Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Charles Foster (1891–1893): Secretary of the Treasury

Charles Foster was born in 1828 near Tiffin (now Fosteria), Ohio. He left school to work first in the dry goods business and then in banking. Foster joined his father’s dry goods business, becoming a full partner at the age of 18 and assuming full control one year later. His business ultimately became one of the most successful enterprises of its kind, and Foster soon began investing in railroads and banks, becoming a wealthy man.

During the Civil War, Foster helped recruit soldiers and extend credit to their families. Criticized for not fighting in the Civil War, Foster was successful, nevertheless, in winning election as a Republican to the U.S. House of Representatives (1870). He served four terms (1871-1879) before being defeated in 1878 in his bid for a fifth term.

Foster won the Ohio governor’s race in 1880 and then won reelection two years later. He chose not to run for reelection in 1884 and turned his attention back to his business interests. It was not until 1889 that Foster returned to politics as President Benjamin Harrison’s chairman of a commission to negotiate a treaty with the Sioux Indians. His success in that venture earned him a spot in Harrison’s cabinet as secretary of the treasury following the death in 1891 of former secretary William Windom. Foster actually took over the department after he made a failed bid in 1890 for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Foster served in the Treasury Department from 1891 to 1893, during which time he used the Sherman Purchase Act of 1890 to begin coining silver. He also stabilized the Treasury Department by extending the government’s credit, which created a surplus that would ultimately help the government address the financial difficulties caused by the Panic of 1893. Upon leaving office at the end of Benjamin Harrison’s administration, Charles Foster returned to Fosteria and continued to pursue his business ventures. He died in 1904.