "Friend Hannah Kelley should not have returned precious heirlooms" to her. Weeks later, after the auction, the woman sneaked the treasures back to the Kelley family.[1]

His mother opened a boarding house to support her children.[2] William Kelley started working at eleven to support the family, apprenticing as a jeweller and educating himself in law.[3]

Kelley was nicknamed "Pig-Iron Kelley" due to his role as a major spokesman in Congress for Pennsylvania's iron interests.


Kelley was admitted to the bar in Philadelphia in 1841. In 1846 Governor Shunk of Pennsylvania appointed him a judge of the Court of Common Pleas. He served as a judge of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas from 1846-1856.

William D. Kelley came to national attention after his 1854 speech against the slave trade, "Slavery in the Territories", was published and widely read.

After the repeal of the Missouri Compromise by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, Kelley quit the Democratic Party.

Founding the Republican Party[]

In 1854 Kelley was one of the founders of the Republican Party.

Kelley was elected as a Republican to Congress in 1860 and served from March 4, 1861, until his death in Washington, D.C.. He spoke often on the justice and necessity of "impartial suffrage", or voting rights for African-Americans, introduced a bill (which passed into law) in the 39th United States Congress which gave the right to vote to African-Americans in the District of Columbia, and spoke in favor of impeaching President Johnson, who had vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Freedmen's Bureau Bill .[4]

Military service[]

As a member of Congress, Kelley was exempt from military service. Nevertheless, during the Civil War he volunteered and would head out from his Philadelphia home in his blue coat whenever the Reserves were called up.[5]


In 1871, Kelley was the first Washington politician to suggest of what would later become Yellowstone National Park, as reported by Jay Cooke: "Let Congress pass a bill reserving the Great Geyser Basin as a public park forever--just as it has reserved that far inferior wonder the Yosemite Valley "[6]

He served as Chairman on the United States House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures, as Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, and on the Committee on Manufactures (51st United States Congress).

Character and family[]

Kelley was known for his generous and honorable character, according to biographer Dr. L. P. Brockett, who said "he would scorn to do an act of injustice to a political opponent as much as to his dearest personal friend."[7]

His daughter Florence Kelley was an influential social reformer, associated with Hull House.


"Sir, the bloody and untilled fields of the ten unreconstructed States, the unsheeted ghosts of the two thousand murdered negroes in Texas, cry, if the dead ever evoke vengeance, for the punishment of Andrew Johnson" (22 February 1868)


  1. Florence Kelley, pp. 27-28
  2. Brown, Ira V., "William D. Kelley and Radical Reconstruction", The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 85, No. 3 (July 1961), p. 316
  3. Brockett, p. 495
  4. Brockett, p. 500
  5. Florence Kelley, p. 25
  6. As reported in a letter from Jay Cooke to Ferdinand Hayden [1]
  7. Brockett, p. 503


  • Brockett, L. P., Men of Our Day: or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, Ziegler and McCurdy, Publishers, Philadelphia, Springfield (MA), Cincinnati, St. Louis, 1872, no ISBN
  • Brown, Ira V. "William D. Kelley and Radical Reconstruction", The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 85, No. 3 (July 1961), pp. 316–329
  • Kelley, Florence, The Autobiography of Florence Kelley: Notes of Sixty Years, Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, Chicago, 1986 ISBN 0-88286-093-3
  • William D. Kelley at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • The Political Graveyard

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