Robert Smith (Cabinet member)

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Robert Smith
Robert Smith SecNavy.jpg
6th United States Secretary of State
In office
March 6, 1809 – April 1, 1811
PresidentJames Madison
Preceded byJames Madison
Succeeded byJames Monroe
United States Attorney General
In office
March 2, 1805 – August 7, 1805
PresidentThomas Jefferson
Preceded byLevi Lincoln
Succeeded byJohn Breckinridge
2nd United States Secretary of the Navy
In office
July 27, 1801 – March 4, 1809
PresidentThomas Jefferson
Preceded byBenjamin Stoddert
Succeeded byPaul Hamilton
Personal details
Born(1757-11-03)November 3, 1757
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, British America
DiedNovember 26, 1842(1842-11-26) (aged 85)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
SpouseMargaret Smith
EducationCollege of New Jersey (BA)
(renamed Princeton)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/serviceContinental Army
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War

Robert Smith (November 3, 1757 – November 26, 1842) was an American politician. He served as the second United States Secretary of the Navy from 1801 to 1809 and the sixth United States Secretary of State from 1809 to 1811. He was the younger brother of Senator Samuel Smith.

Early life[edit]

Smith was born in Lancaster in the Province of Pennsylvania. During the American Revolutionary War, he fought in the Continental Army and participated in the Battle of Brandywine.

He graduated from Princeton in 1781 and began to practice law in Maryland.


Smith was selected as an elector to the Electoral College representing Maryland during the 1788–89 United States presidential election. He was then elected to the Maryland State Senate from 1793 to 1795 and to the Maryland House of Delegates from 1796 to 1800. President Thomas Jefferson appointed him as Secretary of the Navy in July 1801 after William Jones declined the position. On March 2, 1805, the Senate confirmed the appointments of Smith as United States Attorney General and Jacob Crowninshield as Secretary of the Navy. However, Crowninshield declined his appointment, so Smith briefly served as both Attorney General and Secretary of the Navy.

Eventually, President Jefferson appointed John Breckinridge to replace Smith as Attorney General and Smith resumed his role as a full-time Secretary of the Navy. Smith left the office of Secretary of the Navy at the end of President Jefferson's administration on March 4, 1809. President James Madison appointed Smith to serve as Secretary of State on March 6, 1809, and he served in this position until his forced resignation on April 1, 1811.[citation needed]


Smith was closely allied with his brother, Maryland Senator Samuel Smith, and bitterly opposed Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin. Madison thought that Smith could be his own Secretary of State, but Smith so often pursued opposite policies that Madison finally demanded his resignation. In Madison's April 1811 "Memorandum on Robert Smith," the president offered a laundry list of Smith's shortcomings. Madison questioned Smith's loyalty; found Smith's diplomatic correspondence wanting, and noted that Smith had been indiscreet in conversations with the British and had opposed the administration's efforts to secure concessions from Britain and France by limiting trade.

Apparently, Smith was bewildered by thise and other charges leveled by Madison and published an exoneration of himself, "Robert Smith's Address to the People of the United States," which was an attack on Madison's foreign policy. Madison offered Smith the post of Minister to Russia, which was currently held by John Quincy Adams. Smith considered the offer, but in the end, he refused the post.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Smith became the president of the not-yet-fully-organized American Bible Society in 1813. In 1818, he became the founding president of the Maryland Agriculture Society and afterwards retired to a more private life where he enjoyed his wealth.

Robert Smith died in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 26, 1842, aged 85.


The USS Robert Smith was named for him.


  1. ^ Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg. Madison and Jefferson, New York: Random House (2010), p. 495.
  • Clifford Egan, "Robert Smith" in Edward S. Mihalkanin, ed. American Statesmen: Secretaries of State from John Jay to Colin Powell, Greenwood Press 2004, pp. 478–83.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by United States Secretary of the Navy
Succeeded by
Preceded by U.S. Secretary of State
Served under: James Madison

Succeeded by