Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from American National Biography. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 12 December 2019

Woods, William Burnhamlocked

(03 August 1824–14 May 1887)
  • Thomas C. Mackey


Woods, William Burnham (03 August 1824–14 May 1887), politician and U.S. Supreme Court justice, was born in Newark, Ohio, the son of Ezekiel S. Woods, a farmer and merchant, and Sarah Judith Burnham. Woods started his education at Western Reserve College in Hudson, Ohio, but moved on to Yale College, where he took his degree in 1845 with honors. After college he returned to Newark, Ohio, and learned law by clerking with a prominent local lawyer, S. D. King, with whom he entered into a partnership and to whom Woods credited much of his later success. In 1855 he married Anne E. Warner; they had two children. A Democrat before the Civil War, Woods entered politics when he was elected mayor of Newark in 1856; the following year saw him elected to the general assembly of Ohio. Biographers disagree on when, but it is clear that Woods made an impression in the Ohio assembly, since that body elected him its speaker perhaps as early as 1857 but certainly by 1858. Although reelected to the Ohio assembly in 1859, Woods lost his position as speaker due to the rise of the Republicans. As a prominent leader of the Democrats, Woods was torn between his heartfelt support for that party and his belief in the permanency of the Constitution and Union. Publicly, he strenuously opposed all Republican measures in 1860 and into 1861, including denouncing a million-dollar loan act to defend Ohio against southern aggression after the events at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. But privately, Woods worked in the general assembly to further the bill through the committee structure. On 18 April 1861, in a speech that brought him prominence and signaled the beginning of his switch to the Republican party, Woods called for the passage of the million-dollar loan and called on all Ohioans to join in defense of the nation. He concluded his speech that day saying “The Federal Capital must not be assailed.—In the defense of these we will spend our last farthing of treasure and our last drop of blood. Around our imperilled country we lock shields, and by her we will stand or fall.”...

You do not currently have access to this article


Please login to access the full content.


Access to the full content requires a subscription