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Henry Dearborn (1801–1809) - Secretary of War

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Henry Dearborn was born in North Hampton, New Hampshire, on February 23, 1751. Dearborn committed much of his early adulthood to armed service, beginning in 1775 as a captain with the New Hampshire Minutemen at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army with much distinction from 1776 to 1789. A major by 1777, Dearborn joined General George Washington's personal staff as a colonel in 1781.

Following his transfer in 1784 to Maine, then still a district of Massachusetts, Dearborn became a brigadier general of the Maine militia in 1787. In 1789, he gained the rank of major general and earned an appointment as U.S. marshal for the district of Maine.

Dearborn went on to begin a political career in 1793, serving in Congress until 1797 as a representative from Massachusetts. Four years later, Dearborn became secretary of war by appointment of President Thomas Jefferson, serving in Jefferson's cabinet from 1801 to 1809. He became collector of the port of Boston for three years during James Madison's first presidential term (1809-1812), but he left that post to rejoin the U.S. Army as a senior major general during the War of 1812 (1812-1813).Dearborn left the Army at war's end and did not return to national service until 1822, when he accepted a position as U.S. minister to Portugal (1822-1824). Retiring upon his return home, Dearborn died in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on June 6, 1829.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Peter Onuf

Professor Onuf is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia. His writings include:

Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood (University Press of Virginia, 2001)

Statehood and Union: A History of the Northwest Ordinance (Indiana University Press, 1987)

Origins of the Federal Republic: Jurisdictional Controversies in the United States, 1775–1787 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983)