Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Henry M. Teller (1882–1885): Secretary of the Interior

Born into a large Methodist family in Allegheny County, New York, in 1830, Henry Moore Teller was educated at local academies and studied law in the town of Angelica. He was admitted to the state bar in 1858 but then moved to Morrison, Illinois.

Shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, Teller moved to Colorado, where he became a corporate attorney during the 1870s. He served as one of Colorado’s first United States senators in 1876, after the state entered the union. Teller became a staunch supporter of silver currency and favored the rights of settlers over land speculators in the use of Western lands.

In 1882, President Chester Arthur named Teller secretary of the interior after Samuel Kirkwood resigned on April 17 of that year. As interior secretary, Teller opened federal land to settlement and logging, and reformed schools for Native Americans.

Teller returned to the Senate in 1885 and served until 1909, his last term as a Democrat. An opponent of American imperialism, he authored the Teller Amendment of 1898 -- attached to the war resolution against Spain -- in an attempt to foster self-government in Cuba. Following his final term in the Senate, Teller served on the National Monetary Commission before it was disbanded in 1912. He died in Denver in 1914.