Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

John W. Noble (1889–1893): Secretary of the Interior

John Willock Noble was born in 1831 in Lancaster, Ohio. He attended Miami College, graduated with honors from Yale University (1851), studied law, was admitted to the Ohio state bar (1853), and then established a law office.

After moving to St. Louis in 1855, Noble left both the Free Soil Party and Missouri for the Republican Party and Iowa in 1856. By 1859, he had been elected to a two-year term as city attorney of Keokuk, Iowa. He left the state in 1861 to serve in the Union army during the Civil War. Noble enlisted in the Third Iowa Cavalry, saw action, was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and became judge advocate general of the Army of the Southwest. Noble was eventually promoted to brigadier general.

At war’s end, Noble moved back to Missouri, where he was appointed U.S. district attorney for the eastern district of Missouri in 1867. For the next two decades, Noble earned high marks as an attorney; by 1889, President Benjamin Harrison had tapped him to become secretary of the interior. At a time when the interior secretary oversaw such politically explosive issues as railroad land grants, pensions for Civil War veterans, public lands, and the administration of Native American affairs, few disagreed with the President’s choice of the upstanding Noble. During Noble’s tenure, which lasted for the entirety of the Harrison administration (1889-1893), he prosecuted the Whiskey Ring and supported the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, which allowed Presidents to set aside forest reserves as national parks.

Following his stint in President Harrison’s cabinet, Noble resumed his legal career in St. Louis. John Willock Noble died in 1912.