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Thomas Corwin (1850–1853) - Secretary of the Treasury

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Thomas Corwin was born in 1894 in Bourbon County, Kentucky. He studied law in Ohio, was admitted to the state bar in 1817, and established a practice in Lebanon, Ohio.

From 1821 to 1823, Corwin served as a representative to the Ohio legislature before becoming prosecuting attorney for Warren County. He returned to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1829 and was then elected as a Whig to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served from 1831 to 1840. That year, Corwin resigned his position to run as the Whig candidate for governor; he won the election but failed to regain the post two years later.

Corwin refused a third Republican nomination for governor in 1844, instead becoming a member of the U.S. Senate. During his term, Corwin was outspoken critic of America’s war with Mexico and played the roles of hero and traitor to various political constituencies. He was reelected to the Senate in 1850 but resigned to become President Millard Fillmore’s secretary of the treasury after first refusing the President’s offer to become postmaster general. Corwin remained in the cabinet for the entire Fillmore administration (1850-1853) and then returned to Ohio, where he resumed his legal career and joined the newly formed Republican Party.

From 1859 to 1861, Corwin served as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, resigning to accept President Lincoln’s offer of serving as minister to Mexico. Corwin held that post for three years and is credited with maintaining such good ties to the country that Mexico did not consider throwing its support to the Confederacy during the Civil War. He ultimately resigned in 1864 and returned to Washington, D.C., where he established a law practice. Thomas Corwin died in 1865.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Michael F. Holt

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

The Civil War and Reconstruction (Co-authored with Jean H. Baker and David Herbert Donald, W.W. Norton, 2001)

The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 1999)

Political Parties and American Political Development from the age of Jackson to the age of Lincoln (Louisiana State University Press, 1992)