William Waller Edwards

William Waller Edwards was born on June 3, 1830, in Albemarle County, Virginia, to Henry Edwards and Sarah Waller. The family moved to Missouri around 1837, and Henry died there in August 1844. As one writer later noted, William was “reared at farm work, attending winter school, meantime, until eighteen years old.” He taught school in Lincoln County, Missouri, during the late 1840s, and he enrolled at St. Charles College sometime around 1850. He studied law at the University of Virginia during the 1852-53 academic session before returning to Missouri and earning admission to the bar.

Edwards began his legal practice in Saint Charles and, according to one writer, “soon proved his adaptability to his chosen profession.” He became a public administrator soon afterwards, and in 1858, he became prosecuting attorney for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit. He married Louisa Phillips Hunt on October 15, 1856, in Bowling Green, Missouri, and they had five children together: Margaret C., born on August 7, 1858; James Hamilton, born around 1860; Maria Hallie, born on May 7, 1862; Claude H., born on November 10, 1863; and Philip S., born around 1865.

Edwards remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War, and President Abraham Lincoln made him a district attorney around 1861. He delivered an Independence Day address in 1862 and denounced a neighbor for praying “for Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy.” He vigorously carried out the federal government’s wartime policies, helping seize Confederate soldiers’ property under the Second Confiscation Act. In January 1863, in accordance with federal law, he published a notice threatening to prosecute anyone who made or circulated their own currency. The “maximum penalty,” he warned, was “five hundred dollars’ fine and six months’ imprisonment for each offense.” That fall, a German newspaper in St. Louis declared Edwards one of the “radicalen Unionsmanne von Charles County.”

In September 1863, Edwards attended a convention of radical Unionists in Jefferson City, Missouri. He helped draft the convention’s platform, which championed the “great principles of freedom, progress and justice.” Edwards vowed to “sustain the Government in the vigorous prosecution of the war” and called for the “complete and final suppression of the rebellion.” He “heartily indorse[d]” Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and swore to oppose “any reorganization of the country that does not embody the freedom principles therein contained.” He “demand[ed] a policy of immediate emancipation in Missouri,” which he deemed essential to the “lives of our citizens, the peace of our homes, and the quiet of our communities.” He also denounced Confederates for inaugurating a “reign of terror throughout large sections of the State,” and he called for a constitutional amendment disenfranchising “all those who have taken up arms, or levied war against the Government.”

That fall, Edwards ran for a seat on the local circuit court, and Missouri’s conservative Unionists began conspiring against him. Missouri politician James O. Broadhead (a fellow UVA Unionist) informed Attorney General Edward Bates that Edwards had “turn[ed] Radical” and had become a “revolutionist to secure German votes” in the upcoming election. Bates, a conservative Republican, fired Edwards and published a letter accusing him of “active participation in political enterprises hostile to the known views and wishes of the Executive Government.” Lincoln denied any knowledge of the case, insisting Bates had told him that Edwards was “inefficient and must be removed for that reason.” Radical Republicans, however, viewed the removal as an act of “war from the White House.” Despite conservatives’ efforts, voters elected Edwards to the circuit court by an overwhelming margin.

Edwards remained in the Republican Party after the war, but he apparently played little role in Missouri’s postwar politics. His wife Louisa died of typhoid fever on October 19, 1872. He married Elizabeth Smith Nelson two years later, and they had two children together: William Waller, born on February 20, 1878; and Julius Carter, born on February 15, 1883. He remained on the circuit court for the rest of his career, twice running unopposed for reelection. In 1888, the Republican Party nominated him for a seat in Congress, but he lost to Democrat Richard H. Norton by a vote of 18,175 to 16,312. Edwards finally retired in 1893. His health steadily declined in the 1890s, and he travelled to Oak Hill, Florida, around December 1895 to regain his strength. He died there on January 23, 1896.

Image: William W. Edwards (courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri)


William W. Edwards Calls for Emancipation

Name:Edwards, William Waller
Alternative names:
  • Civilian
  • UVA (Union)
Branch of service:
Residence at UVA:Missouri
UVA Begin Year:1852
UVA End Year:1853
Residence at enlistment:
Rank In:
Rank Out:
Highest rank achieved:
Birth date:1830-06-03
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:Albemarle County, VA
Death date:1896-01-23
Death place:Oak Hill, FL
Causes of death:
Occupations:Attorney, Judge
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Edwards, William Wallerparent ofEdwards, Margaret C.
Edwards, William Wallerparent ofEdwards, James Hamilton
Edwards, William Wallerparent ofEdwards, Maria Hallie
Edwards, William Wallerparent ofEdwards, Claude H.
Edwards, William Wallerparent ofEdwards, Philip S.
Edwards, William Wallerparent ofEdwards, Jr., William Waller
Edwards, William Wallerparent ofEdwards, Julius Carter
Edwards, Louisa Phillipswife ofEdwards, William Waller
Edwards, Elizabeth Smithwife ofEdwards, William Waller

1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 United States Federal Censuses, available from Ancestry.com; Lucas P. Volkman, Houses Divided: Evangelical Schisms and the Crisis of the Union in Missouri (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume 2 (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008); Catalogue of the University of Virginia, Session of 1852-53 (Richmond: H. K. Ellyson, 1853); History of Lincoln County, Missouri, from the Earliest Time to the Present (Chicago, IL: The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1888); Session 29 of the University of Virginia Faculty Minutes, October 1, 1852 – June 29, 1853, Jefferson’s University: The Early Life; James O. Broadhead to Edward Bates, 19 October 1863, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress; Daily Missouri Republican, 17 January 1863, 3 May 1863; 3 September 1863; 30 October 1863, 7 November 1863; 19 November 1863; Westliche Post, 21 October 1863; Mexico Weekly Ledger, 22 November 1888; The Tipton Times, 17 November 1892; Warrensburg Journal-Democrat, 18 November 1892; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 24 January 1896.