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William L. Marcy (1845–1849) - Secretary of War

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William Learned Marcy was born in 1786 in Worcester County, Massachusetts. He graduated from Brown University in 1808, studied the law, was admitted to the New York state bar, and opened a law practice in Troy, New York.

During the War of 1812, Marcy became an ensign in the 155th New York Regiment and distinguished himself in battle before returning home to resume his law practice. Over the next fifteen years, Marcy served as Troy’s city recorder, as an adjutant-general of the state, as comptroller of the state, and as an associate justice on the state supreme court.

In 1831, Marcy won a seat in the United States Senate but resigned it after only two years to serve as New York’s governor. He served three terms in Albany before losing the election of 1838. He was then tapped by President Martin Van Buren to join the Mexican Claims Commission.

After returning to his law practice in 1842, Marcy worked for only two years as an attorney before President James K. Polk nominated him to head the War Department. Marcy accepted the cabinet position and served as secretary of war from 1845 to 1849. Though he returned to New York following that stint, Marcy was back in Washington, D.C., within four years, this time serving in President Franklin Pierce’s cabinet as secretary of state. After leaving office in March 1857, William Learned Marcy died four months later in July 1857.

For further reading: Spencer, Ivor D. The Victor and the Spoils: A Life of William L. Marcy. Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press, 1959.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

John C. Pinheiro

Professor Pinheiro is an associate professor of history and director of Catholic Studies at Aquinas College. He formerly served as a research assistant on the Correspondence of James K. Polk project at the University of Tennessee and as an assistant editor of The Papers of George Washington at the University of Virginia. His writings include:

Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War (Oxford University Press, forthcoming, April 2014)

"James K. Polk as War President," in Joel Silbey, ed., A Companion to the Antebellum Presidents, 1837-1861 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014)

Manifest Ambition: James K. Polk and Civil-Military Relations during the Mexican War (Praeger Security International, 2007)

The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, Vol. 12 (Co-Editor, University of Virginia Press, 2005)