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James N. Tyner (1876–1877) - Postmaster General

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James Noble Tyner was born in 1826 in Brookville, Indiana. After working in his father’s store, he turned his attention to the law. He ran for a seat in the Indiana General Assembly in 1856 but was defeated. He was more successful with the state bar and was admitted in 1857, the same year he was elected secretary of the state senate.

From 1861 to 1868, Tyner worked as a special agent for the Post Office before being elected, in 1868, to a vacancy in the United States House of Representatives. He was reelected to his own two-year term and ultimately served in the House until 1875, when President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him second assistant postmaster general. Tyner served in this capacity until 1876, when Grant promoted him to postmaster general.

When Rutherford B. Hayes was inaugurated as President in 1877, he appointed his own postmaster general but retained Tyner in the department as first assistant. Perhaps because of this demotion, Tyner contributed to massive corruption within the department. Tyner’s practices soon became known; he was criticized in the press and was forced to resign his position.

The scandal, however, did not end his political career. President Benjamin Harrison named Tyner assistant attorney general inside the Post Office Department, a position he retained throughout several other administrations. An investigation of the Post Office department ordered by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 revealed that Tyner again had engaged in corruption. Tyner took steps to hide his involvement -- he sent his wife and sister-in-law to his office to destroy evidence -- and though he was indicted, he was eventually acquitted due to lack of hard evidence. James Noble Tyner was forced to resign in 1902 and died in 1904.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Joan Waugh

Professor Waugh is a professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her writings include:

U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth (University of North Carolina Press, 2009)

Wars within a War: Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War (editor with Gary W. Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, 2009)

The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture (editor with Alice Fahs, University of North Carolina Press, 2004)

Unsentimental Reformer: The Life of Josephine Shaw Lowell (Harvard University Press, 1998)