A four-term U.S. Representative from Alabama at the turn of the 20th century, the oddly named Ariosto Appling Wiley was a distinguished lawyer in that state prior to his time in Congress. Born in Clayton, Alabama on November 6, 1848, Ariosto A. Wiley was the son of James McCaleb (1806-1877) and Cornelia Appling Wiley (1816-1872). A prominent figure in his own right, James M. Wiley served as a circuit court judge in Alabama and would attain high rank in the Masonic fraternity, being Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons of Alabama from 1856-57. Ariosto Wiley removed with his family to Pike County while still a child and attended schools local to that area. He decided upon a career in law at an early age and in the late 1860s enrolled at the Emory and Henry College in Virginia. He would graduate from that school in the class of 1871 and soon after established his law practice in Clayton.
Wiley removed from Clayton a short while afterward and settled in Alabama's capital city of Montgomery, where he would build up a law partnership with Samuel F. Rice, a former state supreme court justice. Wiley married in November 1877 to Mary "Mittie" Noble (died 1935), to whom he was wed for three decades. The couple would have one son, Noble James Wiley (1878-1957), later to serve as a Colonel in the U.S. Army.
Portrait from "Northern Alabama: Historical and Biographical", 1888.
Having advanced "to the front rank of his profession" at the beginning of the 1880s, Ariosto A. Wiley's sterling character eventually resulted in his being nominated for a seat in the Alabama House of Representatives in 1883. He would win that election and represented Montgomery County in that body in the session of 1884-85, serving on the committees on the Revision of Laws and Commerce and Common Carriers during that term. Further political honors had been accorded to him in 1880 and 1884 when he served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, in the latter year seeing Grover Cleveland win the Presidency.
Reelected to the state house in 1887, Wiley would go on to serve in the sessions of 1888-89, and 1896-97. The years 1890-1893 saw him serving in the Alabama Senate, a body that he would be reelected to for the session of 1898-1899. In the last named year, Wiley was appointed by then-President William McKinley as a Lieutenant Colonel in the 5th Reg. U.S. Volunteer Infantry, an outfit that would soon be deployed to Cuba for the Spanish American War. Wiley would also be retained as an adviser to General Leonard Wood, with whom he would help establish a "civil government" in Cuba's Eastern province.
Courtesy of bioguide.congress.gov.
Ariosto Wiley's political career reached its apex in 1900 when he was nominated for a seat in Congress from Alabama's 2nd congressional district. He would coast to an easy victory that November, defeating Populist candidate William Mulkey by a vote of 12, 496 to 124. Wiley's reelection win in 1902 saw him best his opponent by over 6,000 votes and during the 1902-04 session sat on the house committees on the Militia and Pensions. Wiley would win a third term in 1904 and fourth in 1906. During his last term in the house, Wiley was invited to speak before a group of Spanish-American War veterans in Washington, D.C., during which he spoke of his time in Cuba, noting:
" I see here....men from all sections of the Union who gallantly responded to the call of duty in 1898. I hold a commission in that war from William McKinley, the ideal President of a great country. I treasure that commission as one of my most beloved and personal possessions."
From the Evening Star, May 10, 1906.
In 1908 Ariosto Wiley's health began to suffer a "physical breakdown" due to the effects of inflammatory rheumatism. In an effort to restore his health Wiley vacationed in Hot Springs, Virginia, dying at a hotel there on June 17, 1908 at age 60. His son Noble was at his side at the time of his death and he was later brought back to Alabama for burial at the Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery. He was survived by his wife Mittie, who remarried following her husband's death and later died on Christmas Day 1935.
Wiley's obituary from the Evening Star, June 18, 1908.