William Bingham

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William Bingham
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
February 16, 1797 – July 6, 1797
Preceded bySamuel Livermore
Succeeded byWilliam Bradford
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
March 4, 1795 – March 3, 1801
Preceded byRobert Morris
Succeeded byPeter Muhlenberg
37th and 38th Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
In office
December 4, 1801 – April 10, 1802
Preceded byHimself (as Speaker of the Assembly)
Succeeded byGerardus Wynkoop II
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born(1752-03-08)March 8, 1752
Philadelphia, Province of Pennsylvania, British America
DiedFebruary 7, 1804(1804-02-07) (aged 51)
Bath, England
Resting placeNew York City
Political partyFederalist
SpouseAnn Willing
ChildrenMaria Matilda
Anne Louisa
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania

William Bingham (March 8, 1752 – February 7, 1804) was an American statesman from Philadelphia. He was a delegate for Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress from 1786 to 1788 and served in the United States Senate from 1795 to 1801.[1] Bingham was one of the wealthiest men in the United States during his lifetime, and was considered to be the richest person in the U.S. in 1780.[2]

Early life[edit]

William Bingham was born on March 8, 1752, in Philadelphia.[3] He graduated from the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) in 1768.

Philadelphia Society[edit]

Bingham first travelled to Europe in 1773 and, upon, returning to America joined the Philadelphia Society. Sent by the Committee of Secret Correspondence to Martinico (today's Martinique), to reside ostensibly as a merchant and to establish communications through that colony with Silas Deane,[4] the committee's agent in France. He departed America aboard the frigate Reprisal on July 3, 1776. During his voyages, he established links with French merchants at Martinique, captured several British ships, and returned in 1777 to America with several full loads of munitions, guns, and other vital goods necessary for the fighting of a war.[5]

Business interests[edit]

Share of the "Company of the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Road", issued March 16, 1795, signed by William Bingham

Toward the end of the American Revolution, Bingham was regarded as the richest man in the United States.[2] He had made his fortune through joint ownership of privateers and trading.[1] He became a major land developer, purchasing lands in upstate New York (present-day Binghamton) and 2 million acres (8,000 km2) in Maine (later known as the Bingham Purchase).[6] He helped broker the Louisiana Purchase with Francis Baring and Henry Hope.[7] Their agent Alexander Baring married his daughter Anne.

He was the founder and the first president of the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike.

Bingham was director of several other enterprises. He maintained shipping ventures after the Revolutionary war, through his mercantile house Bingham, Inglis, and Gilmore. He was a leading member of the Pennsylvania Society for the Encouragement of Manufactures and Useful Arts and donated a Philadelphia property to be converted into a textile factory.[8]

Mounted general[edit]

During the 1780s, Bingham marshaled the Second Troop of Philadelphia Light Horse, an outfit of 50 dragoons. They were glamorously clad and saw little action. William Jackson was first major and later became Bingham's land agent. Bingham escorted President-elect George Washington through Pennsylvania with his troop on his April 1789 journey from Valley Forge to New York City to assume the presidency.[9]

Bingham was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1787.[10]


Memorial to Bingham in Bath Abbey, Bath, England

During the provisional government of the United States at Philadelphia, he wrote the by-laws for the national Bank of North America. He saw the national debt as beneficial in that it attracted interest into the affairs of the government. During the first presidency, Treasurer Alexander Hamilton sought Bingham as his mentor in managing taxes, tariffs, and in constructing a national bank.[11]

Speaker of Pennsylvania House[edit]

In America, he represented Pennsylvania as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1786 to 1788. In 1790 and 1791 he was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, serving as its first speaker in 1791. He oversaw development of the land during a fledgling period of America as a member of the Society of Roads and Inland Navigation, where he worked closely with Albert Gallatin of western Pennsylvania.[12] He later served in the Pennsylvania State Senate from 1793 through 1794.[13] He built roads and a bridge from Philadelphia to Lancaster, Pennsylvania called the Lancaster Pike.

U.S. Senator[edit]

By 1795, he was elected to the United States Senate where he served as a Federalist and Nationalist while it was originally at Philadelphia, but he left for England in 1801 when his wife had taken ill. In the midst of public debate and dissent focused on the Jay Treaty he was subjected to political violence in Philadelphia in the summer of 1795.[14] He was an active supporter of John Adams and when Adams was elected president, Bingham served as the Senate's President pro tempore in the Fourth Congress. On March 4, 1797, with the start of the Fifth Congress he administered the oath of office to Vice President Thomas Jefferson.[15] He was criticized by Jeffersonian politicians for "extravagance, ostentation and dissipation".[1] In 1813, nearly ten years after his death, John Quincy Adams said that the Presidency, the Capital and the Country had been governed by Bingham and his family connections.[1]

The several Bingham estates were renowned for hosting many prominent aristocrats from Europe as well as Federalist meetings. At the Bingham estate, Federalists agreed to hold preliminary votings before propositions were brought before Congress publicly, thus creating unanimity among party lines.[16]


He was also a land surveyor, and looked to develop areas currently a part of Southern New York, and Northern Pennsylvania. One of his prime prospects was at the confluence of the Chenango River and Susquehanna River. Judge Joshua Whitney Jr., settler and Bingham's agent, called this town Binghamton to honor him. Furthermore, Binghamton's resident university Binghamton University recognizes Bingham through the naming of Bingham Hall.


He married Anne Willing, daughter of Thomas Willing, President of the First Bank of the United States, and they had two daughters and a son.

Although his wife and two daughters factored prominently in the social affairs of American politics, Bingham's wife Anne died while his only son William was one year old. William Sr. left William Jr. to grow up in America with his grandfather Thomas Willing.

Bingham died on February 7, 1804, in Bath,[18] England and is interred in Bath Abbey. His estate remained in the family until the death of William Alexander Baring Bingham (1858-1915) but it was not settled until 1964.[19]


Bingham commissioned artist Gilbert Stuart to paint the Lansdowne portrait, a 1796 full-length portrait of President George Washington that became a gift to Lord Lansdowne. As British Prime Minister, Lansdowne had secured a peaceful end to the American Revolutionary War, and the portrait was commissioned soon after the American approval of the Jay Treaty. Stuart also painted portraits of Bingham, his wife and children.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Maine League of Historical Societies and Museums (1970). Isaacson, Doris A. (ed.). Maine: A Guide 'Down East'. Rockland, Me: Courier-Gazette, Inc. pp. 381–382.
  2. ^ a b Spingola, Deanna (2011). The Ruling Elite: a Study in Imperialism, Genocide and Emancipation. Bloomington, IN: Trafford Publishing. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-4269-5462-7. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  3. ^ G. E. Cokayne, with Vicary Gibbs, H.A. Doubleday, Geoffrey H. White, Duncan Warrand and Lord Howard de Walden, editors. The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new ed., 13 volumes in 14 (1910-1959; reprint in 6 volumes, Gloucester, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing, 2000), volume I, page 277.
  4. ^ The Committee of Secret Correspondence to Silas Deane, July 8, 1776, franklinpapers.org
  5. ^ Hinman, Marjory Barnum, Bingham's Land, Whitney's Town. p.14 (1996) Broome County Historical Society.
  6. ^ http://newenglandtowns.org/maine/franklin-county "Franklin County, Maine", New England Towns. Retrieved November 22, 2007
  7. ^ Hinman, Marjory Barnum (1996). Pages 17-21, Bingham's Land, Whitney's Town. Broome County Historical Society.
  8. ^ Alberts, page 222.
  9. ^ Alberts, page 166.
  10. ^ "William Bingham". American Philosophical Society Member History. American Philosophical Society. Retrieved December 14, 2020.
  11. ^ Alberts, page 195.
  12. ^ Alberts, page 239.
  13. ^ Cox, Harold. "Senate Members B". Wilkes University Election Statistics Project. Wilkes University.
  14. ^ Green, Nathaniel C. “‘The Focus of the Wills of Converging Millions’: Public Opposition to the Jay Treaty and the Origins of the People’s Presidency.” Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 37, no. 3, 2017, p. 459. JSTOR website Retrieved 21 Dec. 2022.
  15. ^ The proceedings of the Senate at a session specially called on March 4, 1797, Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789-1873
  16. ^ Alberts, page 337.
  17. ^ "Lady Ashburton". Maine Memory Network.
  18. ^ Alberts, page 427.
  19. ^ Associated Press. "Heirs of 1804 Trust to Divide $840,000." New York Times. November 15, 1964. Page One.

Further reading[edit]

  • Robert C. Alberts, The Golden Voyage: The Life and Times of William Bingham, 1969, Houghton Mifflin.

External links[edit]

Archival Collections[edit]


U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 3) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: James Ross
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by President pro tempore of the United States Senate
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Office Created
Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Succeeded by