Walter Q. Gresham

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Walter Gresham
Walter Q. Gresham - Brady-Handy.jpg
33rd United States Secretary of State
In office
March 7, 1893 – May 28, 1895
PresidentGrover Cleveland
Preceded byJohn Foster
Succeeded byRichard Olney
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
In office
June 16, 1891 – March 3, 1893
Preceded bySeat established
Succeeded byJames Jenkins
Judge of the United States Circuit Court for the Seventh Circuit
In office
October 28, 1884 – June 16, 1891
Appointed byChester Arthur
Preceded byThomas Drummond
Succeeded bySeat abolished
35th United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
September 5, 1884 – October 28, 1884
PresidentChester Arthur
Preceded byCharles Folger
Succeeded byHugh McCulloch
31st United States Postmaster General
In office
April 9, 1883 – September 4, 1884
PresidentChester Arthur
Preceded byTimothy Howe
Succeeded byFrank Hatton
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Indiana
In office
September 1, 1869 – April 9, 1883
Appointed byUlysses Grant
Preceded byDavid McDonald
Succeeded byWilliam Woods
Personal details
Walter Quintin Gresham

(1832-03-17)March 17, 1832
Lanesville, Indiana, U.S.
DiedMay 28, 1895(1895-05-28) (aged 63)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyWhig (Before 1854)
Republican (1854–1892)
Democratic (1892–1895)
Spouse(s)Matilda McGrain
EducationIndiana University, Bloomington
Military service
Allegiance United States
 • Union
Branch/service United States Army
 • Union Army
Years of service1861–1864
RankUnion Army brigadier general rank insignia.svg Brigadier General
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

Walter Quintin Gresham (March 17, 1832 – May 28, 1895) was an American statesman and jurist. He served as a federal judge and in the Cabinet of two presidential administrations. He affiliated with the Republican Party for most of his career but joined the Democratic Party late in life.

Gresham began a legal career in Corydon, Indiana after attending the Indiana University Bloomington. He campaigned for the Republican Party in the 1856 elections and won election to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1860. He served as a Union general during the American Civil War, taking part in the Siege of Vicksburg and other major battles. After the war, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Gresham to a position on the United States District Court for the District of Indiana. Gresham remained on that court until 1883, when he resigned his position to become Postmaster General under President Chester A. Arthur. After briefly serving as Arthur's Secretary of the Treasury, Gresham accepted appointment to the United States circuit court for the Seventh Circuit.

Gresham was a candidate for the presidential nomination at the 1884 Republican National Convention and the 1888 Republican National Convention. Much of his support for those nominations came from agrarian unions like the Farmers' Alliance. In the 1892 presidential election, Gresham broke with the Republican Party and advocated the election of Democrat Grover Cleveland. After Cleveland won the election, Gresham resigned from the federal bench to serve as Cleveland's Secretary of State. Gresham held that position until his death in 1895.


He was born near Lanesville, Indiana, to William Gresham (1802–1834) and his wife Sarah Davis. William had been elected a Colonel in the militia of Indiana. He was a member of the Whig Party and was elected Sheriff of Harrison County, Indiana. On January 26, 1834, William was fatally stabbed while assisting in the arrest of Levi Sipes, a so-called "desperado".[1]

His paternal grandparents were George Gresham (born 1776) and Mary Pennington. George was born in Virginia but later settled in Kentucky. He moved to Indiana in 1809. Mary was the only sister of Dennis Pennington, speaker of the first Indiana Senate.[1]

George was a son of Lawrence Gresham. Lawrence was born in England but moved to the Colony of Virginia in 1759. He initially served as an indentured servant of an uncle. He was released from service upon reaching adulthood. He later served in the Continental Army. He married Sarah O'Neal. Lawrence followed his son to Kentucky and Indiana well into his old age.[1]

Early years[edit]

Walter Gresham spent two years in an academy at Corydon, Indiana, one year at the Indiana University Bloomington, then studied law under Judge William A. Porter in Corydon before he was admitted to the bar in 1854 and started a practice in Corydon. He was active as a campaign speaker for the Republican ticket in 1856, married Matilda McGrain in 1858, and in 1860 was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives as a Republican from a strong Democratic district. In the House, as chairman of the committee on military affairs, he did much to prepare the Indiana troops for service in the federal army.

Civil War[edit]

Gresham was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 38th Indiana Volunteer Infantry on September 18, 1861. In December of that year, he was promoted to colonel and placed in command of the 53rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry.[2] The 53rd Indiana Infantry subsequently took part in Grant's Tennessee campaign of 1862, including the Siege of Corinth and Battle of Vicksburg. During the Siege of Vicksburg, Colonel Gresham commanded a brigade. In August 1863 he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers, and was placed in command of the Federal forces at Natchez, Mississippi. In 1864 he commanded a division of the XVII Corps in Sherman's Atlanta Campaign, and before the Battle of Atlanta, on July 20, he received a gunshot wound to his knee that forced him to retire from active service, and left him lame for life. In 1865 he was appointed a brevet major general of volunteers.

Political career[edit]

Walter Quintin Gresham

After the war he practiced law at New Albany, Indiana, and on September 1, 1869 received a recess appointment from President Ulysses S. Grant to a seat on the United States District Judge for Indiana vacated by David McDonald. Formally nominated on December 6, 1869, Gresham was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 21, 1869, and received his commission the same day. On April 9, 1883 he resigned from the bench to succeed Timothy O. Howe (1816–1883) as Postmaster General in President Chester A. Arthur's cabinet, taking an active part in the suppression of the Louisiana Lottery, supervising the successful September, 1883 introduction of Postal Notes. During his service as Postmaster General, Gresham, Oregon, was named after him.

In September 1884, Gresham succeeded Charles J. Folger as United States Secretary of the Treasury, but the following month he resigned to accept a recess appointment, made on October 28, 1884, to a seat on the United States circuit court for the Seventh Circuit, vacated by Thomas Drummond. Gresham was formally nominated on December 3, 1884, and confirmed by the United States Senate on December 9, 1884, receiving his commission the same day. On June 16, 1891, Gresham was reassigned by operation of law to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Gresham was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1884 and 1888, in the latter year leading for some time in the balloting. His 1888 candidacy was supported by several notable agrarian unions, including The Agricultural Wheel, Grange and Farmer's Alliance.[3] Gradually, however, he grew out of sympathy with the Republican leaders and policy, and in 1892 advocated the election of the Democratic candidate, Grover Cleveland, for the presidency. On March 3, 1893, he resigned from the bench, and from March 7, 1893, until his death at Washington, D.C., on May 28, 1895, he was Secretary of State in President Grover Cleveland's Cabinet. Walter's grave is in Arlington National Cemetery.

He is the namesake of communities in Oregon, Nebraska and Wisconsin.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Matilda Gresham, "The Life of Walter Quintin Gresham" (1919)
  2. ^ Perry, Henry F. (1906). History of the 38th Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry. Palo Alto CA: F.A. Stuart. pp. 14–15.
  3. ^ "The Farmers for Gresham.; Walter Q. Gresham. The Strong And Cunning Hand". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois. 1888-06-20. p. 12. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
  4. ^ Sedgwick, Theron E. (1921). York County, Nebraska and Its People: Together with a Condensed History of the State. S.J. Clarke. p. 463.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
David McDonald
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Indiana
Succeeded by
William Woods
Preceded by
Thomas Drummond
Judge of the United States Circuit Court for the Seventh Circuit
Seat abolished
New seat Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Succeeded by
James Jenkins
Political offices
Preceded by
Timothy Howe
United States Postmaster General
Succeeded by
Frank Hatton
Preceded by
Charles Folger
United States Secretary of the Treasury
Succeeded by
Hugh McCulloch
Preceded by
John Foster
United States Secretary of State
Succeeded by
Richard Olney