Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Robert Todd Lincoln (1881–1885): Secretary of War

Robert Todd Lincoln was born in Springfield, Illinois, in 1843. He received his education from Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University, but four months after entering Harvard, he left to join the Union Army, ultimately serving on General Ulysses S. Grant's staff.

Son of slain President Abraham Lincoln, Robert Lincoln returned to Illinois after his father's assassination, where he studied law and was admitted to the Illinois state bar in 1867. He also became involved in corporate and railroad business ventures, accruing substantial wealth. In 1880, he served as a delegate to the 1880 Republican National Convention that nominated James A. Garfield for President.

Upon Garfield's election, the new President appointed Lincoln as his secretary of war; Lincoln held onto this post even after Garfield's assassination at the request of President Chester Arthur. Robert Lincoln declined any consideration of running for President himself in 1884 and left office in 1885 to resume his law practice in Illinois.

In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison nominated Lincoln, without his knowledge, as U.S. minister to Great Britain, an appointment the Senate approved. Lincoln ultimately accepted the post and served as ambassador from 1889 to 1893. Lincoln also worked as leading counsel for the Pullman Railroad company, becoming its president in 1897 and serving in the position until 1911. Robert Todd Lincoln died in 1926.