William Alexander Graham

27th Governor of the State of North Carolina - 1845 to 1849

Date Born: September 5, 1804

Date Died: August 11, 1875

Place Born: Lincoln County, NC

Place Buried: Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Hillsborough, NC

Residence: Hillsborough, NC

Occupation: Lawyer


William Alexander Graham was born on September 5, 1804 at Vesuvius Plantation in Lincoln County, NC, the son of Joseph Graham and Isabella (Davidson) Graham. He attended classical schools in nearby Lincolnton and Statesville before completing preparatory education in the Hillsborough Academy.

In January 1821, after an examination by Professor William Hooper, he was admitted to the University of North Carolina. An active member of the Dialectic Society, Graham was an able, industrious student who shared first honors in the distinguished class of 1824.

William Alexander Graham studied law under Thomas Ruffin of Orange County, was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1825, and commenced practice in Hillsborough, NC. Within a few years he became one of the more successful members of the North Carolina bar, maintaining a lucrative practice until his death.

On June 8, 1836,William Alexander Graham married Susannah Sarah Washington, daughter of John Washington and Elizabeth Herritage (Cobb) Washington of New Bern, and they had ten known children.

In 1833, William Alexander Graham was first elected to represent the town of Hillsborough in the NC House of Commons of the:
- 58th General Assembly that met from 1833-1834
- 59th General Assembly that met from 1834-1835
- 60th General Assembly that met in 1835

Upon the ratification of the 1835 Constitution, representation in the General Assembly was modified and among other changes there were no more borough towns.

In 1836, William Alexander Graham was elected as one of four men to represent Orange County in the NC House of Commons of the:
- 61st General Assembly that met from 1836-1837
- 62nd General Assembly that met from 1838-1839 - elected Speaker of the House
- 63rd General Assembly that met from 1840-1841 - elected Speaker of the House - resigned...because...

In 1840, William Alexander Graham was elected to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Robert Strange, and served from November 25, 1840, to March 4, 1843. In the 27th U.S. Congress he was chairman of the Senate Committee on Claims.

In the 1844 general election, William Alexander Graham was elected the next Governor of North Carolina. He served two terms from January 1, 1845 to January 1, 1849. Much of his attention was absorbed by the Mexican-American War, of which he disapproved; nevertheless, Gov. Graham supported the national commitment and raised and officered a politically controversial NC regiment. An able administrator, his governorship was characterized by concern for humanitarian causes and internal improvements, especially railroad development.

In 1850, William Alexander Graham was was appointed Secretary of the Navy in the cabinet of President Millard Fillmore, and he served until 1852.

In the 1852 presidential election he was the unsuccessful Whig nominee for Vice President, as Winfield Scott's running mate.

In 1854, William Alexander Graham was first elected to represent the 30th NC Senate District (Orange County) in the NC Senate of the:
- 70th General Assembly that met from 1854-1855
- 74th General Assembly that met from 1862-1863
- 76th General Assembly that met from 1865-1866

In 1864, William Alexander Graham was elected to represent North Carolina in the Confederate States of America Senate. He served through 1865.

In 1866, William Alexander Graham was once again elected to the U.S. Senate, but because North Carolina had not yet been readmitted to the Union, he did not present his credentials.

From 1867 to 1875, William Alexander Graham was a member of the board of trustees of the Peabody Fund, which provided educational assistance to the post-Civil War South. From 1873 to 1875 he was an arbitrator in the boundary line dispute between Virginia and Maryland

William Alexander Graham died while at a meeting of the Virginia-Maryland Arbitration Commission in Saratoga Springs, NY on August 11, 1875, and was later buried in the Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Hillsborough, NC.


William Alexander Graham (September 5, 1804 – August 11, 1875) was a United States Senator from North Carolina from 1840 to 1843, Governor of North Carolina from 1845 to 1849 and United States Secretary of the Navy from 1850 to 1852. He was also a candidate for the vice-presidency in 1852.

Born near Lincolnton, North Carolina, Graham graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1824. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1825, and commenced practice in Hillsborough. From 1833 to 1840 he was a member of the North Carolina House of Commons from Orange County, serving twice as speaker.

In 1840, Graham was elected as a Whig to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Robert Strange, and served from November 25, 1840, to March 3, 1843. In the Twenty-seventh Congress he was chairman of the Senate Committee on Claims. His older brother, James Graham, had been representing North Carolina in the House since 1833.

From 1845 to 1849, Graham was Governor of North Carolina. Having declined appointments as ambassador to Spain and Russia in 1849, he was appointed Secretary of the Navy in the cabinet of President Millard Fillmore in 1850, and served until 1852. In the 1852 presidential election he was the unsuccessful Whig nominee for vice president, as Winfield Scott's running mate. Returning to North Carolina, he was a member of the state senate from 1854 to 1866, and senator in the Confederate Congress from 1864 to 1865.

In 1866 Graham was once again elected to the United States Senate, but because North Carolina had not yet been readmitted to the Union, he did not present his credentials. From 1867 to 1875 he was a member of the board of trustees of the Peabody Fund, which provided educational assistance to the post-Civil War South. From 1873 to 1875 he was an arbitrator in the boundary line dispute between Virginia and Maryland. He died in Saratoga Springs, New York, and is buried in the Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Hillsborough.


William Alexander Graham, governor of North Carolina, was born near Lincolnton, NC on September 5, 1804. His education was attained at the University of North Carolina, where he graduated in 1824. He went on to study law, and then established his legal career in Hillsborough. Graham first entered politics in 1833, serving as a member of the NC House of Commons, a position he held seven years. He also served as Speaker of the House from 1838 to 1840; and was a member of the U.S. Senate from 1840 to 1843. Graham next secured the Whig gubernatorial nomination, and was elected governor by a popular vote in 1844. He was re-elected to a second term in 1846. During his tenure, railroad improvements were initiated; a state hospital was organized; and educational issues were lobbied for. After leaving the governorship, Graham continued to stay politically active. From 1850 to 1852 he served in President Fillmore’s cabinet as Secretary of the Navy; and from 1854 to 1866 he served in the NC Senate, which included service in the state Confederate Congress. In 1866, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, however he never presented his credentials. Graham also served as a delegate to the 1866 Philadelphia Union Convention; was an arbitrator on the committee that negotiated the Maryland and Virginia border disagreement; and served on the 1875 NC Constitutional Convention. William A. Graham, who was an unsuccessful 1852 Whig vice presidential candidate, passed away on August 11, 1875. He was buried in the Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Hillsborough, NC.

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