Photograph of a portrait of William Bebb, born in Butler County, Ohio. He served as governor of Ohio from 1846 to 1849. The original painting hangs in the Ohio Statehouse.
William Bebb was born in Butler County, Ohio, on December 8, 1802, in the small town of Paddy's Run (later Shandon). His father, Edward Bebb, was a Welsh immigrant, and his mother was Margaret Roberts Owens. William Bebb was the first of their three children. As a boy, Bebb attended the local district school. By the age of twenty, he had become interested in teaching. He obtained a job as a teacher in North Bend, Ohio, where he met his future wife, Sarah Shuck Bebb. She was also a teacher in North Bend before the couple married on October 16, 1824.
In 1828, Bebb and his wife founded their own boarding school on his father's farm, which they named the Sycamore Grove School for Boys. The school was very successful and attracted a number of students from Cincinnati and the South. The most famous of these students was a future governor of Ohio, William Dennison. While running the school, Bebb also began studying the law. He closed the school in 1832 after gaining admittance to the Ohio bar.
Bebb began practicing law in Hamilton, Ohio, first in the law office of John Woods and then as the junior partner of John M. Millikin. It was at this time that Bebb first became interested in politics and affiliated himself with the Whig Party. He actively campaigned for William Henry Harrison in the presidential election of 1840 and also served as a delegate to the national convention in 1844.
Ultimately, Bebb became prominent enough that the Ohio Whigs nominated him as their candidate for governor in 1846. Banking and currency were major issues in the campaign. Overall, Bebb supported the extension of the Kelley Bank Act of 1845. Bebb ran against Democrat David Tod on the slogan "William Bebb and a Home Currency against David Tod and Pot Metal." Bebb also campaigned on the issue of repealing Ohio's discriminatory laws against African Americans. The election was close, but Bebb won and became Ohio's nineteenth governor.
Upon his inauguration as governor, Bebb immediately had to deal with the Mexican War. Like his predecessor, Mordecai Bartley, Bebb personally did not agree with the war. In spite of his personal opinions, Bebb continued Bartley's recruitment of Ohio troops for the war effort. He also continued the previous governor's economic plans and reduced the state's debt during his administration. Before leaving office, Bebb recommended that the state hold a new constitutional convention in 1850, which ultimately produced the Constitution of 1851. Bebb left office on January 22, 1849, and he never again held an elected office.
After retiring from politics, Bebb moved his family to a farm near Rockford, Illinois. He was tried and eventually acquitted of manslaughter for accidentally shooting and killing a man who had been part of a group celebrating Bebb's son's marriage. Aside from this tragic event, Bebb remained active in a number of projects. He helped a group of Welsh immigrants to build a community in eastern Tennessee in the 1850s. He also served as an examiner in the pension office in Washington, DC, during President Abraham Lincoln's administration. After the war, Bebb and his wife returned home to Illinois. He was offered the position of United States consul to Morocco in 1868, but he declined the appointment. Instead, he remained in Rockford, Illinois, until his death on October 23, 1873.