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David Henshaw (1843–1844) - Secretary of the Navy

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David Henshaw was born in 1791 in Leicester, Massachusetts. After serving as an apprentice to a Boston pharmacist, Henshaw studied the sciences, learned several languages, and, in 1814, bought into the pharmacy where he had worked.

During the 1820s, Henshaw turned his attention to politics, founding a Democratic publication -- the Boston Statesman -- in 1821 and becoming a member of the Massachusetts State Senate in 1826. Henshaw then tried to run for the United States Congress in 1828 but was defeated. Two years later, President Andrew Jackson appointed him collector of customs duties in Boston, but even Jackson’s favor could not prevent Henshaw from being wiped out by the Panic of 1837.

Siding with President John Tyler in 1841, the President rewarded Henshaw’s loyalty by naming him secretary of the Navy in July 1843. Because Congress was not in session to approve the appointment, Henshaw became the acting secretary. Once Congress returned, however, the members refused to approve Henshaw’s nomination because of their opposition to the Tyler administration. By January 1844, Henshaw had returned to Massachusetts and had become a Democratic Party leader. David Henshaw died in 1852.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

William Freehling

Professor Freehling is a senior fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the emeritus Singletary Professor of the Humanities at the University of Kentucky. His writings include:

The Road to Disunion, 1776–1861 (2 volumes; Oxford University Press, 1990 and 2007)

The Reintegration of American History: Slavery and the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 1994)

Prelude to Civil War: the Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816–1836 (Oxford University Press, 1992)