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John P. Usher (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

Elizabeth R. Varon

Professor Varon is the Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia. Her writings include:

Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859 (University of North Carolina Press, 2008)

Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy (Oxford University Press, 2003)

We Mean to Be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (University of North Carolina Press, 1998)