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John P. Kennedy (1852–1853) - Secretary of the Navy

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John Pendleton Kennedy was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1795. He attended a number of private schools before graduating from the Baltimore Academy in 1812. Kennedy then volunteered for service in the War of 1812 and saw action before he was discharged.

After studying the law, Kennedy was admitted to the Maryland state bar and began his own Baltimore practice in 1816. He soon found that he disliked the law and turned his attention to politics and literary pursuits. As he began to write and become published -- under the pen name Mark Littleton -- he served as a Whig in the Maryland House of Delegates (1821-1823) until being named by President James Monroe as secretary to the official legation to Chile.

Though he resigned before assuming his post in Chile, Kennedy maintained his interest in politics, making an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1836. He realized his goal two years later by filling a vacancy in that body and serving until 1839. Though he lost his race for reelection in 1838, he was triumphant in 1840 and served from 1841 to 1845. Kennedy was back in Maryland by 1846, serving as Speaker of the State House of Delegates. Throughout this time, Kennedy was also writing, publishing, and befriending a struggling writer named Edgar Allan Poe.

President Millard Fillmore tapped Kennedy to become his secretary of the Navy in 1852. Kennedy remained in that post until 1853, at which time he turned his attention to the world of business. When the Civil War began, Kennedy switched political loyalties from the Whig Party to the unsuccessful Constitutional Union Party, and finally to the Republican Party. He remained a committed Unionist and, at war’s end, served as commissioner of the 1867 Paris Exposition. John Pendleton Kennedy died in 1870.

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)