Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Thomas L. James (1881–1881): Postmaster General

Thomas Lemuel James was born in Utica, New York, in 1831. Though he had minimal education at a common school and at an academy in Utica, James ultimately received several honorary degrees.

James began his career at the Utica Liberty Press and by 1851, he owned the paper. He quickly added to his collection, purchasing two more newspapers over the next five years. During this time, he began serving in a number of government positions including collector of tolls on the Erie Canal (1854-1855), inspector of customs for the state of New York (1861-1864), official weigher for New York (1864-1870), and deputy collector of customs for the port of New York (1870-1873).

President Ulysses S. Grant tapped James to be the postmaster of New York, and after an impressive program of reform, President Hayes reappointed him to the position in 1877. The President actually wanted James to join his cabinet as postmaster general, but the latter refused twice; however, he ultimately accepted the position when President Garfield proffered it in March 1881.

James was postmaster general only a short time, however, for when Garfield was assassinated, President Arthur asked for his resignation in December 1881; James left office on January 1, 1882. Thomas Lemeul James then became the chairman of the board of directors of the Lincoln National Bank, a position he held until he died in 1916.