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John P. Usher (1863–1865) - Secretary of the Interior

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John Palmer Usher was born in 1816 in Brookfield, New York. He studied law, was admitted to the state bar in 1839, and then moved in 1840 to Indiana, where he established a law practice and befriended Abraham Lincoln.

After serving as a Whig in the Indiana state legislature from 1850 to 1851, Usher left his party to become a Republican and ran – unsuccessfully -- for the U.S. Congress in 1856. He became Indiana’s attorney general in 1861 but resigned after only a few months to become assistant secretary of the interior in the Lincoln Administration.

President Abraham Lincoln promoted Usher to secretary of the interior following Caleb Smith’s resignation in 1863. Usher’s tenure at Interior lasted until his own resignation in 1865.

Following his time in the cabinet, Usher served as chief counsel of the Kansas-Pacific Railroad, where he worked until his retirement in 1880, and as mayor of Lawrence, Kansas (1879-1881). John Palmer Usher died in 1889.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Michael Burlingame

Professor Burlingame is the May Buckley Sadowski ’19 Professor Emeritus of History at Connecticut College. His writings include:

Abraham Lincoln: A Life (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)

With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda And Other Writings Of John G. Nicolay, 1860–1865 (Southern Illinois University Press, 2006)

Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998)

Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay (Southern Illinois University Press, 1997)

The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln (University of Illinois Press, 1994)