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Orville Browning (1866–1869) - Secretary of the Interior

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Orville Hickman Browning was born in 1806 in Harrison County, Kentucky. He attended Augusta College in Kentucky but never received a degree. Browning studied law and was admitted to the Kentucky state bar in 1831, the same year he left Kentucky and moved to Quincy, Illinois.

In 1842, Browning was elected to a seat in the lower house of the Illinois state assembly. Two attempts to gain a United States House seat, both against Stephen A. Douglas (1850 and 1852), were unsuccessful. In 1856, Browning, a former Whig, helped draft the state Republican platform; he threw his support to Lincoln as a presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention in 1860, convincing other delegates to do the same. From 1861 to 1863, Browning served in the U.S. Senate, having assumed the position following Stephen A. Douglas’s death. Initial support of Lincoln gave way to outright opposition during Browning’s years in Congress.

Following the President’s assassination, Browning became a firm supporter of President Andrew Johnson’s lenient policies towards the South and, in 1866, served as the new President’s adviser on patronage. That same year, Johnson nominated Browning to become secretary of the interior following the resignation of James Harlan. He served in the post until 1869, also standing in as attorney general during the absence of Henry Stanbery.

Following his stint in Washington, Browning returned to Illinois, where he served as a member of the state’s constitutional convention. He also worked as counsel for several railroads, in some cases acting as lead attorney. Orville Hickman Browning died in 1881.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Elizabeth R. Varon

Professor Varon is the Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia. Her writings include:

Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859 (University of North Carolina Press, 2008)

Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy (Oxford University Press, 2003)

We Mean to Be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (University of North Carolina Press, 1998)