Although he was born in Ashland County, Ohio, William Boyd Allison served Iowa as a U.S. representative and senator for 43 years. After helping to found the Ohio Republican Party, but losing a bid for prosecuting attorney for Ashland County, Allison moved to Iowa in 1857. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1862 and served four terms. In 1872 Allison succeeded in his bid for the U.S. Senate, where he served continuously from 1873 until his death.
A political moderate and a master of conciliation, Allison helped frame successful tariff compromises and steered a middle course between protectionism and reform. Representing Midwest farmers, he sought to reduce tariffs on the manufactured goods they needed in quantity. In the currency debate then sweeping the nation, Allison successfully balanced conservative and inflationist demands by offering an amended version of a House bill proposed by Congressman Richard P. Bland of Missouri. Allison weakened Bland's bill, which provided for free and unlimited coinage of silver, to one that allowed specific limited coinage. Allison's version became the Bland-Allison Act of 1878.
For some twenty-five years Allison chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee. In 1897 he succeeded John Sherman of Ohio as chairman of the Republican caucus. Allison declined cabinet posts in the administrations of Presidents Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley, preferring to exert national leadership from the Senate. He won his state's Senate primary in June 1908, but he died in Dubuque, Iowa shortly thereafter.