(Aug. 27, 1822-Feb. 7, 1896). Born in Lexington, Indiana, English was the only son of Elisha G. and Mahala (Eastin) English. He completed three years at Hanover College before being admitted to the Indiana bar in 1840. English practiced law only briefly before pursuing local political opportunities.

The two-story brick, Italianate house has a central, towered entrance which extends another story above the roof.
William H. English bought this house on Circle Street in 1864, ca. 1870 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

He was postmaster at Lexington between 1842 and 1845 and served as a principal clerk in the Indiana House of Representatives in 1843. From 1845 to 1849, he was a clerk in the U.S. Treasury Department. English’s political stature improved with his election as secretary of the state constitutional convention in 1850, a position requiring him to oversee the publication of the convention’s proceedings.

He later won election to the Indiana House of Representatives from Scott County and served as speaker during the 1851-1852 session. A Northern Democrat opposed to slavery, English was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served from 1853 to 1861. As a member of the House Committee on Territories, he worked on the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), which repealed the Missouri Compromise (1820) and allowed residents of western territories to decide on the slavery issue themselves.

During the Civil War, English aided Governor Oliver P. Morton in disbanding the Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret society opposed to the policies of Morton and Lincoln (see Copperheads). On May 11, 1863, the First National Bank of Indianapolis, founded by English and other associates, opened its doors. As a result of this new enterprise, which he served as president until 1877, English moved his family to Indianapolis in 1865. During that same period, he secured a controlling interest in the Indianapolis Street Railway Company, which he retained until 1876.

Upon resigning as bank president and selling his railway stock, English invested his money in real estate. This culminated in the construction of the English Hotel And Opera House, the city’s finest; the Opera House opened first in September 1880. On Memorial Day 1872, English suggested erecting a Civil War monument at Crown Hill Cemetery. Although his proposal failed to garner support, English eventually filled a vacancy on the Monument Commission in 1893 and helped to plan and finance the Soldiers And Sailors Monument on the Circle.

In 1880, the Democratic Party, holding its national convention in Cincinnati, nominated English for vice president on a ticket headed by General Winfield Scott Hancock of Pennsylvania. After losing the election by less than 10,000 votes, English retired from politics.

In his later years, English served as president of the Indiana Historical Society (1886-1896), which holds a large collection of his papers. He also wrote Conquest Of The Country Northwest Of The River Ohio, 1778-1783; And Life Of General George Rogers Clark (1896).

Upon English’s death, Governor Claude Matthews decreed that his body lie in state in the Capitol, where over 15,000 citizens paid their respects. Known as one of the wealthiest men in Indiana, English is commemorated by English Avenue and the English Foundation Building in Indianapolis and the town of English in Crawford County.

Revised February 2021

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