William Sumter Murphy (1796–1844) was an American lawyer and diplomat, known for serving as the American chargé d'affaires to Texas in 1843 and 1844.
Murphy was born in South Carolina in 1796; in his early years, he read law in Virginia, and began practicing in Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1818.
Three years later, in 1821, he married Lucinda Sterret.
Lawyer, politician, soldier
Though his excellent oratorical skills made him a sought-after criminal defense lawyer, Murphy was always more greatly interested in politics; known as the "Patrick Henry of the West", he used his abilities, originally, on behalf of the Democratic Party. In 1832, he fought future governor William Allen for a seat in the United States House of Representatives, in Ohio's 7th district. Murphy lost; Allen would go on to be a highly successful Ohio politician; and the fallout was such that Murphy abandoned the Democrats for the rest of his life.
Murphy also served in the Ohio state militia, and ultimately became a brigadier general; thereafter, General Murphy would render services to the Governor of Ohio in the aftermath of the Toledo War.
Having become a member of the Whigs by 1840, Murphy supported William Henry Harrison in the 1840 election. Upon the expulsion of Harrison's Vice President-turned-successor, John Tyler, however, the Whigs also lost Murphy, who defended the policies of Tyler's administration.
Having supported the President, Murphy was given two diplomatic portfolios: the first in 1841; the second in 1843.
The first was as the "Special and Confidential Agent of the United States to Central America" in 1841, to the failing Federal Republic of Central America; even though it had mostly dissolved by the time Murphy arrived in December, he still presented his credentials to Guatemala.
Despite rumors that the Federation would be revived, Murphy, hampered by malaria, spent three laborious months realizing the futility of such beliefs, and relaying the designs of the British on the Mosquito Coast and other regions in the area, before returning to the United States on March 30, 1842.
On April 10, 1843, Murphy received his second appointment: he was to be the fourth chargé d'affaires to the Republic of Texas, to replace Joseph Eve. This, however, was an interim appointment, and the United States Senate had the ultimate say over whether Murphy would be accepted or rejected. Nevertheless, Murphy took up his appointment and presented his credentials, as chargé d'affaires, to Texas on June 16, 1843.
A week later, the appointment of Abel P. Upshur as Secretary of State made the annexation of Texas a foremost, if not the foremost, issue for the Tyler administration. While not directly engaged in negotiations, Murphy did exchange correspondence with President Houston of Texas, and additionally began secretly preparing for the passage of the Tyler-Texas treaty. These preparations included unauthorized agreements for military and naval protection; even though they were agreed to and carried out by President Tyler after he signed the treaty in April 1844, they significantly jeopardized Murphy's confirmation process, and led to the resignation of Treasury Secretary John Canfield Spencer.
The Tyler-Texas treaty and associated correspondence were leaked to the public in late April; the Senate rejected the treaty in early June. In the interim, on May 23, 1844, Murphy's nomination was considered and rejected by the Senate; thus, he was recalled from Galveston.
Death and burial
Before he could leave, however, he fell ill with yellow fever and died, at his post, on July 13, 1844, the third charge to do so.
He was originally buried in Galveston; but he was later buried in Chillicothe, Ohio, on the site of a former train depot.