Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission
William Read Miller, the first native Arkansan elected governor, was born on November 23, 1823, on a farm in Batesville, Arkansas (Independence County). The politically precocious Miller was educated in local schools.
From 1848 to 1854, he served as clerk of Independence County, and accepted Governor Elias Nelson Conway's appointment to fill the resigning state auditor's term. In 1855, when the legislature named A.S. Huey, a Know-Nothing candidate, to the state auditor's office, Conway appointed Miller to be the accountant of the State Real Estate Bank. He remained in this position until the state legislature returned him to the auditor's office in 1856. Miller was reelected as state auditor in 1858, 1860, and 1862. In 1864, Miller was succeeded by J.R. Berry, who he defeated for the same position in 1866. Miller was once again removed from being state auditor during Reconstruction, in 1868.
During this time, Miller also studied law and was admitted to the Arkansas bar in 1868. He returned to Batesville to practice law. When the conservative Democrats regained power in 1874 he was returned once again to the office of state auditor.
In anticipation of Governor Augustus Hill Garland's rise to the U.S. Senate, Miller was regarded as Garland's likely successor. Miller was nominated by the Democratic convention in June 1876. His platform included a campaign of reconciliation and he offered assurances to black voters. Miller won the gubernatorial election with a substantial margin over the divided Republican opposition. In 1877, Miller was inaugurated into office.
His governorship was marked by his addressing Arkansas's financial problems through sound financial management and a continued effort to redress and establish the state's credit. Miller also displayed a strong commitment to public education including the state university. (He later served on the governing board of the University of Arkansas who, in turn, awarded Miller with an honorary doctorate.) During his tenure, legislation passed that funded the maintenance of the State Blind Asylum and the Arkansas Industrial University. Interestingly, Miller was sometimes referred to as "the hanging governor" due to his reluctance to grant pardons to individuals convicted by jury trials and sentenced to death.
A movement was afoot to repudiate much of the state's debt by submitting the "Fishback Amendment" to a popular vote. Miller helped to lead the opposition to debt repudiation though this opposition only managed to forestall eventual passing of the amendment. Despite rising Greenback sentiment, Miller was reelected to a second term in 1878.
Miller left office on January 13, 1881, and served as the deputy treasurer of Arkansas from 1881 to 1882. In 1886, he was again elected state auditor. William Read Miller died on November 29, 1887, and is buried at the Mount Holly Cemetery, Little Rock, Arkansas.
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